Sean McDermott remembers 'special moments' with Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins

Sean McDermott remembers 'special moments' with Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins

Sean McDermott had just turned 30 when he became the Eagles’ assistant defensive backs coach in 2004.

Brian Dawkins was already a three-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro and widely regarded as one of the best safeties in the NFL.

McDermott walked into the defensive backs meeting room at the NovaCare Complex and Dawkins was waiting for him.

“Brian was sitting there, slouched down in his chair, waiting for me,” McDermott remembered. 

“He was an established pro, he was actually six months older than I was and the look on his face was like, ‘OK, I’ve been to multiple Pro Bowls, what’s this chump going to teach me?’”

As it turned out? An awful lot.

McDermott became one of the most influential coaches and people in Dawkins’ life during their years together in Philadelphia.

Dawkins was very outspoken in support of McDermott when he was trying to land a head coaching job, and McDermott was equally outspoken in support of Dawk during his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Now, McDermott is the head coach of the Bills, Dawkins is a Hall of Famer, and the two have come a long, long way since that day in the meeting room 14 years ago.

“We had a lot of really special moments in our time together,” said McDermott, who last year took the Bills to the playoffs for the first time since 1999 in his first year as head coach.

“What I remember most is our talks about life, moreso than about football. We grew very close during our time together.”

Dawkins, who spent the 1996 through 2008 seasons with the Eagles and three more seasons with the Broncos, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

The Bills are at training camp, but McDermott is hoping to be there to watch.

“The biggest challenge I faced with Dawk was, ‘This guy is already an elite player. I have to find an angle with Brian to help him become a better player,'" McDermott said.

“So I tried to challenge him as much as possible every day to help him find more in everything he did. He was already a great player. I didn’t make him a great player. But what I tried to do was help him take the next step and really push him so he could truly become an elite player. 

"Not just an elite player but one of the best to ever play the position.” 

Dawk responded to McDermott’s challenge and became an even more dominating player in his 30s than in his 20s.

He went to six Pro Bowls and was All-Pro two more times once he began working with McDermott.

“He was really driven to be one of the greatest ever,” McDermott said. “It wasn’t enough for him just to make the Pro Bowl. He always expected more out of himself, and what that did was make everybody around him better.

“If you’re a teammate or a coach or a trainer or anybody who’s around a guy who’s already elite, already one of the best ever, and you see him working that hard to become even better, that pushes you. 

“There’s not a lot of people already at that level who think that way. Who are constantly asking, ‘What can I do to become even better?’ Brian is one of them.”

McDermott became the Eagles' secondary coach in 2007 and moved to linebackers in 2008, when John Harbaugh went from special teams to secondary. 

He replaced Jim Johnson as defensive coordinator in 2009 and after serving six years in the same role under Ron Rivera with the Panthers, he became the Bills’ head coach last year.

Dawkins retired with 37 interceptions, 26 sacks and 36 forced fumbles, plus four postseason interceptions and two more sacks.

It’s not a coincidence that both these guys reached the top of their profession after their years together.

“You have no choice but to raise your own game when you’re around someone like Brian,” McDermott said. “You’re around that standard of greatness every day.

“I know being around Dawk enabled me to take my game as a coach to a new level every day, and that’s a standard that I try to reach every single day and that you expect from the people around you.”

Dawkins is only the ninth pure safety to become a Hall of Famer and the only one who started his career in the last 38 years. Ed Reed is eligible in 2019 and Troy Polamalu in 2020.

But as of now, Dawk and Kenny Easley are the only Hall of Fame pure safeties who started their career since 1968.

“It’s just been such a tremendous experience watching Brian grow from a young man to one of the greatest players in history,” said McDermott, who began his career with the Eagles in 1999 in the scouting department.

“And you watch him become not just a better player every day but a better man every day.

“I still show my players videos of Dawk making plays because he played the game the right way. He really did change the way the game is played. Brian and Ed Reed were the guys that made people look at the safety position in a different way.”

And this weekend, Dawk will join Steve Van Buren, Chuck Bednarik, Tommy McDonald, Reggie White, Bob Brown and Pete Pihos as only the seventh player who spent the majority of his career with the Eagles to find his way into the Hall of Fame.

“I didn’t make Brian Dawkins a great player,” McDermott said. “I was just along for the ride.”

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Former Eagle Connor Barwin hired as special assistant to the general manager

Former Eagle Connor Barwin hired as special assistant to the general manager

Connor Barwin spent a lot of time at the Eagles’ complex the last couple months of the season, and now we know exactly why.

