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Philadelphia Eagles coaching candidate profile: Sean McDermott, Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator

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The former Eagles assistant is a popular choice, but is he the right one?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sean McDermott

Summary

Sean McDermott has been the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator for the past five seasons, and twice in the past three years has overseen a top ten defense, making him one of the hotter defensive coaching candidates. Prior to joining Ron Rivera in Carolina, McDermott was a long time assistant with the Eagles, working his way up from the ground floor in 1999 to defensive coordinator in 2009. He is scheduled to interview with the Browns and Buccanneers. He was reportedly set to interview with the Jets last year, but New York hired Todd Bowles the day after those reports came out.

Resume

1998 William and Mary (graduate assistant)
1999-2000 Philadelphia Eagles (scouting coordinator)
2001 Philadelphia Eagles (assistant to the head coach)
2002-2003 Philadelphia Eagles (quality control)
2004-2006 Philadelphia Eagles (assistant defensive backs)
2007 Philadelphia Eagles (safties)
2008 Philadelphia Eagles (linebackers)
2009-2010 Philadelphia Eagles (defensive coordinator)
2011-present Carolina Panthers (defensive coordinator)

Why he could work

McDermott meets some of the criteria that Jeffrey Lurie is supposedly looking for in a coach. He is of course intimately familiar with the Eagles, both growing up in the area and growing up as a coach with the Eagles, having taken a scouting job at the age of 25 working his way up the ladder under Andy Reid. He has an impressive pool of coaches he has crossed paths with, having worked under or with four AP Coaches of the Year: Reid, Ron Rivera, John Harbaugh, who was his defensive backs coach in 2009, and Dick Jauron, who replaced Harbaugh in 2010. Under him in Carolina, Luke Kuechly won Rookie of the Year in 2012 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and Kuechly and Greg Hardy made the Pro Bowl, with Josh Norman, Kwann Short and Thomas Davis making it this year along with Kuechly. In 2013 the Panthers defense was 2nd in points and yards and 3rd in DVOA, in 2015 they finished 6th in both points and yards and 2nd in DVOA, and they led the league in turnovers. And they have done it without the supporting cast to Kuechly and Norman that teams like Denver and Seattle have for their star defenders. The Panthers starting secondary for most of the season has been, alongside Norman, Charles Tillman, Kurt Coleman and Roman Harper, yet the Panthers lead the league in interception percentage, paced by Coleman's seven interceptions, and are also first in yards per attempt against and passer rating against. The pass rush has been average, they are 14th in sack percentage and 11th in Football Outsider's Adjusted Sack Rate, a mid-season trade for Jared Allen has failed to bring better results. Only the Broncos, with a star-studded secondary and a pair of gifted pass rushers, both of which the Panthers lack, can lay claim to a better defense this year.

Why he may not be the guy

While McDermott meets some of the criteria the Eagles have apparently set, he also fails to meet the rest Andy Reid fired him after his defense allowed a then-franchise record 31 touchdown passes, contributing to the worst red zone defense in the league. McDermott, author of the phrase "shark in the water" to describe Ernie Sims, also came under criticism from his players, with Trent Cole complaining to reporters about McDermott dropping him into coverage, and criticism from his situational defense. In fairness to McDermott, he was put into an sad and unique situation when Jim Johnson was diagnosed and then died of cancer in the summer of 2009. McDermott was promoted in his place, and McDermott, at 35 and having been a position coach for only three years, was the most veteran member of the staff that year. There really wasn't any choice but McDermott. Taking over Johnson's defense, which finished 4th in scoring and 3rd in yards the year before, and that retained eight starters from that unit, he blitzed far less than Johnson and moved to a defense based more on coverage and was heavily criticized for overthinking and tinkering his defense. If he's the "strategic thinker" and strong communicator that Lurie is looking for, it didn't really show during his time in Philadelphia.

Moving to Carolina has rehabilitated his image, but like any coach who works under a head coach from the same side of the ball, it is difficult to separate the coordinators' contributions. Ron Rivera, another Andy Reid/Jim Johnson disciple, is himself an excellent defensive coordinator. Alongside Lovie Smith in Chicago he had an outstanding defense that propelled the Bears to the Super Bowl, and then in San Diego under Norv Turner built a defense that was near the bottom of the league in his first year and three years later was first in yards and 10th in scoring. One must wonder, how much has McDermott really grown since 2010? It's difficult for any coach to truly escape the shadows of those above them until they are on their own, and even harder to escape their own cloudy past. McDermott may need to follow the path of Rivera and become a defensive coordinator for an offensive coach to really show himself before becoming a head coach.