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.”