The Eagles on Friday afternoon announced that Barwin, who spent four years playing for the Eagles, has joined the team's front office in the role of special assistant to the general manager.

I'm done playing football, but my football career is not over," Barwin said in an interview on the team’s web site. "I want to stay involved. I want to help this team wherever I can and also learn the other side of the game from the coaches and the personnel side. There's still a lot that I can learn about the on-field part of the game, as well. I love being around the game. I still want to win a Super Bowl, multiple Super Bowls.

According to the Eagles’ web site, Barwin will work with the player personnel staff during the offseason and work on player development during the season, with an emphasis on mentoring players making the challenging transition from college to the NFL.

Barwin, 33, retired after spending last year with the Giants. He began his career with the Texans before signing a six-year, $36 million deal with the Eagles before the 2013 season.

He spent four of those seasons here and made his only Pro Bowl in 2014, when he had a career-high 14 1/2 sacks - the most by any Eagle over the last eight seasons.

Despite playing only four years here, Barwin ranks 15th in franchise history with 31 1/2 sacks, tied with Mike Mamula.

When Chip Kelly and his staff were fired after the 2015 season and new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz switched from a 3-4 defense under Bill Davis to a 4-3, Barwin moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. He had five sacks in 2016 and was released after the season.

Barwin spent 2017 with the Rams and 2018 with the Giants. He had 56 1/2 sacks in 10 seasons.

"I got to play for a bunch of really great coaches and look inside how other organizations are run," Barwin said. "That's some insight that I can bring to the Eagles."

Even after he left the Eagles, Barwin always considered Philadelphia home. He has made a huge impact in the community with his Make the World a Better Place foundation, which refurbishes and rebuilds parks and rec centers in Philadelphia.

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Eagles reportedly interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator job

Eagles reportedly interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator job

We have a new and interesting name in contention to be the Eagles’ next offensive coordinator.

The Eagles on Friday interviewed Southern California offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane.

This is an interesting approach from the Eagles and Harrell would certainly qualify as an outside-the-box hire. 

Harrell, 34, spent last season at USC but notably has an extensive history with Mike Leach and his Air Raid Offense. Harrell played for Leach at Texas Tech from 2004-08 before going to the CFL and NFL and then coached under Leach at Washington State from 2014-15. 

So Harrell would likely be able to bring some new and potentially exciting concepts to Doug Pederson’s offense. Remember, Jeff Stoutland is the Eagles’ run game coordinator, which meant that Mike Groh was pretty much the pass game coordinator for the last two seasons before he was fired. Since he wouldn’t call plays, that would basically be Harrell’s role if he got the job in Philly. 

At USC, Harrell was hired by head coach Clay Helton when Kliff Kingsbury left after a month to take the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals. USC wanted to have an Air Raid style, so they turned to Harrell. 

In his one year as the offensive coordinator at USC, the Trojans improved drastically in major statistical categories on offense from 2018: 

Points per game: 26.1 to 32.5
Yards per game: 382.6 to 454.0 
Passing yards per game: 248.2 to 335.8  

Check out this interesting excerpt from an Aug. 1 story in Sports Illustrated about Harrell’s hire at USC and his thoughts on the offensive system he comes with:

“People hear Air Raid and they think five wide receivers, no tight ends, 60 pass attempts and 50 points a game. To Harrell, the Air Raid is something else. It is working to death a small number of plays, with shorter playcalls, perfecting those plays and out-executing — not out-scheming — the opponent. Option-based coaches, like former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, operate under similar mentalities, but with a different focus: rushing the football. Leach does it through the air. “You can’t do everything. I think a lot of people try to take a little bit of everything offensively,” Harrell says. “If you do that, you don’t have much of an identity. You’re just O.K. at everything and not really good at something.”

At times over the last few seasons, the Eagles have found success after simplifying. They’ve also found success using an up-tempo pace to get Carson Wentz into a rhythm. These seem like concepts that would mesh with Harrell’s philosophy. 

And we also know that Pederson values coaches who, like himself, were once players. After he left Texas Tech, Harrell played one season (but was injured) for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and then was a backup quarterback in Green Bay for a few seasons and with the New York Jets for a season in 2013. Harrell’s only NFL game action came in 2012 as a member of the Packers. He played in four games and threw just four career passes. 

Since then, though, he’s been a quick riser in the coaching world. And he has some fresh ideas that might help an Eagles offense that has been far too stagnant at times over the last couple seasons. 

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