Sen­ti­ment takes a back­seat for McDer­mott’s re­turn

The Buffalo News - - CONTINUED FROM THE COVER - BY TIM GRA­HAM

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. – In the Carolina Pan­thers’ locker room this week, play­ers floated all the diplo­matic bal­loons about see­ing Sean McDer­mott again.

For sure, the Pan­thers miss their old de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, but they’re thrilled with suc­ces­sor Steve Wilks and the rest of the staff.

Why, of course, they’re look­ing for­ward to say­ing hello to McDer­mott on Sun­day, when his Buf­falo Bills come to Bank of Amer­ica

Edge for Hughes in to­day’s game?

The best op­por­tu­nity to get to Pan­thers quater­back Cam New­ton may be the Bills’ Jerry Hughes through Carolina OL Matt Kalil.

Sta­dium. They’re ec­static for his op­por­tu­nity, but now he’s another op­pos­ing head coach they plan to send out of town with lumps.

In more re­flec­tive mo­ments, how­ever, McDer­mott’s for­mer Pan­thers gave in to the fact such a re­spected coach can’t com­mit to one place for six sea­sons and not make a last­ing im­pact.

“What Sean was able to do for this or­ga­ni­za­tion,” free safety Kurt Cole­man said, “was put a blue­print for what a great de­fense needed to be and the ex­e­cu­tion we needed to play with.

“He al­ways said, ‘Whether I’m here or not here, this is the blue­print with which this Carolina Pan­thers de­fense needs to play.’ ”

Pan­thers coach Ron Rivera brought McDer­mott aboard in 2011 to de­vise the over­hauled club’s de­fen­sive iden­tity, to ap­ply

the chem­istry and to ce­ment tra­di­tion.

Philadel­phia Ea­gles coach Andy Reid had just fired McDer­mott af­ter two shaky sea­sons try­ing to up­hold late de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim John­son’s sys­tem. The Den­ver Bron­cos whisked McDer­mott for an in­ter­view, but he called Rivera first to let him know he was avail­able.

Rivera had worked with McDer­mott in Philly and told him not to sign any­thing, that the Pan­thers would fly him straight from Den­ver to Char­lotte the next day.

That’s how anx­ious Rivera was of los­ing the chance to ap­point McDer­mott his first de­fen­sive ar­chi­tect.

“He was in­her­ited the de­fense with the Ea­gles,” Rivera said Thurs­day at Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium, “but here he was able to put his stamp on it.”

To hear play­ers dis­cuss what resided in McDer­mott’s philo­soph­i­cal nu­cleus, the most ob­vi­ous re­ac­tion is “No duh.”

Bills fans al­ready have been in­un­dated with his smash­mouth prin­ci­ples of an ag­gres­sive, ac­count­able, mouth­froth­ing, re­ac­tionary, po­si­tion-sound at­tack pack.

“He had a mes­sage he be­lieved in,” said all-world line­backer Luke Kuechly, drafted ninth over­all a year af­ter McDer­mott be­came Pan­thers co­or­di­na­tor, “and that was to play hard, play fast, play phys­i­cal and play smart.

“That still per­me­ates in this locker room. It’s still stressed to­day.”

Re­tired safety Quintin Mikell, who played with McDer­mott nine sea­sons in Philly and one more in Carolina, wit­nessed the sys­tem’s evo­lu­tion over that decade but iso­lated the com­mon thread.

“One of his most preva­lent ideals to me was al­ways to stay ag­gres­sive and not back down from any­body, not take any crap,” Mikell said. “That was the mind­set.

“Al­ways. We’re go­ing to at­tack. We’re go­ing to come af­ter you. That ag­gres­sive style, to make the op­po­nent work for ev­ery­thing they got, is the main thing I took away from Sean’s coach­ing style.” Red-meat foot­ball talk. Seems sim­ple, al­though not nec­es­sar­ily easy to do. Not when it comes to find­ing 11 trust­wor­thy de­fend­ers to ex­e­cute the ap­proach.

Pedi­greed or high-salaried play­ers don’t mat­ter nearly as much to McDer­mott as down-by-down de­pend­abil­ity.

Cole­man and Mikell pro­vide ex­pert McDer­mott anal­y­sis on this. Mikell was un­drafted from Boise State in 2003, but he earned McDer­mott’s faith, be­came a starter and was named a Pro Bowler in 2009.

A year later, the Ea­gles drafted Cole­man in the sev­enth round. Mikell saw a younger re­flec­tion of him­self. McDer­mott, the self-made Wil­liam and Mary walk-on who be­came an All-At­lantic 10 safety, was equally pleased with Cole­man.

