CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is getting a chance to interview for the head-coaching job at Washington this weekend thanks to a change in the rules that kept his boss from opportunities early in his career.
Assistant coaches whose teams have a first-round bye are allowed to interview up until the conclusion of the wild-card games on Sunday. Those that have first-round games can't interview until their season is over or until the two-week break between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, if there is one.
By then, some teams will have moved on and hired a coach.
"I was on the other side of that when I didn't get to and didn't get my opportunity,'' Carolina coach Ron Rivera said on Wednesday. "We try to minimize it as far as being a distraction. [But] the league has found a happy medium as far as that's concerned.''
McDermott is determined not to make his candidacy to replace Mike Shanahan, fired on Monday, a distraction. He declined to discuss the Redskins' opening with reporters.
But the 39-year-old architect of the league's second-ranked defense did tell the team on Wednesday what was going on to make sure they understood his primary focus was on their Jan. 12 home playoff game.
In talking to players, they don't foresee McDermott's interview being a distraction. If anything they take it as a compliment, understanding McDermott is getting this opportunity because they have played so well.
"Not a distraction at all,'' safety Mike Mitchell said. "Coach McDermott, so excited for him just for the man he is, the type of family man and coach he is. He's one of the better defensive coordinators in the league, and that's why he's getting interest to be a head coach.
"Obviously, he's a young guy, but he's a great player's coach. Him getting interviews is great for him.''
Defensive end Greg Hardy agreed.
"We're a family,'' he said. "We're a team. We're a unit. He came to us a like a man, like a coach, like a mentor, like he's supposed to. Proud of him. These are awards he gets, like the Pro Bowl, like our records. It's just what comes with greatness.''
Hardy doesn't hesitate to credit McDermott for helping him to develop into the player that was selected to his first Pro Bowl with a team single-season record 15 sacks.
"Big time,'' he said. "He's the guy that dials it up. I give him a lot of respect for just letting us run free and play as a defensive line most of the time and rushing with four.
"Because that takes a lot confidence as a defensive coordinator to say we have four guys, we don't have to blitz every single play.''
Because the Panthers have a bye, McDermott will have more time to prepare for the interview than he would in a normal week. Rivera is sending his coaches home instead of having them work until 9 or 10 p.m.
Rivera said the best advice McDermott has gotten this week came from general manager Dave Gettleman.
"You only get one chance to make a first impression, so be prepared,'' said Rivera, who interviewed for eight jobs in six years before getting his first head-coaching job at Carolina in 2011. "That's probably the best piece of advice you can get. Going forward, that will be one of the things Sean does, be prepared.''
At the same time, McDermott will be preparing the Panthers for either Philadelphia, Green Bay or San Francisco.
"He just told us he was 100 percent focused on our game, which we all know that he is; that he was up for a job and he was thankful for us for how we've played,'' Mitchell said. "He recognizes it's a team effort. We're all excited for him and happy for him.''