Last week, we profiled William & Mary alum Mike Tomlin. Guess what? William & Mary has TWO head coaches in the NFL. That’s right, two.
It’s easy to forget that Sean McDermott is the head coach up in Buffalo — but with his rebuild there all but complete, and with Tom Brady’s move south, the Bills are now in the driver’s seat to take over the AFC East this season.
So what’s McDermott’s story? Let’s find out.
William & Mary Career (1994-1998)
McDermott attended La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania. There, he starred as a defensive back, and was named all-league in 1992.
McDermott was also a very talented wrestler, gaining national wrestling honors in both 1992 and 1993.
In the Fall of 1993, McDermott began his athletic and academic career at William & Mary. He came to the team as a walk on, and redshirted his first season.
It wasn’t long before McDermott proved his worth to Coach Laycock and the staff, as he saw the field in 11 games as a free safety during his redshirt freshman season.
By his junior year, McDermott found himself quickly rising through the ranks and starting alongside another Tribe great, strong safety Darren Sharper.
The two would create an impenetrable back wall for W&M at the safety position that year. McDermott finished fourth on the team in tackles, with 114 total tackles and 64 solo tackles.
That season, the Tribe went on to win 10 games and a Yankee Conference Championship.
The following year, with McDermott now in his senior season, he would be named a William & Mary team captain — finishing third on the team in total tackles.
In his senior season, McDermott garnered All-Atlantic 10 and All-Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) honors.
Early Coaching Career (1998-2010)
1998: McDermott began his career as a Graduate Assistant on William & Mary’s coaching staff immediately after graduation.
He spent just one season under the tutelage of legendary W&M head coach Jimmye Laycock, but gained valuable experience in the process.
1999-2010: McDermott would quickly transfer over to the NFL, catching on as a Scouting Administrative Coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999.
But less than two years later, he became an Assistant to then-Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid; soon thereafter, he was named a Defensive Assistant for the Eagles.
Progressing up the ladder, McDermott would become the Eagles’ Defensive Backs Coach in 2003, replacing Steve Spagnuolo.
In that season, McDermott saw both of his starting safeties, Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis, earn Pro Bowl honors.
In 2009, McDermott took over as Defensive Coordinator of the Eagles after the former coordinator, Jim Johnson, tragically lost his battle with cancer.
That season would prove to be a tough one for McDermott, who was a young 36 at the time.
The Eagles sustained key injuries across the board, allowed a franchise-high 31 touchdown passes, the worst red-zone defense in the NFL.
Head Coach Andy Reid released McDermott following the season’s end. However, and an interesting fact to know: the two keep in contact to this day.
Reid (now a Super Bowl winning Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs) has become one of McDermott’s biggest proponents in the NFL world.
In all, McDermott totaled 12 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles — the last two as Defensive Coordinator.
Throughout his time, he contributed to six division titles, five NFC Championship game appearances, and a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX.
Stint with the Carolina Panthers (2011-2016)
2011: Following his departure from Philadelphia, McDermott received several coaching offers.
In a career-altering moment, he was hired as the Defensive Coordinator of the Carolina Panthers in January 2011.
He made this move in order to reunite with Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, as the two had coached together for five years back with the Eagles.
McDermott would have his work cut out for him though, as the Panthers’ defensive unit had to overcome youth and injuries during his first year in 2011.
The unit finished near the very bottom of the league in Total Defense, finishing 28th overall.
2012: The following year, McDermott completely flipped the defense around. A trait he would become known for over the years.
The Panthers finished the 2012 season ranked #10 in Total Defense — a far cry from #28 the season before.
The 18-move jump was directly attributed to McDermott and his coaching staff. That season, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after leading the league in tackles with 205. Ever heard of him?
2013: The 2013 season was McDermott’s best to date, as the Panthers finished with a 12-4 record, an AFC South Title, and a playoff berth.
