Carolina Panthers

Exclusive: Bills coach Sean McDermott talks about how the Panthers shaped him

First-year Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott spent six seasons as the Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator. He’ll return to Charlotte for Sunday’s game against his former team.
First-year Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott spent six seasons as the Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator. He’ll return to Charlotte for Sunday’s game against his former team. AP

Following is Observer NFL reporter Joseph Person’s exclusive interview with first-year Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott, who spent the previous six seasons as the Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator:

Q. As you were building the program there, what specifically have you taken from your experience here?

A. One of the biggest things is that it's a people-driven business. There's obviously power in human capital and people. Ron (Rivera) does a great job of being around the building and being available to different people throughout the Panthers' organization.

Q. A few years ago he set up a mini-office downstairs and would poke his head into position meetings or the locker room. Is that the type of thing you're referring to?

A. You know what? I do have an office set up in my locker (area). We got that done when I first got here. The players, certainly that was big. Also with Ron was just being available throughout the entire building. Most of the physical structures of these buildings are set up such that players are on one floor and the rest of the staff and coaches are on another. And from a communication and knowing the pulse of the team, that can create a challenge at times.

Q. What else from your time in Carolina has stuck with you in the principles you teach and coach?

A. I would go back to the core values that are instilled on a day-to-day basis by Mr. (Jerry) Richardson in the building. We've tried to develop and communicate our core values here in Buffalo in a similar fashion. I really learned from a business standpoint how important those are. The people -- that's a very unique place. ... One guy that definitely comes to mind in addition to the coaches is the first guy you see when you walk in the building -- it's Mr. (John) Coleman in front in the lobby.

Q. You’ve signed a bunch of former Panthers. How much of what you’re talking about played a part? The idea that you know their skills, but also their makeup?

A. I’ve been around two turnarounds -- one in Philadelphia with Andy (Reid) and then in Carolina with Ron. What I saw up close and personal is both of them brought players in that could help them on the field, but also could help them transition the culture. We’ve got that with Mike Tolbert here and Leonard Johnson and Joe Webb. ...

They’re really important because they know what the standard looks like. We’ve got a bunch of great guys here. We’re just trying to catch up to them down there. What is it, year seven down (for Rivera). And this is Week 2 for us.

Q. Was any part of you dreading this week?

A. I don’t think so. It’s always hard going against friends. There’s that part of it that’s hard. I’ve got nothing but very fond memories of my time in Carolina, both at the Panthers and in the community with the friends we made, our experiences and vacations we took.

Q. How has your familiarity with Brandon Beane helped you with a move you made or decision you guys agreed on?

A. Just the inherent trust that’s been there since Day 1 has been key. Because there’s a lot of time where you spend apart. When I’m coaching the team I’ve got my hands full and Brandon is evaluating us, evaluating the roster. He’ll call me and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ It’s nice to know you’re already past the part of developing trust. There’s speed and efficiency when you’re working in that range.

Q. Your reaction from afar when Dave Gettleman was fired?

A. You hate to see when that happens. That’s the human part of this business. That was hard to watch. I know I learned a lot personally from Dave. On the other end of it I was happy for Marty (Hurney) because I knew Marty from when I was first there. ... I’m glad the position went to someone I think is very well qualified and I think will do a great job.

Q. Thoughts on game planning for Cam Newton after all the years of being here with him?

A. There’s a reason the Panthers have been successful over the years and Cam Newton’s a big factor in that equation. He does a great job. Mike Shula does a great job and they’ve got a talented team overall. Cam’s very dangerous. He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s dangerous when the ball’s in his hands and he’s got a laser for an arm. I had a front-row seat to watch that for six years.

Q. Is Christian McCaffrey the different kind of weapon the Panthers needed?

A. Wow, he’s a good player. I’ve only had a small exposure to Christian. We watched him coming out of college, did our draft evaluation, just like everybody else. We thought very highly of him coming out. Then you watch what they’ve done with him, he’s another weapon. They’ve got weapons all over the field on offense. We’re going to have our hands full. That can make for a long afternoon.

And then what they’ve done defensively, going and getting Julius Peppers, bringing Captain (Munnerlyn) back, re-sign some key guys. They’re very talented.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson