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Goodbye, Sean McDermott…

Sean McDermott got the axe, the sack, whatever you wanna call it…but after watching Green Bay pile it on the Falcons this weekend, you would be forgiven for wondering if the young defensive coordinator for the Eagles was judged prematurely…

Sean McDermott has called his last defensive signal for the Eagles…

I guess the kiss of death was when NFL FX microphones caught McD in the playoff game against Green Bay a week ago asking his guys what scheme they wanted to play…they replied “straight up”… So the implication was (a) McD had no idea himself what to call, or (b) if you play “straight up”, who needs a defensive coordinator anyway?

Sean McDermott, the boy wonder…thrust into the role to fill the vacuum left by the beloved and departed Jim Johnson…a classic no-win situation.

McDermott is a 1993 graduate of La Salle College High School, where he was named All-Southeastern Pennsylvania at defensive back in 1992. He went on to earn a B.S. in finance while at the College of William and Mary, where he was an all-conference safety (1997), and also received Academic all-conference honors in 1996 and 1997…

McDermott originally joined the Eagles in 1998 as a scouting administrative coordinator, a position he held until being promoted to assistant to the head coach in 1999. He then became defensive quality control coach and later assistant defensive backs coach. In 2003 he replaced Steve Spagnuolo as defensive backs coach, as Spagnuolo was assigned linebackers coach. In 2004 , McDermott saw both of his starting safeties (Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis) earn Pro Bowl berths. Under McDermott’s watch, Dawkins went on to earn two more Pro Bowl berths following the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

In 2007, McDermott was assigned linebackers coach, after Spagnuolo had left to take the defensive coordinator job for the Giants. On January 28, 2008, Eagles head coach Andy Reid named McDermott secondary coach again.

On May 18, 2009, McDermott was named the interim defensive coordinator as a result of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson’s medical leave of absence. On July 24, 2009, due to the continuing health decline of Johnson, the Eagles announced McDermott would take over as full-time defensive coordinator. Johnson died on July 28, 2009.

Which brings us to here…

Listening to Eagles fan Don Surran helps  put it into perspective: “I feel bad for McDermott. He did an incredible job with the personnel he had to work with. Next to go needs to be the bonehead who decided to get rid of Sheldon Brown last season. He was the heart of the defensive backfield, not “Mister Interception but can’t tackle” Asante Samuel. And the offensive play-calling during the last 6 weeks of the season was horrendous. Whoever called those games needs to have been fired before Sean McDermott. Let’s lay our poor-finish blame on who really deserves it. “

I understand Don’s frustration, but I question his historical and logical accuracy.  McDermott’s defensive unit performance had nothing to do with the play-calling on offense…and right cornerback Sheldon Brown was past his prime in coverage ability when the Eagles cut him loose.

Replacement theories abound for McDermott’s old job…probably the old master, Dick Jauron…maybe the recently fired coach from the 49ers, Mike Singletary…

But the whole scenario seems so reactionary.  Who knows, maybe McDermott went to Reid and said, “I’m just not up to this on-field thing anymore, I need to get back to a front office job where I can make a bigger difference.” It will be weeks or months before we get the full story. True, the Eagles seemed to lack a consistent defensive identity under McD…and their defensive performace in the enemy’s red zone was hit or miss. But for the most part, McD didn’t hurt the Eagles W-L record to the point where he cost them the playoffs…and against Atlanta (a big win) and Green Bay (two close losses), he was good enough within a margin of error to say the defense was not the reason the Birds did not advance further into the playoffs.

Some fans believe McDermott’s heart was in the right place, but his head over-estimated the material he had to work with. He was trying too hard to fill the shoes of the late JJ, and in an attempt to be “creative”, he merely created holes in the Eagles defense to be exposed. How many times was a safety or linebacker up on the line faking a blitz only to fall back into coverage? This works sometimes, but not when your players aren’t fast enough to get into position via a backpedal, or aren’t experienced enough to make quick reads. I think McD may have been more successful if he had been coaching Baltimore’s or Pittsburgh’s defense, but he was trying to do too much with our young defensive personnel.

And as some fans have suggested, add a blue chip OLB and a bigger-sized DT… and maybe McDermott’s schemes would have worked better…

The fact is, our defense was clutch at times, despite giving up plenty of points… the D came up with lots of key stops and turnovers that changed games.
And the Eagles defense performed with a fairly predictable efficiency despite fielding many rookies and free agent pick-ups. I cannot think of a single game where we were totally out of it because of an overly porous defense…except possibly for the second Giants game, which we won anyway.

No, something tells me the McDermott firing has less to do with performance and more to do with personality clashes.  Maybe Andy Reid saw things one way, and McDermott saw them going another…maybe McDermott wanted a bigger say in drafting or trading for defensive personnel?

I guess we’ll never know until the Reid autobiography comes out…or the McDermott tell-all, whichever comes first.

I just think the answer lies somewhere in the battlefield soundtrack of the final game against Green Bay in the playoffs where McDermott is clearly heard asking his troops what they think they should do…  

You’re either a leader of your platoon, or you’re being led by events beyond your vision or control. In a metaphysical sense, we’re all at the mercy of unforeseen circumstance. But in the NFL, a defensive coordinator has to at least put out the illusion he’s in charge and knows what’s best, even if it’s just his best guess. McDermott made the fatal mistake of dropping the veil of illusion.

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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