On Sunday afternoon, former assistant will face his once-head coach when Sean McDermott’s Buffalo Bills host Ron Rivera and the Washington Football Team.
McDermott was Rivera’s defensive coordinator for six years with the Carolina Panthers in addition to four seasons together on the Philadelphia Eagles’ coaching staff, but Sunday’s game will mark just the second time in their careers that they will have played each other as opposing head coaches.
“Ron has been one of my biggest mentors in this business,” McDermott told reporters Monday. “Rivera has been a huge influence on my career and he’s taught me a lot. Going to Carolina, learned a lot in those six years under Ron and his tutelage both as a head coach position and from a defensive standpoint. Our ties go back to Philadelphia, of course, so he taught me a lot about the linebacker position when I was his QC [coach].”
McDermott was 25 years old when Andy Reid hired him as a scouting coordinator in 1999, the same year that Rivera agreed to join the Eagles as a linebackers coach. They both worked under Reid until 2004 when the Chicago Bears coaxed Rivera back to his former team with an offer for their defensive coordinator job. McDermott stayed in Philadelphia another six years until Rivera landed his first head coaching gig in Carolina and brought McDermott over to be his own DC.
Still learning what it took to be an NFL head coach at the time, McDermott admitted to not always seeing eye to eye with Rivera. However, he later came to appreciate the reasoning behind his decisions.
“There’s things that as an assistant coach you don’t always understand why a head coach does the things that he does,” McDermott said. “I’m sure that was probably the case for Ron working under Andy [Reid] and I can tell you it was the case for me working under Ron and I think that’s healthy. Until you’re really in that position, in those shoes, you don’t always get the why’s and [an] understanding of the big picture of things.
“My respect for Ron Rivera has grown exponentially since becoming a head coach myself. I always have respect for Ron and we have a deep friendship, but that respect and admiration has grown immensely.”
McDermott left Carolina in 2017 to take over as the Bills’ head coach. Buffalo has since gone 39-27 under his guide, including a 13-3 season a year ago that culminated with an AFC Championship appearance. He remains close with Rivera and some of his messages still stick with him today.
“The one thing he always said every morning was, ‘Attitude, preparation and effort are the things that our team could control,’” McDermott said. “I think he called it controlling your inner ape. I don’t know if he’s used that [since] or not but I think that’s very true and powerful.”