Bills are slowly building a cultural identity

Photo of Sean McDermott from buffalonews.com.

After putting nearly all of BillsMafia to sleep with my last post outlining the context and operational definitions of building team culture as it relates to the NFL – now it’s time to use this information to take a look at how Sean McDermott is putting together his vision about what constitutes an ideal team culture.

Even thought it’s early in McDermott’s tenure in Buffalo (despite the fact that he’s outlasted several previous head coaches), we can at least begin to identify a few fundamental traits he seems to value in building his vision of ‘team culture’.

It’s kind of amusing how some folks physically recoil when they hear McDermott expound on touchy-feely terms like “love for each other”, “having the right DNA” or other assorted phrases he likes to use.

When I look at Sean McDermott it almost seems like someone created a robotic head coach who embodies every quality I value in human beings and coaches. He embraces the intangible qualities in players more so than any head coach the Bills ever had not named Marv Levy.

Photo of Jim Kelly and Marv Levy from allposters.com.

I’ve been yearning for this type of head coach for decades. Now we get to test my hypothesis about team chemistry and intangible qualities important for teams to possess in order to sustain success over time.

So what are these ‘squishy’ traits that McDermott places so much value in as he brings his vision of team culture into reality?

After watching and listening to his discussions with the media there are a few words and concepts he tends to repeatedly emphasize. Let’s take a look at three he seems to reflect in his conversations with the media.

A developed sense of spirituality is arguably one of the most important traits McDermott seems to seek in players he identifies as having the qualities necessary to bring his vision of ‘team culture’ into the light.

Let’s be clear here and mindful of the distinction between spirituality and religiosity. These are not mutually inclusive terms. Though McDermott appears to be a religious man, he is undoubtedly a thoroughly spiritual one.

Photo from buffalobills.com.

The moment in the locker room when the Bills made the playoffs is a great example of McDermott expressing his spiritual nature. While everyone is jumping around with delight, McDermott quietly takes it all in and bows his head.

McDermott also embraces the idea that culture is built by bringing players together who are also compassionate human beings. Look no further than how this team from ownership to fan base embraced PanchoBilla as he so defiantly succumbed to cancer earlier this year. Compassion appears to be another cornerstone trait McDermott seeks in players as they build their unique culture at One Bills Drive.

Being compassionate requires the ability to feel empathy for others. Empathy in basic terms simply means to be able to “be in someone else’s shoes”. While this may seem like something most people possess in terms of personality traits, it’s actually not and its absence is a defining feature of some psychotic and personality disorders.

Finally, the last fundamental word/concept that McDermott seeks in building team culture is perseverance. It’s a word I still have on a tee shirt purchased from the Brian Moorman Foundation years ago.

Merriam-Webster defines perseverance as a “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.”

Photo of CB Taron Johnson from theathletic.com and Getty Images.

When I think of players who demonstrate perseverance, nickel cornerback Taron Johnson immediately comes to mind. The guy injured his shoulder and eventually required surgery but wore a brace and gutted out playing most of last season. He definitely earned the respect of teammates, coaches and fans. That’s perseverance.

Throughout the season I’ll continue an attempt to refine our understanding about how Sean McDermott is creating a unique team culture at One Bills Drive. Identifying spirituality, compassion and perseverance as qualities necessary for the kind of culture Sean McDermott is creating in Buffalo is a good start.

Editor’s babble: See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Training camp is around the corner and we’ll begin to see exactly what McDermott’s vision is for this team this season. If you stand the babble, you can find me on Twitter @RobynMundyWYO.

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at BillsMafia.com. She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the glorious Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @robynmundyWYO.

7 Replies to “Bills are slowly building a cultural identity”

  1. You left out several important things. Number one, work ethic. I actually think that’s at the very top of the list. McDermott and Beane clearly value players who are willing and enthusiastic when it comes to working to get better and preparing for games.

    A close second would be coachability. The Bills also place a high priority on players who are willing to buy-in to the systems and who are motivated to learn and follow instructions.

    And finally, there’s the “good teammate” intangible. That’s why Kyle Williams was such a huge influence on this group. He led by example and he lit a fire under his teammates, on the field, in the locker room and on the sidelines. There’s no room for divas on the Bills’ roster under McDermott.

  2. A few IMPORTANT cultural items left out. Coach very very much wants the team to play tough, and yes nasty, especially the offense and defensive lines. Also, his favorite cultural word is “process”, trust the process to find the right players, to train and prepare, and to execute “our way” at Buffalo.

  3. Thank you Robyn for this great insightful story of our awesome Buffalo Bills Coach Sean McDermott

  4. Bonding and an insatiable desire to get better seem to be two other qualities that McDermott is trying to inculcate into the team’s culture as well.

    Just as soldiers in combat do not fight for “Mom, apple pie, and the country”, but will risk their lives and even die for their buddies next to them, McDermott places a lot of emphasis on getting his players to bond with one another so that they play as much for each other as for themselves.

    McDermott never talks about being satisfied–with himself, the coaches, or the performance of the players. There is always some qualifier that refers to the need to get better. And, if you listen to the players talking in interviews, many, if not most, now, will mention the need to improve or something that they need to do better. That’s guys buying into a cultural mindset that starts with McDermott and extends to the whole organization.