While Sunday’s game between Kansas City and Buffalo demonstrated why both teams are very likely to remain successful for a long time, each team’s success is not just because of the quarterbacks. As exceptional and important as Mahomes and Allen are, Andy Reid and Sean McDermott have also set their teams up for the long-term.
For those who don’t know, Andy is Sean’s mentor. They worked together in Philadelphia where I hired both of them, albeit for very different positions. Despite that, they have many commonalities that have enabled them to excel as head coaches. To illustrate this, let’s start with the hiring process in Philly…
Eagles Hiring and Coaching Tree
For a variety of reasons, including studies we did, we weren’t afraid of hiring Andy Reid, who had never been a coordinator. His intelligence, drive, attention to detail, and ability to evaluate and manage coaches were all apparent when we met him. Even though the team he was working for was looking for a head coach and was run by a Hall of Fame General Manager, we were the only team that interviewed him. We didn’t bias our process by requiring candidates to have proven they were the best coordinator. This allowed us to make the optimal decision.
When we interviewed Sean, we were immediately impressed by his character, steadiness, intelligence, and drive. We actually hired him without knowing which job we were going to give him. At the time, I was doing a number of things, but one of my responsibilities was overseeing the cap. Tom Modrak was overseeing the personnel department then, and the two of us got into a discussion over who Sean was going to work for because we both immediately thought he was that good.
Ultimately, we decided that Sean was going to work primarily for Tom but do work for both of us. But then Andy, who wasn’t even part of Sean’s hiring process, was looking for a Chief of Staff type person that a lot of coaches have. He ended up interviewing Sean, and he was as impressed with Sean as Tom and I were. He then made the decision to hire Sean as his assistant.
Sean grew in that role under Andy, working his way up to become a position coach. Yet, there was no point in which Sean was satisfied. He was extremely driven and not just in terms of climbing the ladder. It revolved around how much he wanted to learn and how many questions he asked. This is how he went about developing his own belief system.
His competitive spirit was also as strong as anybody in the building, and we produced eight or nine head coaches so that’s saying something. In other words, he’s highly competitive even among the most competitive people out there.
At the same time, Andy was proving that we made the right hire for HC. We went 5-11 in his first year and then 11-5 in year two. This was a massive turnaround in which we went to the playoffs, and this was the year before we went to four straight NFC championship games.
People have asked over the years why so many coaches from Andy’s tree have succeeded whereas Belichick’s haven’t. There are two reasons…
First of all, they’re looking for different things when they hire. Andy is literally looking for people that have Sean’s level of upside. He wants dynamic people with high aspirations. Second, Andy is the ultimate teacher. He spends a lot of time teaching his guys how to be coaches. This includes how he wants certain techniques taught, how he wants them to work tape, and how he wants them to be as human beings and leaders. Sean benefitted from all of that.
Now: Success in Kansas City and Buffalo
That brings us to today. Andy and Sean have traits in common that have contributed to their success. They have an incredible appreciation for the value of having a good staff and how important it is to manage it effectively. They are both willing to build their team over time because they want it to be sustainable. They weren’t fighting to make the playoffs in year one. Instead, they realized the smart thing to do is draft really well and make a few strategic additions. This put them in a position to make more consequential additions and have the cap space to keep the successful draft picks once they already improved the team.
They also realized that getting a dominant quarterback is the single most important thing to do but that you can’t force it. They knew they had to trust and respect the General Manager in order to minimize differences of opinion and gaps in philosophy.
The key philosophy here falls into a couple of areas. For team building, do you believe the team should just pick the best players or prioritize certain positions? How important is it that your players are really smart versus just meeting a certain threshold? How important is it that the players are driven to be great (individually versus for the team)? How important is what you hear from a strength and conditioning coach in college about whether to draft a guy or pass? There’s a whole list of things like this that they share in common.
Both Sean and Andy obviously believe in throwing the ball aggressively. Over the past two seasons, Buffalo and KC are the top two teams in terms of early-down pass rate (63.6% and 62.4%, respectively).
They’re both actually conservative in life but progressive and open-minded with football. When Sean came to Philadelphia, his predetermined mindset was certainly not to pass as much as the Bills do now. He was very focused on running the ball often and effectively. By watching Andy and studying the math, Sean evolved to become a coach that is in favor of throwing the ball as much or more than anyone in the league.
Likewise, in Philadelphia, we told Andy we wanted to stop using the 40 time and just use the 10 time in evaluating defensive linemen. There are a lot of coaches that would have just said no. There are a lot of coaches who would want to use both. With Andy, you’d walk in, lay out your case, and at least change his focus about what to prioritize.
Reid and McDermott might be the two most detail oriented people I’ve ever met in my life. They may be the two most driven people and perhaps the two most natural leaders I’ve ever met. And my basis of comparison here is people who are the best. I’m not saying this to brag, but I’ve met Presidents and CEOs of massive companies. Andy and Sean are probably, if not literally, the two most compelling people I’ve met when it comes to things like leadership and attention to detail.
They are very different people. If you met them off the field, you’d have very different interactions. But if you look at the core of what makes them successful, they are actually very similar.
The biggest hiring mistake I made in my career was not hiring Sean as the HC in Cleveland. Hiring Andy in Philadelphia was quite the opposite. Regardless, I’m not surprised that either one is having such success, and I expect it to continue for years to come.