Buffalo Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott ’98 Receives William & Mary's Principled Achievement Award for Exemplary Leadership

The prestigious Principled Achievement Award from William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business will find a new home this evening in the hands of Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott ’98. McDermott will be presented the award on March 21 in New York City at a ceremony celebrating his exceptional leadership and commitment to principled achievement both on and off the football field.

The Principled Achievement Award is reserved for individuals who exemplify integrity, leadership and excellence throughout their careers. McDermott, a former standout player and coach at William & Mary, expressed his gratitude humbly, acknowledging the significance of being honored by his alma mater for achievements beyond the realm of football.

“As coaches, we are ultimately measured by whether we win football games. I don’t want to minimize its importance, but I try to focus on how I go about business — the day-to-day process, the core values that I try to embody and how I treat people,” he said.

Dean Todd Mooradian praised McDermott’s accomplishments. “I take immense pride in presenting Sean with this year’s Principled Achievement Award,” he said. “His success on and off the field serves as an inspiration to our community, reflecting the core principles we strive to instill in our students. We celebrate his exemplary leadership and unwavering integrity with great honor and enthusiasm.”

The seasoned coach is known for emphasizing the importance of treating individuals with respect and appreciating their contributions, both within and outside the confines of the organization. His players have publicly stated that they would do anything for him not just because of his leadership as a coach, but also because of who he is as a person and how much he genuinely cares for his players.

McDermott pointed to the acronym “HEART,” prominently displayed in the Bills' facility, which symbolizes Hard Work, Energy, Accountability, Respect and Teamwork, and serves as a guiding principle in setting his intentions for each day.

“It’s important to me that all of our players feel supported on a day-to-day basis. I spend a lot of time with our guys checking in on them, their families, and their personal lives because if they’re not in the right mindset, they will not be able to perform at their maximum capacity,” he said.

Born in 1974 in Omaha, Nebraska, McDermott played football and wrestled his junior and senior year at La Salle College High School, located north of Philadelphia. Though he had a number of college wrestling scholarship offers, he chose to attend William & Mary as a football walk-on, playing the position of safety from 1994-1997. He earned all-conference academic honors his junior and senior years. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in finance, he began his coaching career at William & Mary, serving as a graduate assistant for the football team during the 1998 season.

Later, McDermott joined the Philadelphia Eagles, serving in various roles. Notably, he reached the Super Bowl as the Eagles' secondary and safeties coach in 2004. He became the defensive coordinator for the Eagles in 2009 and was named as the league’s Top Defensive Coordinator by Pro Football Weekly Magazine.

In 2011, McDermott became the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, where he played a key role in improving the team’s defense. His success made him a sought-after candidate for head coaching positions in the NFL.

McDermott’s coaching style is highly influenced by his wrestling background. He has previously said wrestling shaped his ability to overcome adversity, build determination and convert work ethic into recognizable performance. This mindset has emerged as a key factor in creating a successful culture within the Buffalo Bills organization over the last seven seasons. His commitment to principles like “Trust the Process” and his cultivation of a familial atmosphere have played a pivotal role in fostering team chemistry and ultimately contributing to the team’s success.

“Trust the Process” ensures that every player, irrespective of their role, feels valued and appreciated, as it significantly impacts team performance and overall success. It’s helped McDermott recruit and build a team of selfless, disciplined and determined players, coaches and staff who recognize that each person’s contributions help the team build toward greatness. In other words — a group of individuals who are living lives of principled achievement.

The term “Principled Achievement,” coined by former Mason School Dean Larry Pulley, ’74, P ’13, P ’15, began with a question, “What if the Mason School of Business did not exist and did not produce graduates?” The answer was simple: The world would be without many high quality people and high quality leaders. The notion of “Principled Achievement” articulates what numerous students describe as their initial impression they experienced upon visiting William & Mary for the first time — the inexplicable magnetism that attracts individuals of remarkable moral character and integrity.

Students, faculty, staff and alumni often say that Mason School graduates lead lives of principled achievement, meaning they achieve at a high level, and they do so in an ethical, principled manner. A principled leader values people, builds community, focuses on the development of others and inspires and serves as an example to others, encapsulating their overall strength of character.

“We believe in fostering leaders who not only excel in their respective fields but also exemplify unwavering principles and ethical leadership,” said Associate Dean of MBA & Executive Programs Ken White. “This award is a testament to our commitment to recognizing and celebrating individuals who embody these values and emphasizes the profound impact principled leadership has on making a better world.”

Reflecting on his formative years at William & Mary, McDermott credited the institution for shaping his character and influencing his leadership style. “I believe that William & Mary is really fertile ground for not only developing football players and coaches, but also people that are prepared for the challenge beyond college. You see William & Mary graduates every year going out and proving their worth in a lot of different capacities in the world.”

He credits key figures such as his former coach Jimmye Laycock ’70, P ’14 and Hobie Blosser, retired assistant athletic director for facilities and operations, whose mentorship extended beyond football. “I felt like they looked at me not only as a football player but also, more importantly, as a young man who was trying to become a leader on and off of the field,” he said.

The Principled Achievement Award is presented annually to an individual who is selfless, inclusive, caring, compassionate and other-centric; practices high integrity; and succeeds and wins. McDermott has embodied these attributes throughout his coaching career and hopes to inspire the next generation of principled leaders.

“It’s important that the young leaders of today have command of what they believe in and try to remain close to the epicenter of their core values because they will be tested almost every day. There will be temptation to circumvent the process or to take shortcuts — the pressures are real,” he said. “My advice is to stick to your foundation, and always remember where you come from and what you stand for when facing adversity.”

As McDermott prepares to receive the Principled Achievement Award from his alma mater, the ceremony promises to be a celebration of his impactful journey and his ongoing dedication to principled achievement. The award not only recognizes his coaching prowess on the football field but also his unwavering commitment to fostering integrity, leadership and excellence in all aspects of life. McDermott's journey serves as an inspiration, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of principled leadership in sports.