Before he was a respected NFL defensive coordinator in the NFL, the Carolna Panthers’ Sean McDermott was a glorified gopher for the Philadelphia Eagles.
As the assistant to the head coach, McDermott’s job entailed everything from picking up players at the airport for their free agent visits to sitting in on salary-cap meetings to doing anything his boss wanted.
That former boss – Andy Reid – is coming to Charlotte this weekend with his Kansas City Chiefs, giving McDermott an opportunity to reflect on what Reid has meant to him.
“He’s one of the biggest mentors in my career,” McDermott told the Observer this week. “I continue to learn from him and call on him just to talk or when I have a question about whatever – whether it’s offense, defense or being a head coach. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
McDermott, who grew up in Philadelphia, was with the Eagles before Reid was hired in 1999. McDermott interned a couple of summers with the team, giving him good work experience and also the chance to work out in an NFL weight room before his final two seasons at William & Mary.
McDermott got a position in the Eagles’ scouting department for the final three games in 1998 before Ray Rhodes was fired. Not long after Reid succeeded Rhodes, he asked McDermott if he wanted to be his office assistant and mentioned that Jon Gruden had gotten his coaching start the same way.
“Maybe he was just using that to get me hook, line and sinker,” McDermott said. “But he got me.”
‘Do whatever you need to’
It was not the most glamorous position, but it kept McDermott on the football side of the organization. He remembers his job duties once included changing a tire along the Schuylkill Expressway (think I-485 near Ballantyne, but with meaner drivers).
“You do whatever you need to to pay your dues,” McDermott said.
Well, almost anything.
McDermott’s college buddies would text him and ask if the toilets at the former Veterans Stadium were working.
“That’s what they thought I was responsible for,” he said.
For the record: While McDermott dealt with a lot of things, maintaining the Vet bathrooms was not in his job description.
Working his way up
All the grunt work paid off when Reid promoted him to defensive quality control coach in 2001. McDermott slowly worked his way up the ladder and coached with Panthers coach Ron Rivera for a few seasons on the Eagles’ defensive staff.
Eventually McDermott succeeded Jim Johnson when the popular coordinator died of cancer in 2009. Following a successful and respected coach like Johnson was not easy for McDermott, who was fired after two seasons as coordinator after the Eagles allowed a franchise-high 31 touchdown passes in 2010.
After letting McDermott go, Reid called Rivera – who’d just been hired by Carolina – and encouraged him to add McDermott to his staff.
Behind one of the league’s top linebacking tandems in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, McDermott became the only coordinator in the league to oversee a top-10 defense every year from 2012-15.
In the process McDermott became a head-coaching prospect. He has interviewed for three vacancies the past three years, including openings at Cleveland and Tampa Bay during the Panthers’ Super Bowl season of 2015.
All the ingredients
Reid said this week it’s only a matter of time before McDermott is a head coach, calling his one-time assistant highly detailed and very smart.
“He was as smart as a student and smart as a player and is smart as a coach,” Reid said. “This is when he was young, too – but I thought he had all the ingredients to someday be a head coach in this league. He’s good with people and he works his tail off.”
After working for him for 12 years, McDermott knows what to expect from Reid’s offense this week. The two coached against each other once before, with the Panthers winning a Monday night game in Philadelphia, 30-22 in 2012.
But Reid also has a plan to attack McDermott’s 4-3 scheme.
“I’m a big Sean McDermott fan. I can’t be that this weekend, but every other weekend,” Reid said. “He knows what I’m doing and I have an idea of what he’s doing. We’ll just see how it all rolls.”