An NFL team is only as good as the man running the show, and more often than not that man is only as good as the men he has appointed to coordinate his units for gameday.
The Panthers are fortunate to have a proven leader in Head Coach Ron Rivera. He deserved to win the Coach of the Year award in 2013 after rewarding the organization for their patience with a terrific turn around after the first quarter of the season. Rivera is a great Head Coach and he has the benefit of having a stellar group of coaches working beneath him. Specifically, Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott, who will undoubtedly be the first coach on this staff snatched up during the next offseason to run his own show in a different city.
The threat of losing McDermott was a fear Panthers fans already had to face this offseason when he interviewed in Washington for the Head Coaching spot vacated by Mike Shanahan. Fortunately for us that job was awarded to Jay Gruden, the younger brother of Jon Gruden who is quite an up and comer in his own right. Jay Gruden was a suspicious choice for Offensive Coordinator by the Cincinnati Bengals a few years ago because his previous job was in the Arena Football League. Nevertheless he has distinguished himself time and time again and proven skeptics wrong. His offensive background was what most likely gave him the edge over Mcdermott as the team is hoping to get RGIII back to the form he showed as a rookie this year.
Consider yourself lucky Panther fans, and let’s all make a point to appreciate having McDermott while he is still here because it is only a matter of time before some organization comes calling. Right now we have another year of his stellar defense to look forward to, and that’s all that matters.
Sean McDermott has been on his way for a long time and only hasn’t gotten there because of circumstances out of his control. McDermott comes from the Philadelphia Eagles, where he spent over ten years climbing the ladder before reaching the top defensive job as Defensive Coordinator. In the years he spent paying his dues for the Eagles he served as the understudy to a legend. Jim Johnson served as Defensive Coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999 until 2008 and during that time was the architect of one of the most dominating defenses in the league year in and year out. He was specifically known for his blitzing schemes.
During his time in Philadelphia many members of Johnson’s defensive coaching staff would go on to be head coaches themselves. Among them are many names you should recognize such as John Harbaugh, Leslie Frazier, Steve Spagnuolo, and of course our very own Ron Rivera, among many others. When these men jumped for better opportunities they came to their new teams with the lessons they had learned from Johnson. Lessons that fortunately worked out for most of them as several of them have found success elsewhere.
Sometime during the 2008 season Johnson was diagnosed with melanoma, and during the summer of 2009, the illness took his life. Sean McDermott was the coach chosen to take his place and became the new Defensive Coordinator for the Eagles. Panther fans should remember his first regular season game on the job, although, I wouldn’t blame anybody if they have barred the memory from their mind.
In 2009 the Panthers entered the season so hopeful to put the awful playoff meltdown against Arizona behind them. Jake Delhomme may have had one of the most embarrassing games of all time but he was rewarded for it and the most optimistic of fans could take that as a sign of hope. The large contract extension he received that offseason from Marty Hurney really proved to be foolhardy in week one when the Eagles came to town. Check that, when Sean McDermott brought his defense into our house and crushed all the optimism that could only live prior to the first kick off.
McDermott’s Eagles defense generated 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 5 interceptions as the team went on to stomp us 38-10 in our own stadium on opening weekend. Jake was so overwhelmed that Matt Moore had to be brought in, but by that time there was no turning things around. Granted the defense had something to prove after the recent death of Jim Johnson. Nevertheless the Panthers were a team that went 12-4 the year before, and still in a position to make noise. Any confidence Jake Delhomme was able to recuperate from the loss to Arizona vanished that day. His playing days ended not during that year but during that game when McDermott’s defense put nightmares in his head he couldn’t escape from.
McDermott did what appears to have been a fine job serving as Defensive Coordinator during 2009 and 2010. Despite that, in a decision that puzzled many, he was let go and replaced by Andy Reid‘s close friend, former Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo. Looking back now we all know who got the better end of that deal. The Eagles fell to pieces that year and Sean McDermott came to Carolina where he took control of a defense that has consistently gotten better since. Take a look at some of our team defensive stats from the last three years under McDermott:
Year Yards/Game Sacks Int
2011 377.6 31 14
2012 333.1 39 11
2013 301.2 60 20
In 2013 our defense ranked second in the league and given the consistent improvement it’s feasible to expect even better results this year. McDermott is fortunate to have a great group of players to work with. He has superstars in linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Great bookend Defensive Ends in Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson with great depth behind them and strong men in between. This defense has a lot of talent but any unit can only be as good as its head and the head is the Defensive Coordinator. Luke Kuechly may be the leader on the field, but McDermott is the man in his ear telling him what to do next.
It’s no coincidence that the defense that lead the league last year in sacks was the understudy of a man known for his blitzing schemes. Sean McDermott has a bright future ahead of him and he has done great work in Carolina. He is in line for a head coaching job the next time the coaching carousel starts to turn. He got on the carousel this year and we should all consider ourselves lucky he got off right where he started. It’s doubtful that will happen again, so we need to take advantage of the coming season and appreciate him while he is here.