McDermott: being fired by Andy Reid actually brought us closer together

Bills head coach says he's a better coach and person for the experience

Sal Capaccio
July 21, 2017 - 2:17 pm

Several years ago, I attended a coaching clinic where several major college football coaches were speaking. One of them stood up and said to the room full of high school coaches, “you haven’t actually been a coach until you’ve been fired. We all get fired.”

It was the truth.

Almost every college football coach, and especially NFL coach has been or will get fired as they go along the way in their careers. Some are head coaches or coordinators who get fired for lack of results. Some are position coaches who have a conflict of philosophies or are simply part of the collateral damage from the head coach’s or coordinator’s dismissal.

For new Bills head coach Sean McDermott, his at-least-once-inevitable-fate came after the 2010 season. In May prior to 2009, McDermott was named the interim defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles after legendary DC Jim Johnson was forced to take a medical leave of absence due to cancer. After that season, Johnson’s health continued to get worse. He resigned and the Eagles’ head coach Andy Reid gave him the position on a full-time basis. Johnson passed away four days after that. 

The results were a mixed bag for McDermott’s defense those two years. Both seasons they ranked 12th overall in yards allowed, finishing in the top ten against the run that year, but were ranked 19th in points allowed his first year as the interim and then 21st the year he became the full-time DC.

Reid fired McDermott after that 2010 season. Why, specifically, he won’t get into. “I think some of that has to stay between Andy and I,” he said. “We know sometimes things happen.”  

But as Sean McDermott always seems to do, he turned one of the hardest moments of his professional life and what he called a “defining moment” of his career into a positive. Ironically, it was Reid who helped him do that.

“It crushed me early on,” McDermott recounted. “It crushed me from the standpoint of, I looked introspectively, just looked at myself and said, ‘what did I do wrong?’ I didn’t place any blame, no. It was, ‘what did I do wrong?’ I feel like that period of my career, that period of my life, had I not gone through that, I don’t know if I would be here now. What I mean by that is, my whole career had been going like this every year. You guys see the resume. Every year was going like that. What I learned from that is, the game is more than just X’s and O’s. It’s more than just scheme. That to me, as I’ve said over the years, that setback was a setup really for a comeback for myself and the mental toughness part of life, again. I learned a lot about, and I hope I become a better person. I’m not saying I was a bad person. When you look at yourself and you find ways to improve, I hope I’m a better husband, father, coach, because of it. 

“I remember Andy coming in after my first year as a coordinator into my office. There was a couch in there, he sat down, it was the end of the year. Both years I think we were ranked 12th in defense and led the league or tied for somewhere in the tops of the league in takeaways. Made the playoffs, won 20 games. Andy came in and there were rumors that my name was coming up for head-coaching jobs. And I think actually the Bills maybe. Andy came down and said, ‘Hey you just have to promise me if you get a call, you’ll let me know.’ So it was still going like that. But things happen. Andy really did me a favor, and I didn’t understand it at the time. When he called me in (after 2010) he said, ‘Hey, you grew up here. You replaced a legend. I’m not sure it’s ever going to be enough.’ Just overall that’s what happens. I was 33, 34 years old. He said, ‘This will help your career.’ Next day, I’m on a plane to Denver and got offered the job with (then Denver Broncos head coach) John Fox. On the way there, I called (Panthers head coach) Ron Rivera. I said, ‘Hey Ron, Andy’s let me go.’ He said, ‘Ok, don’t sign anything. Do me a favor, go to Denver but don’t sign anything. We’re going to fly you right from Denver to Charlotte.’ The rest is history. I can’t thank Andy enough for it. It sounds a little weird, but it’s brought Andy and I closer. After that, I think Andy was on to Kansas City. He and I have caught up about it in the time between then and now. I think we’ve both had some laughs about it. He remains one of the biggest mentors in my professional career at this point.”

After McDermott was let go, Reid moved Juan Castillo over from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator. A rare type of move. McDermott had worked on the same staff with the veteran coach since he broke into the league in 1999. Oftentimes there are hard feelings towards the man who replaces you, especially if it’s someone you know. McDermott says there was no room for that and now, six years later, McDermott hired Castillo to be his own offensive line coach.

“I don’t hold a grudge No. 1. I don’t think that’s healthy and it’s not time efficient. No 2 is Juan is a good person and a good football coach and that was not in any way, in my opinion or the healthy part of my opinion, correlated. That was a whole separate deal. That’s the part of you say, listen, at the end of the day if you do things the right way and handle situations the right way, you’re going to come out ok. That’s the lesson I’m going to share with my kids. You’re a good person and you work hard, good things happen.”

 

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