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"The McDermott Problem" made waves. A final thought.
The difference between euphoria and an apoplectic tirade is one yard. With 1 minute and 25 seconds remaining, the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs were speeding toward another epic climax.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes faded back in slow motion before whistling yet another spiral to his favorite target. After catching this 24-yard pass, tight end Travis Kelce — a former high school quarterback himself — then lateraled the ball across the field to Kadarius Toney, who scampered the final 25 yards to paydirt. One problem: Toney was lined up in the neutral zone. A furious Mahomes screamed, tomahawked his helmet and even complained about the call while greeting Josh Allen at midfield.
It was a different scene for Buffalo.
Instead of suffering another defensive collapse that’d generate another nickname, Sean McDermott was greeted to cheers and a game ball in the visitor’s locker room. The club used our series as a rallying cry to save their season in Kansas City. Now, the Bills are one of six teams at 7-6 in a jumbled AFC. They could be the best team in the conference. They could miss the playoffs entirely. Next up is the Dallas Cowboys and another chance for this 2023 team to inch toward the tournament where they’ll ultimately be judged.
Obviously, we stand 100 percent behind our series. Every word.
This 20-17 win was a must for a team on the brink, but one three-point win does not serve as a magic eraser to all issues detailed.
Before we accelerate back into this NFL season, I thought it’d be worth taking a moment to reflect because these last four days have served as a very loud reminder of why we exist.
Since launching Go Long in November 2020, the objective has been to build a forever home for longform journalism in pro football. We serve you. We serve the reader genuinely interested in how the NFL works behind the curtain. Speak freely to people across the NFL — players, coaches, execs — and you’ll often hear a blend of good, bad and ugly. (In this case, very ugly.) Relaying this information to the public can make people uncomfortable and, honestly, this has been a case of déjà vu. One giant flashback to the story I did at Bleacher Report in 2019 on the Green Bay Packers.
Initially, a fan base is eager to learn.
There’s intense intrigue in the reporting. People dig in with an open mind. Many of their theories and suspicions start to all make sense on the strength of detail.
Next, the party being scrutinized responds. Back then, Aaron Rodgers decided to sit down for a radio interview with an ally on the Packers beat and went scorched earth. Sean McDermott held a press conference to address the most disturbing element of the series — using the 9/11 terrorists as a model. He confirmed what we wrote, including the fact that he came out an hour later to apologize to the team.
Locally, he quickly became a sympathetic figure.
In both cases, the most-vocal, most-online bloc of the fan base quickly rallied around their man.
With a little help from an expected PR blitz, of course.
Moments after the press conference, One Bills Live host Chris Brown called this a “character assassination piece” on “Coach McDermott.” The same Brown who was once suspended by McDermott, whoops, I mean the Bills for having the audacity to say A.J. Epenesa was lining up on the left side of the defensive line amongst other lineup observations in a training camp practice. Co-host Steve Tasker then told listeners that our series “was done for personal profit.” So, gather ‘round friends. Let’s all take a moment to commend Tasker for donating his salary to charity this holiday season. I’ve got a ton of respect for Eric Wood. Covered him when he was a player for the Bills and he’s been on our podcast multiple times — his stories were great. He does excellent work today for the team, too. During the pregame show, however, Wood was wrong when he said our sourcing was “cherry-picked.” (Side note: Props to all of the radio hosts at WGR 550 who’ve analyzed the content of our series better than anyone in the market. Enjoyed chatting with Schopp and the Bulldog on Thursday night.)
The game began and the CBS trio of Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson did an A+ job of painting McDermott as a victim for… re-checks notes … explaining to players how they could all come together like the hijackers on 9/11. Like Tasker, their tone was somber and sympathetic toward the coach. Oh, eventually the gang got around to pointing out the Bills were suiting up a player who was accused of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend the week prior. As a reminder, officers arrived to see Miller’s girlfriend had suffered “injuries consistent with applied pressure to the neck.”
The inconceivably morbid reference warranted headlines. As written — obviously — the head coach was not making a pro-terrorist point. I talked to seven sources about the speech, and they didn’t interpret this as evil. However, this did all reveal McDermott’s greatest weaknesses as a coach: communication, an inability to connect, overthinking. While the team may view this all as “a running interoffice joke,” the perspectives of so many others outside of Buffalo are worth your time. The likes of Peter King and Randy Mueller & Mike Sando and Randy Moss & Rex Ryan and Bomani Jones & Dominique Foxworth and Zach Gelb and countless others spoke to the soul of the matter. Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives that day. A more appropriate press conference would have expressed deep sympathy for the families of those victims, instead of spinning yourself as the victim. He said he lost a friend in the attack, but then still used that day as a way to bring the team together? Strange.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that people around the NFL didn’t know if McDermott would even make it to Sunday to coach the team.
Yet, this is also true: The 9/11 speech accounted for 474 of the 20,000+ words. Those most furious about “The McDermott Problem” never even read it. It’s not uncommon for one anecdote to overwhelm an entire story. That’s happened more times than I can count. But it is interesting that the local media contingent covering the Bills mostly chose to ignore news within the series itself. All but a few completely steered away from even sharing the series. Perhaps in fear of either the mob or the team, I don’t know. Most all waited for McDermott to speak and then reported on McDermott’s words. Rather, than the substance of the series. No mention of:
Exactly what happened those final 13 seconds at Arrowhead Stadium in the playoffs, from the touchback to taking over the defense to his message to coaches in the aftermath.
