Patriots past helps guide OC Brian Daboll in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Deep inside the Cleveland Browns' training facility nine years ago, the sound of a racquetball bouncing against a whiteboard cut through the quarterbacks' meeting room.

Brian Daboll, in 2009 in his first season as Cleveland's offensive coordinator, wanted to quiz then-Browns quarterback Derek Anderson on his knowledge of the new offense. Daboll flipped on a stopwatch, told Anderson to write down each formation and bounced the ball off the wall -- next to Anderson's head.

"No, stop," Anderson once told his coach. "I'm trying to learn this s---."

"Hurry up," Daboll responded. "Faster. Faster."

"I used to go nuts," Anderson recalled last week. "[But] for quarterbacks, you've got to be able to process it quickly."

Daboll, now in his first year as the Buffalo Bills' offensive coordinator, has not dug out the racquetball as part of his cram sessions with Anderson since the Bills signed the 14th-year quarterback on Oct. 9 and made him their starter a week later. Anderson threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in a 35-7 road loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

However, there has still been pressure to get Anderson, 35, up to speed with Daboll's playbook before his next start, Monday night against the New England Patriots. It is the first time Buffalo has hosted Monday Night Football since 2008, and it's the Bills' only scheduled prime-time game this season.

This was hardly the Bills' plan when they embarked on a regular season that began with Nathan Peterman under center for a Week 1 trip to Baltimore and rookie first-round pick Josh Allen developing behind the scenes as the backup. Peterman's propensity to throw interceptions and Allen's Oct. 14 elbow injury have forced Anderson into the spotlight.

As the Bills navigate quarterback hell, they can look across the sideline Monday night at a team enjoying quarterback heaven. Daboll, whose NFL coaching career began in a Foxboro Stadium office that was the size of a broom closet, adjacent to Bill Belichick's, knows what went into the Patriots' rise to the top.

Daboll, 43, was raised near Buffalo and attended St. Francis High School in Hamburg, New York. After playing football at the University of Rochester, he took a volunteer position at the College of William & Mary in 1997, where current Bills head coach Sean McDermott was in his final season playing as a safety.

"You could tell early on that Brian was serious about it," McDermott said. "[He] was professional in his approach and polished as much as you could be at that point in one's career."

The next year, Daboll's relentless mailing of his résumé to Division I programs led to a phone call from then-Michigan State defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, who offered Daboll an interview in exchange for stopping the barrage of letters. Daboll spent the next two seasons as a graduate assistant on Nick Saban's staff at Michigan State, including his second alongside current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

With Saban's recommendation, Belichick hired Daboll as a defensive coaching assistant in 2000. The Patriots went 5-11 as sixth-round rookie quarterback Tom Brady sat on the bench behind entrenched starter Drew Bledsoe, veteran backup John Friesz and 1999 seventh-round pick Michael Bishop. The Patriots began the 2001 season with a 1-3 record, with Brady starting over an injured Bledsoe in Week 3.

"It didn't start out great, but you learned how Bill was building a culture," Daboll recalled last week. "As a young coach, I was doing whatever I was told to do, whatever that may be. You got to step away from it, watch how Coach Belichick operated with the entire staff. At the start of it, it wasn’t just all what it’s been the last few years. It was a grind. I learned a ton in that situation."

Part of Daboll's duties was diagramming plays for Belichick, including every player's uniform number. In the days of grainy VHS technology, Daboll was not sure about which number a wide receiver wore during a preseason game Daboll was tasked with scouting. He guessed. Early the next morning, the message from Belichick was clear in a sticky note placed on Daboll's pad of play-charting paper.

"Know the league," read Belichick's annotation with the player's correct number.

"You had to be accurate," Daboll said. "If you weren’t accurate, you knew you weren’t accurate."

Daboll's first two seasons in New England were focused on the defense and included little interaction with Brady, but that changed when Daboll became the Patriots' wide receivers coach in 2002. He worked under then-Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis for the next four seasons. Daboll credits Weis as being his primary influence in shaping the offensive system he uses today.

McDaniels, who joined the Patriots' personnel department in 2001 and became quarterbacks coach in 2004, can also trace the roots of his playbook to Weis. However, the two coordinators have followed different paths since Weis left for Notre Dame in 2005. McDaniels became the Patriots' offensive coordinator, while Daboll departed for the New York Jets the next season and later served as offensive coordinator of the Browns (2009-10), Miami Dolphins (2011) and Kansas City Chiefs (2012).

McDaniels and Daboll will not be calling plays out of the same playbook Monday night.

"[We're] just starting out, and we're in a much different spot than they are," Daboll stressed last week. "Are there some similarities? Yeah, I’m sure there’s some similarities. But you can’t -- we’re playing with a quarterback [Anderson] that’s here for the second week.

"So will the [Patriots] recognize some things on tape? I’m sure they will. Just like we do. But at the end of the day, none of that matters. It matters how you go out and execute."

Amid quarterback turmoil, the Bills have not executed this season. They rank 31st in yards per game (234.0) and offensive points scored per game (11.29), ahead of only the Arizona Cardinals in both categories. By one Football Outsiders metric, Buffalo's offense is on pace to be the worst in modern NFL history.

The performance is similar to Daboll's two seasons in Cleveland, when his offense finished 32nd and 29th. His Dolphins unit ranked 22nd in 2011, and his Chiefs offense was 24th the next year. Quarterback turmoil was a constant in that four-year span, as his starters included Anderson (2009), Brady Quinn (2009), Colt McCoy (2010), Jake Delhomme (2010), Seneca Wallace (2010), Chad Henne (2011), Matt Moore (2011), Matt Cassel (2012) and Quinn (2012).

When the Chiefs fired then-coach Romeo Crennel after the 2012 season, Daboll returned to the Patriots for the playoffs and remained in 2013 as an offensive assistant. He spent the following three seasons, 2014-16, as New England's tight ends coach, giving him an opportunity to learn from Brady.

"When I went back, I talked to Tom a lot," Daboll said. "Whether it is reads or footwork or the techniques that he uses. I could go on and on about what I’ve learned from a lot of those guys at New England."

Daboll rejoined Saban as Alabama's offensive coordinator last season, winning a national championship in January. He was hired by McDermott six days later, replacing Rick Dennison.

The opportunity to return to Buffalo played a role in the decision for Daboll, who had maintained a home with his wife near New Era Field throughout his coaching stops across the country.

"This town is a special place," he said last week. "When this opportunity came about, I felt good about the ownership -- which is the first step -- with the Pegula family. I got to talk to [general manager] Brandon [Beane] and Sean and felt good about the direction that they want this organization to go. Even though we’re sitting here with a record that none of us want, the things that they’re trying to create and the things that they believe in were very important to me."

There might not be a ticking stopwatch or a ball bouncing inches from Daboll's head, but there is an urgency for the Bills to turn around one of the league's worst offenses. However, Daboll believes the bigger picture must be kept in perspective as he attempts to develop Allen when he returns.

"Obviously, this is a results business," he said. "But everyone doesn’t see the behind-the-scenes stuff that people do to try to improve and get better. Sometimes that doesn’t show on a Sunday, either, which is the unfortunate part of it. We’re all accountable for that. But keeping the right mindset, working hard to improve, doing everything you can do on a daily basis is something that has always stuck with me coming from [New England]."