Defenses are notorious for setting pitches, so only a couple of fit coaches who come from this side of the ball have set this precedent.
But for the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, the “standard” goes beyond defense. Quarterback bills Josh Allen The Titans quarterback Ryan Taneyhill Both used the word when describing their coaches, who have carried out two of the highest scoring offenses in the NFL since 2020.
Not bad for defensive players.
Bills coach Sean McDermott and Titans coach Mike Frabel, both defensive coordinators prior to being named head coaches, bucked the 10-year trend that had been leaning toward hiring coaches with offensive backgrounds. Their teams meet Monday night at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo for the first game of double-header soccer Monday night (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+).
“I texted him about a week ago, just telling him how much I appreciate and love him and how he handled the situation here and let men be men,” Allen said of McDermott. “Early on he was setting that foundation and that standard, and really trying to put us on the direct path to where we want to be. And that’s the dividing mindset.”
Biles hired McDermott coach in 2017, while Titans commissioned Frabel the following year. They’ve had two of the most successful hires in the past 10 seasons. Frabell has won 62% of his games (41-25), ranking fourth among the appointments since 2013, while McDermott is fifth with 61% (50-32). They do this in an environment where coaches from offensive backgrounds get nearly twice as many opportunities to be head coaches. Of the 70 coaches in the NFL since the start of the 2013 season, 46 (or 66%) have come from an offensive background, compared to 24 from a defensive background.
“Because [of] The teacher type offensive mark out there, a lot of people want the new young teacher to come out of [Los Angeles Rams coach] “I think that’s probably what a lot of people are looking for,” McDermott said of offensive coaches getting more chances.
Bells’ defense coordinator, Leslie Frazier, has had a similar experience. He has interviewed several coaching editorials after his tenure as the Minnesota Vikings coach from 2011 to 2013. Frazier said the owners and program managers told him they were looking for an offensive coach.
“Teams are drafting these young players and they want to see them play early,” Frazier told ESPN. “They get the impression that you have to have an offensive coach, usually an ex-coordinator, to guide that young player.
“They feel this guy will do a better job with the young midfielder than the defensive coach does.”
Although Frabell and McDermott hail from defensive backgrounds, their success has been driven by more than strong defences.
Buffalo averaged 28.4 points per game last season, third in the NFL. In 2020, the Bills’ 31.3 points per game average was the second highest in the league. Former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Dabol is now the coach of the New York Giants.
Tennessee’s offensive averaged 30.7 points per game (4th in the NFL) in 2020, which led to the appointment of former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to coach the Atlanta Falcons. Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur served as Vrabel’s offensive coordinator in 2018.
McDermott found the quarterback his franchise when he drafted Bills Allen in 2018, and he’s developed into one of the game’s shining young stars. For Vrabel, trading for Tannehill and giving the quarterback a second chance was key to Tennessee’s success.
“He has a clear vision and everyone knows what to expect,” Tanehill said of Frabel. “It sets a standard and binds us to it.”
Despite their undeniable offensive successes, McDermott and Frabell are still primarily seen as ‘defensive minds’. Those who have played under both coaches note the focus on this aspect of the ball.
“I really think it’s just about the effort, how these guys fly, and making sure they can handle. Those are the three huge cases where I know both coaches have taken advantage of that debt,” said Bales, the offensive man. Roger Savold, who previously played with the Titans. “Working for an attack-minded coach, they still believe in that, the defensive coordinator has been great at the same things, but I think it shows a little more when you’re a head coach because there’s your questioning and ‘listen,’ you have to do this.”
Having some personal insight helps when conflicting with the flair for hiring offensive-minded coaches. The Titans’ general manager John Robinson was in the scouting division of the New England Patriots while Frabel was playing quarterback there in the 2000s.
Robinson was impressed by the way Frabel asked so many of his teammates. These traits were revisited when Robinson interviewed Frabel years later.
“Mike has a fantastic presence, excellent leadership skills and excellent knowledge of the game,” Robinson said. “And at the end of the day, we felt like this was the next head coach for the Tennessee Titans.”
Having only served one year as a defensive coordinator, Frapel could have been seen as unprepared to be a head coach. Frabel had seven years of coaching experience and quickly rose through the ranks after retiring in 2010. He joined his alma mater, Ohio State, as a linebacker coach in 2011 before moving to the defensive line the following season.
Leaving Ohio wasn’t something Frabel initially considered. But his wife, Jane, challenged him to go to the NFL. So he interviewed Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien to be the midfield coach.
Frabel held this position for three seasons (2014-2016) before taking over as defensive coordinator (2017). The Titans hired Frabel to be their coach the following year.
When it came time to transition to coach one, Frabel relied on previous experiences under the coaches’ supervision to help him along the way.
“I don’t know if you really know you’re ready,” said Frabel. “I’ve been around great people in Ohio, around great people in Houston. I had this opportunity, and then just follow the things you’ve learned and your intuition and instincts and then try to adapt along the way.”
Former Steelers coach Frapel mentioned Bill Coyer and Patriots’ Bill Belichick – both coaches from defensive backgrounds – as coaches he learned a lot from as a player.
While McDermott did not play in the NFL, he was safe in William and Mary after a famous high school wrestling career. He began his coaching career at his alma mater before joining the Philadelphia Eagles as a scouting administrative coordinator in 1998. He became the defensive coordinator for the Eagles in 2009 and later became the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers under Ron Rivera following his dismissal in Philadelphia.
Rivera said he knew McDermott would be a good coach. Rivera saw McDermott as a young assistant when both men were defensive coaches on the Andy Reed crew in Philadelphia. Then Rivera hired McDermott as his defensive coordinator in Carolina, and tasked him with the daunting task of running defense…for a guy who knew something about managing defenses. Rivera himself was a coordinator in Chicago and San Diego before becoming head coach.
“I tried not to get in Shawn’s way as much as possible,” Rivera, now head coach for the Washington Leaders, said in 2021. “The thing I understand is Shawn had one of the worst coaching positions he’s ever held, and this is a coordinator for a coach who’s been a coordinator who’s worked with you before.” However he made it. He was the right kind of guy. Like I’ve told people before, I can actually say I haven’t taken anything away from him. He did this and he did a great job. And it doesn’t surprise me that he’s had the success that he has.”
Along with General Manager Brandon Bean, McDermott has created the Bills Organization over the past five years. Players and coaches who worked with McDermott during most of that time have noted how he has evolved as a coach.
“He did a good job early on in helping create a culture where players feel like they can be themselves,” Frazier said of McDermott. “And that was one thing I think we learned with Andy Reed, and he was big on letting your personality show. He didn’t put guys in a box, and he says, ‘It has to be that way.'”
Now, the two teams will face each other in an early important match. For the Titans, a 0-2 start wouldn’t bode well for their playoff hopes. There are no 0-2 teams in the playoffs since the stadium expanded to 14 teams in 2020. On the other hand, the Bills are looking to win their first Monday Night Football win in decades after achieving 2-9 (.182) on Monday since 2000, the worst record in the NFL.
The two coaches have become familiar with each other after facing each other for the past four seasons, with the two teams splitting the series (2-2). The Titans won their Week 6 game last season by 143 yards of running back Derek Henry. After training against each other a lot, there is mutual respect.
“A good football coach,” McDermott said of Frabel. “He did a great job, he and John [Robinson] Together to build that team into their culture.”
“There is familiarity. I have a lot of respect for Shawn, for the program they have, and their football team. It will be a huge challenge down the road, and we are looking forward to it,” said Frabel.