PHILADELPHIA -- Sean McDermott grew up a Philadelphia Eagles fan and came of age working as an assistant coach during the team’s best years.
Now the defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, the 41-year-old McDermott could be a candidate to replace Chip Kelly as the Eagles’ head coach. In an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic, an ESPN station, McDermott said he’s "always interested" in the possibility of returning to Philadelphia.
"I love the Philadelphia area and, quite honestly, it’s been tough to watch the last several years, having grown up in the area and worked there for 12 years," McDermott said. "The fan base, I know it’s important to them. They’re genuine, they’re dedicated and they’re real.
"And the facilities up there are second to none, so I’d love to see the Eagles recapture the magic, so to speak."
McDermott graduated from La Salle College High School in 1993. After going to college at William & Mary, where he played as a defensive back, McDermott began working for the Eagles in 1998. He was a defensive assistant on Andy Reid’s staff, where he worked for coordinator Jim Johnson and alongside his current boss, Ron Rivera.
"I don’t think there’s a lot of people that are fortunate, like I was, to be around a mentor like Jim -- and like Andy, to be honest with you," McDermott said. "On the defensive side, Jim really taught me how to attack an offense, how to attack an opposing quarterback and how to formulate a game plan.
"Jim’s just been a huge influence on me professionally, and in some ways personally as well."
McDermott coached the Eagles’ defensive backs, including safeties Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis and cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown. He moved over to coach linebackers in 2007. After Johnson’s death in 2009, McDermott was promoted to defensive coordinator.
He spent two seasons in the job, coinciding with the Eagles’ overall decline under Reid. After being fired in January, 2011, McDermott was hired by Rivera to serve as defensive coordinator of the Panthers.
The Panthers’ defense has been in the NFL’s top 10 for the past four seasons, the only team to achieve that.
"It’s been special," McDermott said. "It’s been a process. Really what we’ve done is establish a tradition in Carolina of playing defense."
The Eagles used to have that tradition, with coaches from Marion Campbell and Buddy Ryan through Bud Carson, Ray Rhodes and Johnson.
"It’s about an identity," McDermott said. "The greatest compliment a coach can get from another coach around the league is, 'Hey, your guys play hard. They’re tough.'
"And our guys are just that. Regardless of who we play, where we play and when we play, when you turn the film on, our guys play hard. They play to the whistle. You know you’re going to be in for a full afternoon when you play our defense and our football team."
Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said after firing Kelly that he wanted a head coach who could relate to players, that leadership in the NFL has changed even over the past 10 to 15 years.
"It’s about people," McDermott said. "We’re not in the business of making doorknobs. We’re in the business of people. There are things you have to do these days as a coach and as a teacher to deal with the modern athlete."
Players, he said, "love just seeing your true personality. It’s one thing to be a guy behind your desk in your office with the door closed. They want to see who you really are, who you are with your children and your family."
The Eagles have not contacted McDermott. Because the Panthers are in the bye week before starting in the playoffs next week, McDermott is eligible to be interviewed later this week.
"I’m going to defer to my agent at this time," McDermott said. "I’m humbled and honored to be in that conversation."