McDermott’s defensive unit ranked 2nd in Total Defense, led the entire NFL in sacks, finished sixth in passing defense, and third in red zone defense.
Further, the Panthers defense allowed just 15.1 points per game, garnered a whopping 30 takeaways and four defensive touchdowns.
Kuechly would again earn honors, this time as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Following the 2013 season, a very successful McDermott interviewed with several NFL teams, such as the Washington Redskins, for various head coaching vacancies.
However, he would remain with the Panthers for the 2014 season.
2014: In 2014, the Panthers finished with a 7-8-1 record. Despite holding a losing record, the team surprisingly clinched a postseason berth for the second year in a row.
In a down year for the NFC South, Carolina’s lowly record proved just enough to get the job done.
McDermott’s defense wasn’t as good as it was in 2013, but it still ranked #10 in Total Defense.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Panthers defense completely dismantled the Arizona Cardinals, holding them to a mere 78 offensive yards and forcing three total turnovers en route to a 27-16 win.
The 78 total yards posted by the Cardinals is the fewest yards ever allowed in an NFL postseason game.
2015: In 2015, the Carolina Panthers went 15-1 and clinched the top seed in the NFC. McDermott’s defense finished as the 6th best in the NFL, and the team made it to the Super Bowl.
In that game, the Panthers fell to the Broncos 24-10, in what would be Hall of Famer Peyton Manning’s last NFL game.
McDermott did not receive a head coach offer after the Panther’s Super Bowl season, due to the fact that he had limited time to interview; by the time the Super Bowl was over, all NFL coaching vacancies were already filled!
So much for getting awarded for your success…but then came 2016.
2016: Fast forward to 2016, and as many of you already know, the Panthers had a terrible season, finishing 6-10 after making the Super Bowl the year before.
The Panthers couldn’t put it together on either side of the ball, and would finish ranked 21st in Total Defense, regressing from years’ past.
However, this has actually turned out to be a boon for both McDermott and the Bills, as it (finally) made him available to interview for head coaching positions.
Sean McDermott Hired by the Buffalo Bills on January 11th, 2017
We absolutely loved the pickup by the Bills. McDermott became the second William and Mary grad currently head coaching in the NFL, along with Mike Tomlin.
“McDermott’s playing career was self-made at the college level. He went from a walk at William & Mary to team captain by his senior season. For two of those seasons Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin was a teammate of McDermott’s with the Tribe.Tomlin was a star receiver while McDermott, by the close of his college playing career, was an All-ECAC safety.
“He wasn’t a fast wide receiver, but he was a long strider,” McDermott told CBSSports.com. “He has that length and was willing to go over the middle to make the great catches, but what I remember the most about Mike was that he was a leader.”
It was at William & Mary where McDermott knew he wanted to build a career in coaching.
“I knew I wanted to coach at an early age,” McDermott told CBSSports.com. “I just love being around the game. That’s kind of how I was as a player, and I ended up coaching the spring of my fifth year when [William & Mary] coach [Jimmy] Laycock approached me and asked if I wanted to give it a try. And I’m grateful for it — that was my start.”
In his first three seasons in Buffalo, the Bills have made the playoffs twice. Prior to his stint in Buffalo, the team had the longest active playoff drought in the NFL.
But while the Bills have made the playoffs twice in recent years, they have yet to take the next step in actually winning one of those games.
But with a competent quarterback seemingly in place, and with a top-10 (and potentially top-5) defensive unit headed by a mastermind defensive head coach, the Bills look poised to make some serious noise this season.
And hey, it doesn’t hurt that Tom Brady is out of the division, am I right? As die-hard Buffalo Bills fans, we at the W&M Sports Blog salute #BillsMafia, and wish nothing but the best for our fellow alum, Sean McDermott.
If he’s shown nothing else throughout his entire career, it’s that the former William & Mary walk-on will do whatever it takes to achieve excellence for himself and for everyone around him, wherever he goes.
LET’S GO TRIBE.