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By Lacey Gardner

Chuck Pollock column: Open season on McDermott’s credibility?

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It’s hardly a secret that Sean McDermott’s credibility has taken a hit.

The Bills’ seventh-year coach has seen his star acquire major tarnish starting with the egregious 42-36  “13 seconds” overtime loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game at Kansas City two years ago.

But in the last six months there’s been new, justifiable ammunition for McDermott’s critics.

First, though, let’s review as it leads into the most recent quizzical developments.

IT’S BEEN 18 months since, with apologies to “Wide Right,” the most devastating loss in franchise history. McDermott has failed to supply even a shred of insight into how a sure win devolved into an unconscionable defeat.

Who made the absurd decision to opt for a touchback kickoff rather than the obvious squib? Who decided on defending the sideline, with KC having two timeouts remaining, leaving the middle of the field wide open for the Chiefs top receiving weapons?

McDermott has danced around that question with the dexterity of Baryshnikov. His best excuse is “execution,” which in coachspeak infers “the players screwed up.”

But while none will go on the record, several are adamant the special teams coach, Heath Farwell, repeatedly called “squib” but that McDermott apparently wanted to “kick deep.”

That’s the message kicker Tyler Bass got, to the astonishment of Buffalo’s kick coverage team, as the ball sailed into the end zone.

Other players, off the record, said McDermott also took over the defensive play-calling from coordinator Leslie Frazier and decreed protecting the sideline.

Thus, wideout Tyreek Hill made an uncontested 19-yard reception and called timeout No. 2. Tight end Travis Kelce immediately followed with another wide-open reception, this one  for 25 yards, and called the third timeout. On trotted Harrison Butker whose 49-yard field goal tied the game at 36 as time expired.

In the anti-climax, Kansas City won the overtime coin toss and quarterback Patrick Mahomes took the Chiefs 75 yards in eight plays, the clincher a circus catch by Kelce for the winning touchdown. Buffalo never had a possession in OT.

Last month, former league executive Michael Lombardi, now an NFL insider, revealed on Pat McAfee’s national broadcast that it was McDermott who called that fateful defense in the last possession of regulation.

Oddly, that revelation didn’t get much publicity in Western New York. Apparently Bills fans were numb from McDermott’s “execution” excuse with none of the team hierarchy willing to talk about it.

The attitude seemed to be, “tough loss, but we’ll move on” as if the organization wanted to pretend it didn’t happen and thereby spare McDermott from answering for his role.

Besides, the team’s most recent playoff failure, that 27-10 evisceration by the Bengals in the divisional round at Highmark Stadium, no less, was their new focus.

SOON after that debacle, McDermott announced that Frazier was “taking a year off.”

OK, but why would a 64-year-old coordinator, who still aspires to be a head coach, as he was for 3½ years with the Vikings, step aside at that age after a 13-3 regular season, albeit following a demoralizing playoff loss?

What raises suspicion is that the message of Frazier’s “decision” was delivered by McDermott, not a word from Leslie. But interestingly, though supposedly taking the season off, he asked for and got permission from the Bills to visit the spring workouts of the Packers, Commanders and Giants.

After the “13 seconds” loss, Farwell supposedly resigned only to take an immediate job in the same role with the Jaguars, probably figuring he was about to be thrown under the bus. And, indeed, McDermott, rather indelicately offered, “he wasn’t officially fired.”

But he was clearly in the scapegoat on-deck circle.

Farwell hasn’t talked about his “resignation” from the Bills except for one question from the Jacksonville media about what happened on that deep kickoff. His response was a cryptic, “my answer is that’s a question for the Buffalo Bills and Sean McDermott.”

It’s not hard to read between those lines.

Frazier’s situation is also a bit murky.

According to some national outlets, Frazier did, in fact, take the 2023 seasons off … but for a reason. According to reports, McDermott decided to take over this coming season’s defensive play-calling, a move Frazier maintained was not part of his understanding with the head coach. Thus, the year off.

No way does he return to the Bills and, giving McDermott the benefit of the high road, maybe he didn’t want to embarrass Frazier by firing him, and thus make sure he got paid.

But it’s clear he blamed the defensive collapse on his coordinator. And while the defense was lousy that January day, the “potent” offense scored a mere 10 points and the whole team was flatter than a soft taco shell. McDermott had his fingers in all of that.

FINALLY, there’s the Stefon Diggs fiasco.

For a supposed “leader” his failure to show up for the non-mandatory Organized Team Activities was bothersome. But the real issue was mandatory minicamp.

Originally we were told he hadn’t shown up for the first day, after which McDermott said he was “very concerned.” But later it was revealed Diggs was at the team facilities, had gotten his physical, and, according to his spinmeister coach, was excused from Tuesday’s second-day practice. McDermott then pronounced everything was “resolved.”

Don’t bet on it.

The last we saw of Diggs, he was shouting at quarterback Josh Allen in the playoff embarrassment by the Bengals. Later, he tried to leave the stadium before McDermott talked to the team but was brought back into the locker room.

Clearly, Diggs had a problem, starting with Allen.

Some NFL wide receivers have proven to be prima donnas and history suggests Diggs is one of them.

Shortly after the season that should have been addressed immediately rather than seemingly hoping it would go away.

And riddle me this, how could a coach who micromanages every aspect of his team, right down to the people who wash the uniforms, not know Diggs was, in fact, there?

Where was the communication he so proudly touts?

It seems nothing is “resolved” and we haven’t heard the last of it.

 (Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

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