ORCHARD PARK, N.J.. — Brian Daboll, offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, loves his players.
And not just for their talent, ability or production capacity. No, Daboll loves his players as they are, and that love is palpable.
Quarterback Josh Allen’s grandmother passed away the day before the 44-34 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9, though her play was hard to judge; 415 yards on passes and four touchdowns in total scored one of the best games of her career.
I kept my cool for the rest of the game and I saw Dabes, Allen said. I’m just glad Dabes was here and I’m letting it all go. I love Dabes and appreciate everything he has been here for me.
Knowing what his quarterback was going through, Daboll met him in the locker room after the game. They hugged and cried together.
When he came off the field to go into the locker room, he kind of fell into my arms, Daboll said. There is a lot of emotion in all of this, especially for him, but also for me. When you love someone and something like this happens, it’s hard.
Daboll is more than just X’s and O’s, which is why his entourage sees him as the perfect leader – and why the Bills could find themselves without their offensive coordinator for three years at the start of the 2021 NFL season.
The Bills are preparing to take on the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round on Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC) despite Daboll’s possible departure, as he is a prime candidate for some of the seven NFL head coaching positions.
Daboll, 45, is in talks with the New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers and is considered a candidate for the Houston Texans, an award for the best season in his seven years as NFL offensive coordinator. The Bills finished the 2020 season ranked second for points (31.3), second for field goal percentage (396.4) and third for field goal percentage (288.8). This is the first time the Daboll offense has ranked higher than 20th in these categories.
After working with the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and the University of Alabama, where he coached legends like Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, Daboll found his wheelhouse in his hometown of Buffalo.
His interest as a head coach stems from his creativity on the field and his ability to build relationships – especially with Allen, who, with the help of Daboll, made the MVP call in the league.
This relationship is so deep that his players are reluctant to publicly brag about Deball.
I hate to give him so much credit because I don’t want him to be taken away from me, said Receiver General Stefon Diggs. He’s a guy who knows what he’s doing, knows the game and knows when to call what. We trust him, whatever he calls it, I’m in. … He always has our back, and I’ve never seen him miss.
Error! The file name is not specified. Brian Daboll, far right, with his teammates from St. Clair High School. Francis in Hamburg, New York. Thanks to Brian Daboll.
Buffalo Daboll’s roots have made this season’s success even sweeter. For him it wasn’t just a job, it was a dream.
He grew up in Buffalo and graduated from St. Thomas High School. Joseph. St. Francis in Hamburg in 1993 is the next city where the Bills play at Orchard Park. So when the Bills won their first playoff game in 25 years on Saturday, he felt it on a deeper level.
People here have been waiting a long time for a competitive team. And we work hard to give them that, Daboll said. It is important to be a part of this community, to grow up here and understand that the Buffalo Bills mean a lot to this region. It’s a testament to the people who went out and all the good people who went to parties and watched them on television. It’s a big football town.
It’s no surprise. I’ve seen it here my whole life.
A cook is only as good as his ingredients.
The Bills’ offensive resurgence is all the more impressive because the last two seasons under Daboll were marked by a climate of confidence.
Buffalo ranked 28th in total offense in its first two seasons (2018 and 2019) and was one of only four teams to average less than 200 yards per game.
Especially after last season, when the Bills scored just 19.6 points per game, Daboll has become a popular scapegoat among fans.
But Executive Director Brandon Beane has been realistic when it comes to evaluating bills, including the Daboll bill.
Error! The file name is not specified. Led by QB Josh Allen and coordinator Brian Deball, the Bills finished the 2020 season second in the NFL in points (31.3) and second in yards per game (396.4). Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
When Brian was 18 years old here, we were obviously very young and inexperienced in key positions, Beane said. This is Josh’s second year, and we’ve given arms to Cole [Beasley] and John Brown – but we’re still short of men here…. I think what Brian did from 18 to 19 showed growth, and obviously that starts at the most critical position – look at Josh’s growth and what he did. Brian was there too, Ken Dorsey.
That’s the promise we were given: If we add a few more, Brian and his team can help us score more points.
Beane said he’s not prepared to make the same rash decisions as Daboll’s previous teams when he spent one season with the Dolphins and another with the Chiefs. He was fired after two seasons in Cleveland.
