BUFFALO, N.Y. — For the fourth consecutive season, the Buffalo Bills will have the same offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll), defensive coordinator (Leslie Frazier) and coach (Sean McDermott). The trio is looking to build on the Bills’ AFC runner-up finish a year ago.
And as they, along with third-year special teams coordinator Heath Farwell, attempt to secure Buffalo’s third straight playoff berth, there is historic precedent for success for NFL teams that have kept the core of their coaching staff together.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the New Orleans Saints (2015-20), Dallas Cowboys (2015-18), New England Patriots (2012-17), Carolina Panthers (2013-16) and San Francisco 49ers (2011-14) all kept their head coach and coordinators together for at least four seasons, making the playoffs in 18 of 24 combined seasons. Three of those teams each made at least one Super Bowl appearance — the Patriots, 49ers and Panthers.
McDermott was the defensive coordinator for the Panthers during that span, working alongside coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Mike Shula, giving him first-hand experience with the benefits of consistency.
“It’s real. Continuity usually works to your favor,” McDermott said. “That said, if you’re not careful and not keeping things fresh — that’s the other side of continuity, the challenge of keeping things fresh, keeping messaging fresh, finding different ways to challenge oneself to grow and also the people around you. But the familiarity that comes with continuity is real and what that breeds is having been through experiences together and knowing how we’re going to react.”
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) May 26, 2021
In their three seasons together, McDermott, Daboll and Frazier are a combined 29-16, including a 23-9 record over the past two seasons.
The fact they have spent the past three years together — and even more for Frazier and McDermott, who also worked together with the Philadelphia Eagles — is a contributing factor in Buffalo’s recent achievements.
“When you have continuity, it helps,” Daboll said. “You can draw from past experiences. We could be sitting in a staff meeting and one of the coaches will say, ‘Hey, remember two years ago? We did this on this third down.’ That’s hard to do in the first year. It’s hard to do sometimes in the second year. We made a lot of changes from Year 1 to Year 2 with the coaching staff, we also did it with the players. So, chemistry is really good as long as you have it with the right kind of guys that you’re working with.”
And as McDermott alluded to, there is a possible downside to that level of familiarity.
Players and coaches know each other so well it’s easy to repeat the same messages; it is the fine line between finishing each other’s sentences and thinking, “this sentence, again?”
The trick is for coaches to find new ways to express their core philosophies.
“I’m sure the players would say the same, sitting in meetings — is it the same message over and over again?” McDermott said. “There’s a balance of, ‘Hey, what do you believe in your heart is the right approach?’ and then how do you say it differently, or does it need to be said differently. Always trying to keep that vision in front of us is a healthy way to go for all of us, to challenge and encourage one another daily to continue growing and pursuing being the best we can become.”
Buffalo’s continuity also extends to the locker room. The Bills led the league with the most snaps returning on both sides of the ball last season and the team figures to be near the top again with only one starter, wide receiver John Brown, leaving in free agency.
McDermott said more than 70 Bills players were present for organized team activities this week, with some of the notable absences including wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Emmanuel Sanders and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
Sanders was the lone Bills signing from this offseason who did not show, but McDermott said even players with experience in Buffalo’s system need to be “working their tails off” because continuity alone does not produce success.
“What we did last year is not gonna help us this year. Each year is its own situation and opportunity. If you put in the work you usually see the results,” McDermott said. “Maybe not right away, but you gotta earn it and that’s what this league is about. That’s why there’s parity in this league and that’s why it’s the attraction to the fans that it is. Every Sunday a team has a chance to win.
“We have to define ourselves this season and the way we’re going to do that is having our team together and everybody busting their asses to get ourselves ready to go here.”