Treatment of assistants. He has threatened to fire several over minor offenses, such as how they speak to him. When the Bills wide receivers bought Chad Hall a truck, he fumed. That was recalled as “a dark day” at One Bills Drive. He doesn’t like it when his position coaches have good relationships with their players. They sensed bizarre jealousy.
Leslie Frazier’s departure, and why several assistants bolt for lateral moves.
Why he does not have a good relationship with Stefon Diggs.
The Brian Daboll dynamic. The ex-OC was (very) close to Josh Allen. The current head coach and quarterback are not quite aligned.
Of course, it was also widely ignored that several players explained why they liked McDermott. Former captains Taiwan Jones and Patrick DiMarco, locker-room leader Lee Smith, as well as Isaiah McKenzie and Nyheim Hines all detailed how McDermott pulled the Bills out of the gutter and/or why they enjoyed his style. Critics may decry this as a 25-source, 20,000-word “takedown” when many of those sources and words were devoted to those positive voices.
As for uproar over timing, the series was published last week because the story was finished last week. McDermott has faced intense public scrutiny much of this 2023 season, canned his offensive coordinator less than a year after dumping his defensive coordinator and the Bills — a team hoisting a banner of the Lombardi Trophy inside the fieldhouse — had just fallen to 6-6 with a loss in Philadelphia that encapsulated the McDermott Era itself.
Both coach and team have entered a defining stretch. It was time to explore in full.
True, almost all palace-intrigue stories are published after a coach is fired. It’s easier for writers to air dirty laundry once the coach or GM or quarterback or whoever they’re scrutinizing is out of town. As an independent journalist covering the entire NFL, I believe there’s value in examining a team in real time. When intrigue is sincerely at its apex. We’ve previously taken a hard look at the Minnesota Vikings under Mike Zimmer and the New York Giants under Dave Gettleman. This is the value of being independent.
The more cowardly act, in my opinion, is gathering so much information from sources and then choosing to sit on it for one… two… three… four years. Readers deserve the unvarnished truth.
People in positions of power — like NFL head coaches — should expect criticism.
Nobody has claimed anything in the series is false.
Nor was this a blatant “character” attack. For starters, several people praised the character of McDermott right in the series.
I suppose stories like these are more jarring considering the current sports media landscape. There are reporters doing extremely good work — don’t get me wrong. But most, by and large, don’t view something like this worth the hassle or headache. The trend has been obvious in the 13 years I’ve covered the NFL full-time. Given the choice, most would rather not become embroiled in the Twitter/X crossfire for 48 to 72 hours. Threats aren’t necessarily fun.
If that paycheck’s rolling in regardless, hey, why anger the mob? Why invite a wave of insults and threats?
Here, we’ll approach the business through the old-school lens. One reader alerted me to the commentary of Bob Koshinski, who served as the longtime president of the Empire Sports Network. It’s worth a read. As Koshinski notes, coverage of the Bills — all teams, honestly — was a different beast in the 90s.
Personally, I believed it was important to give a voice to the players and coaches who have had a much different experience under this coach. A miserable experience. Turning a blind eye to their perspective would be wildly dishonest and a disservice to anyone trying to make sense of McDermott’s time in Buffalo. To extract such truth, yes, the condition of anonymity was granted. The outcome of one game decided by one yard does not change their day-to-day lives under this boss.
Everyone has seen how these seasons end. Most of the series was devoted to explaining how a tight coach creates a tight team.
Against KC, give McDermott credit for being more aggressive than we’ve ever seen late in a game. He threw where he’s typically run the ball. He sent pressure at Mahomes the final drive.
If people who didn’t actually read the series want to rip away, they are more than welcome to scream themselves hoarse into the ether. The last few days have confirmed that there are fans who’d prefer to be pandered, babied, spoon-fed 15-second videos of a player dancing during practice. To the ornery bros who prefer a Disney+ interpretation of their beloved football team, I have grim news: The NFL isn’t all rainbows and puppies. This series explaining why McDermott has been the problem differs from the streamlined message on a social-media feed.
For those interested in taking their brains back, we’ll be here. Go Long is here to stay because you’ve subscribed and you’ve shared the good word. I am grateful there’s still a ton of people who’ll stop everything they’re doing to read, to learn. I’m sure you have questions yourself, too, which is why I’ll rev up another Happy Hour discussion this week.
Everyone is encouraged to read the series and judge for themselves.
The Bills earned a big win. With Josh Allen at quarterback, anything’s possible. He’s more than capable of throwing the team on his back as he did at various points on Sunday. The Miami Dolphins collapsing to the Tennessee Titans last night even keeps the AFC East in play.
This sport truly is America’s greatest reality show. And we promise to bring you exactly that: Reality.
There’s an interpretation of this sport shared in interviews after a big win.
There’s also a different world behind the scenes. We won’t ignore it.
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All three parts of “The McDermott Problem” below:
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