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But when Daboll was around, these crimes lacked leaders. He had some great players – receiver Brandon Marshall in Miami and Jamaal Charles in Kansas City – but those offices didn’t have the patience to let him change his system and add enough talent to do so.
Sometimes I see the national coaches evaluate players who don’t have much to do, Beane said. A chef is only as good as his ingredients.
True to Beane’s words, Buffalo has led the NFL in measurable continuity this season – the number of coaches and players who have returned. He included 10 players on each side of the ball.
Daboll said continuity is very important, not only in terms of player development but also in terms of the chemistry he creates with his fellow coaches.
If you have continuity, that helps, he said. You can learn from past experiences. We could be in a staff meeting and one of the coaches would say: Hey, remember two years ago? We came in third. It’s hard to do the first year. Sometimes it’s hard to do in the second year. We made a lot of changes to the coaching staff from year one to year two, and we did the same with the players. So, chemistry is really good as long as you have the right people to work with.
This chemistry has also led to what may be the biggest development in the Bills’ offense this season.
Birth of a new crime
Perhaps the most obvious change in the Buffalo 2020 plan is the way Daboll has deployed his staff. For the first time in his career, he had players playing in the attack.
In March, the Bills traded for Diggs, drafting Gabriel Davis (fourth round) and Isaiah Hodgins (sixth round).
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Buffalo ranks second in the NFL with four or more wide receiver fields this season (155) after allowing 14 combined runs in the last two seasons. However, since the off-season was shortened due to the COWID-19 pandemic, it was not immediately apparent that the bills had been introduced.
We knew the tough situations, but the four-man team didn’t come out until we saw what kind of guys we had and how they competed with the guys on defense and then the production they had. And then build from there, Mr. Daboll said.
Sean McDermott, the Bills coach, called the decision to form a four-man team a product of collaboration and communication, and while unheard of in his time with the Bills, it was quickly implemented.
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Buffalo beat the New York Jets in week one with 22 such plays, which was Allen’s first 300-yard pass. By the end of the season, Allen had set franchise records for passing yards (4,544), finishes (396) and passing touchdowns (37) in a single season, largely due to a change in schedule.
Allen and Daboll have an open line of communication during the game, so much so that the former often suggests games to his coach – who trusts his quarterback’s judgment.
In the Bills’ Week 15 victory over the Broncos, Allen Diggs scored from 55 yards to seal the game. The reception of the game was all his.
I went to Dorsey and I said: It’s a play I want someone to call me, Allen said. And Daboll gave me the chance to do it. He trusts me in those situations where I have no way out downstairs. But it was one of those plays where we catch them in a quick stroke and our guys pass them and I gave him a chance to catch the ball.
To me, it means that the whole world knows that [Daboll] trusts me enough to listen to what I have to say. … If it’s a play I offer him and he mentions it and plays it, it’s pretty special.
Blessing and cursing
If Daboll leaves, it will end the continuity that allowed the Bills to go from 6-10 in 2018 to a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2020. But it’s a sign that the organization has taken a step forward.
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When you win, people want a share of the winners and the success, and I understand that, Mr. McDermott said.
Beane hopes this will make buffalo rescuers more selective when considering other options.
You hope to have a good situation – and I think that’s the case here – where Brian doesn’t just take the first job he’s offered, Beane said. If he goes there, you hope it’s a place where he feels comfortable, where he can win.
Leslie (Fraser) is the same, Leslie deserves a chance as much as anyone I know…. He’s past the head coach stage, but he definitely wants to try again. We hope they get an interview here in Buffalo, what they have to say: I like the opportunity, I liked the interview, but I don’t know if they’re ready to win. I don’t know if this situation suits me, I’ll stay in Buffalo for another year or so.
Beane made it clear that he would not be blamed if Daboll continued.
If they’ve never been [head coach] before, I think most guys want to test themselves at the highest level, Bills’ general manager said. Brian wasn’t a head coach, so I’m sure he falls into that category, like most people, and he’ll want to test his sanity.
Whether or not he leaves his hometown in the offseason, Daboll says he’s grateful for the opportunity to coach the team he grew up with.
It’s a class organization that does everything right.