How much time does 'success' buy Sean McDermott with the Buffalo Bills?

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

No matter how you slice it the idea of success in sports is truly a sliding scale. The obvious measurement is championships, some win more than others, some none at all. Making the playoffs is another tool used, especially when ‘retread’ coaches are hired, to give the appearance that a team is trying to make a push for a title. But, how is success truly defined in sports? All teams in all sports define it as winning a championship but is it? That is the real question.

Generally, when a coach is hired, the introductory press conference is filled with optimism and platitudes of change, culture, and vision. Ultimately, the phrase “compete for a championship” is said, and those sports media outlets and fan bases run with the soundbites. Hope reaches a fever pitch. Look at hockey, the sport turns over more coaches faster than ever.

The Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild, and St. Louis Blues all fired their coaches this season! The move mostly jolts a locker room and a new voice usually can squeeze more juice out of the fruit. Some have more success than others. Edmonton started 3-9-1 and after firing Jay Woodcroft now sits in third place in the Pacific Division at 31-17-1 as of February 14.

Now, as we know, hockey isn’t football. In football that is where I find the sliding scale of success. This last round of coaching hires saw eight vacancies get filled, most notably, Seattle hiring Mike McDonald, and New England hiring Jerod Mayo. Both new coaches replace future Hall of Famers, but those future Hall of Famers do not have jobs.

Pete Carroll has had success. He won a Super Bowl, has been to two Super Bowls, and now sits at home without a job. Since the last Super Bowl appearance in the 2014 season, the Seahawks haven’t made it past the Divisional round and they have missed the playoffs three times in that span, this season being the third time which saw Carroll lose his job.

Bill Belichick oversaw the creation of one of the most obscenely successful teams of all time with his twenty-plus years in New England, six Super Bowl championships and it coined the phrase “the Patriot way.” Yet, like most teams, when you lose your starting quarterback, the team generally takes a step back. Tom Brady left and the subsequent four seasons without Brady saw one playoff appearance and it was time to make a change. Age was more than likely a factor in letting two of the most successful coaches of the last 20 years go, but sometimes it all needs to come together perfectly. Enter Andy Reid.

Andy Reid, widely respected and regarded as a brilliant offensive mind, spent 1999-2012 with the Philadelphia Eagles. He had five NFC Championship game appearances and one Super Bowl appearance, a loss to the New England Patriots. After a disappointing 2012 season, the Eagles did not renew his contract and he was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs.

2013-2017 saw the Chiefs make improvements, and make the playoffs. In 2018 Patrick Mahomes was drafted, and now, three Super Bowl Championships in six seasons. There were some calling into question whether Reid could keep his job if the team didn’t recover from poor starts or losing streaks. That seems like ancient history now.

Everything I have laid out for you brings me to the Buffalo Bills and more specifically head coach Sean McDermott.

Sean McDermott deserves all the credit in the world for what he’s done for the Buffalo Bills. He brought them out of the darkness and made them what they are today. Before McDermott, the only time you heard ‘Bills’ and ‘Super Bowl’ in the same sentence was when talking about the Bills teams of the 90’s. Now, the Bills are Super Bowl contenders.

The most recent playoff loss broke me. Another loss to Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs. Another Super Bowl for Patrick Mahomes. Another year of trying to figure out how to get over the hump. I know McDermott faced questions about his job security after the teams’ 6-6 start, but I think it is fair to ask just how much more time can you give McDermott.

By most measures, Sean McDermott has been successful. 73-41 record as head coach. He’s made the playoffs in six out of seven seasons, but a 5-6 record in the playoffs. three of those six losses were to Andy Reid. The 2020 season was arguably the best the Bills have looked in the McDermott era. After a Week Ten loss to the Arizona Cardinals on what has been called the ‘Hail Murray’, the Bills reeled off six straight wins to end the regular season and won two playoff games to eventually lose to Kansas City in the AFC Championship game.

The 2021 season brought us again to the Divisional round of the playoffs, this game would come to be known as the ’13 second’ game. A masterful performance by Josh Allen was wasted by a series of coaching decisions that should be considered malpractice. The final regulation possession by Kansas City started with a touchback. The Chiefs then went three plays and 44 yards in 13 seconds for the game-tying field goal. Josh Allen never touched the ball in overtime.

The rest, as they say, is history. So, what am I getting at by bringing up the pain of playoff losses past? Well, how long do we give Sean McDermott? Seriously, how much longer do we give him to get this team where it wants to go? This most recent loss wasn’t McDermott’s fault. But, he gets credit for the loss. So, when does ownership start holding his feet to the fire? Where is the sense of urgency?

I like to say, ‘the standard is the standard.’ If a Super Bowl is the goal, how many more times does he fall short before we make a change? Making the playoffs is great but eventually just making the playoffs isn’t enough. There has to be more. The last five losses in the playoffs were: Wild Card, AFC title game, Divisional round, Wildcard, Divisional Round. What if 2024 brings another Divisional round loss, do we just appreciate the job he’s done and look forward to 2025?

Frankly, as a fan of the Bills, I’m tired of looking forward to next season. I’m not ‘happy to be here’ in regards to making the playoffs anymore. I want more, we all should want more, we should be DEMANDING more. Josh Allen is in his prime, the team needs to capitalize on it.

Deciding to fire a coach is a hard one but the NFL is a result-oriented business, if the result is only making the playoffs, that shouldn’t be celebrated. It should be a reason to ask for more. The 2024 season is a big one for Sean McDermott, anything less than an AFC Championship game should be unacceptable. the standard is the standard!

The ring is the thing. Super Bowls make everything look great. I’m setting the bar at AFC title games. A very attainable goal in my mind. If Sean McDermott can’t make it that far in the next two seasons, then maybe he isn’t the one to get us where we want to go. If McDermott isn’t that guy then the million-dollar question becomes, who is?


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