CHARLOTTE – When Ron Rivera called Sean McDermott and asked if he'd be interested in becoming the Panthers' defensive coordinator, McDermott didn't grapple with the decision for long at all.
McDermott's wrestling days are long behind him.
"I was probably a better wrestler in high school than I was a football player," said McDermott, who lost just one match over his final two years of high school on his way to a pair of National Prep School Wrestling Championships. "But my dad was a football coach, so I grew up around the football table, so to speak, as a part of a big sports family. It's been a part of my life since the time that I was young."
McDermott chose football over wrestling out of high school, and though he's never forgotten the lessons learned from wrestling, it's clear he made a wise decision.
He landed an NFL job at age 25 and became a coordinator at 35.
"When I wrestled, I would think about my opponent and if I'm training harder than he is. That's still true today," said McDermott, now 37. "You pay your dues, you work hard and you try and do the right thing. There are going to be bumps along the road, but you just have to stay focused on your goals and keep challenging yourself, and good things will happen along the way."
McDermott was an easy choice for Rivera. The Panthers hired McDermott less than a week after the Philadelphia Eagles let him go in January.
Rivera was the Eagles' linebackers coach from 1999-2003, coinciding with McDermott's first five seasons on the Eagles' coaching staff.
"Ron and I worked closely together, and that relationship has since developed even more and is probably the reason I'm here now," McDermott said. "We work well together and we think along the same lines in a lot of ways. In some ways we don't, but that makes for a good balance."
McDermott likened the situation that the Panthers' new coaching staff faces to the one that Andy Reid faced with Philadelphia.
The Eagles went 3-13 in 1998, but Reid took over in '99 and after a 5-11 season won 11 or more regular season games for five consecutive years. In 12 seasons, Reid has won six division titles and has made five trips to the NFC Championship.
"We went into a situation where the Eagles hadn't won a lot of games, and we were able to turn them into a perennial power," McDermott said. "We're looking to do the same thing here."
The Panthers are coming off a 2-14 season, but McDermott believes that many pivotal pieces are in place for a reversal of fortune.
"Outside looking in, when I was up in Philadelphia, I always had a lot of respect for the Panthers," McDermott said. "I always thought they put a good product on the field and that the players played hard. I had an opportunity years ago to work with Jon Beason at the Pro Bowl and really have a lot of respect for him.
"I think this is a great opportunity. It's a situation where we've got some challenges, but that's what we're here to do. We're here to turn this thing around and prove a lot of people wrong. We've got a good foundation from which to do that."
McDermott's defensive philosophy is founded on tenets developed by Jim Johnson, the Eagles' defensive coordinator for the first decade of Reid's tenure. When Johnson lost his battle with cancer in the summer of 2009, McDermott assumed the role of defensive coordinator and continued Johnson's bold approach, helping the Eagles tie for the NFL lead with 72 takeaways over the course of the '09 and '10 seasons.
"I cut my teeth systematically around Coach Johnson and that aggressive nature," McDermott said. "It will be aggressive. That doesn't mean blitzing all the time - careless blitzing - but it will be aggression-based.
"This is a system that's been extremely effective and successful, and that's what I bring to the table. But also we're going to mix a blend of what they've done in the past and what Coach Rivera has done over the years. We're going to put our collective heads together and come up with a winning formula."