“He al­ways left me with these words, and I took them with me,” Cole­man said. “He said I could play this game, that I just had to be smart enough and put in the work.

“It’s not about be­ing the most ath­letic. So I pre­pared, and then you re­ally start to think about that mes­sage. If you do the right film study, you can put your­self in a lot of plays with­out be­ing ath­letic.”

The Pan­thers last week voted Cole­man a cap­tain, their first new one in four years.

Beyond schemat­ics, McDer­mott left his mark here in ex­pos­ing play­ers to a cer­tain at­ti­tude. Let’s call them “On Fire Fri­days.” When teams play Sun­day on a typ­i­cal NFL week, they’ll un­dergo a light walk­through prac­tice Fri­day and then get Satur­day off to rest or travel.

But McDer­mott dropped the ham­mer on Fri­days.

“Fri­day was his day to just get on fire,” Cole­man said. “Ev­ery coach, as you get closer to game day, you get more in­tense and tighten up. But Sean on Fri­days would just rip into peo­ple, and you knew it. That was his thing.

“It was just one of those things where he wanted to make sure we un­der­stood the im­por­tance of ev­ery­thing, that you don’t take any­thing too lightly, that there are things to be learned and things to get done. He didn’t want to let a mo­ment slip by.”

Un­so­licited on the other side of the Pan­thers’ locker room, Kuechly em­pha­sized McDer­mott’s ploys to wring out ev­ery mo­ment the de­fen­sive unit was to­gether.

“I don’t think you can take it for granted,” Kuechly said, “where you say, ‘Oh, in the game we’re go­ing to do it.’ It’s got to be ev­ery day, ev­ery pe­riod at prac­tice. You’ve got to live it.

“All this stuff is very cliché. It’s just about be­liev­ing in the mes­sage and do­ing it . ... I think it has to do with coaches, but you also have to have play­ers that will buy into the sys­tem that’s be­ing taught.”

Cole­man and Mikell noted the ways McDer­mott has mixed up his in­flec­tions to suit a mo­ment. Mikell de­scribed McDer­mott as “more of a dic­ta­tor” in their early Philly days.

There were plenty of mo­ments for McDer­mott to det­o­nate last year. Carolina went 6-10 one sea­son af­ter go­ing to the Su­per Bowl. But he didn’t com­bust, not af­ter giv­ing up 48 points to the At­lanta Fal­con in Week Four or 41 points to the New Or­leans Saints two games later.

“He would find a way to speak to us, not only an­grily,” Cole­man said. “There were times as a de­fense we didn’t play well, the games when you would ex­pect a coach to rip you up and down, but he came with a dif­fer­ent type of ap­proach.

“He would speak to us in­stead of yell, and that kind of got through. As the sea­son went on you could see the growth in a lot of young guys.”

Buf­falo, nor any team, can as­sim­i­late im­me­di­ately.

McDer­mott men­tioned Carolina is in the sev­enth year of its sys­tem, while Buf­falo merely is en­ter­ing its sec­ond week.

In his first two sea­sons with the Pan­thers, they went 6-10 (four wins bet­ter than the year be­fore) and 7-9. Then the de­fense found trac­tion in 2013, rank­ing sec­ond in points and yards al­lowed on the way to a 12-4 record.

In 2015, the Pan­thers’ de­fense ranked sixth in points and yards, went 15-1 and reached the Su­per Bowl.

“It is dif­fi­cult,” Rivera said of en­dors­ing McDer­mott for Buf­falo’s open­ing, “be­cause, for the most part, you don’t want to train guys and then have them leave for some­thing that’s an equiv­a­lent [role] or that much of a step up.

“But in this type of sit­u­a­tion, when you lose a guy like Sean McDer­mott, I knew what Sean’s ul­ti­mate goal was. He worked very hard at it. He did a great job, com­ing from Philadel­phia and hav­ing to change some of the things he did and hav­ing a chance to build the de­fense here.”

As fond as Cole­man is of McDer­mott, sen­ti­men­tal­ity will va­por­ize from the ear holes of the first ball car­rier he ze­roes up.

“Yes, he knows us. Yes, we know him,” Cole­man said with a smile. “But it’s go­ing to come down to guys just beat­ing the guys across from him.

“When you know each other that well, you’ve got to whip a man.”

Getty Images file photo

Kurt Cole­man, right, notes that Sean McDer­mott made a last­ing im­pact on the Carolina de­fense but says there’s no room for sen­ti­men­tal­ity when the Bills and Pan­thers meet to­day.

Getty Images file photo

Quintin Mikell at­tained Pro Bowl sta­tus within Sean McDer­mott’s Carolina de­fense af­ter join­ing the Pan­thers in 2003 as an un­drafted free agent out of Boise State.

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