Bills promote Bobby Babich to defensive coordinator: Will Sean McDermott still call plays?

One year removed from Leslie Frazier stepping away and coach Sean McDermott taking over the defensive coordinator duties, the Buffalo Bills have elected to name a new defensive coordinator for the 2024 season and beyond. The Bills promoted linebackers coach Bobby Babich to the role, the team announced Tuesday, marking the first time Babich has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL in his coaching career.

Babich, 40, has been with the Bills since McDermott’s arrival in 2017, originally brought on as the team’s assistant defensive backs coach. That lasted only one year, as Babich was promoted to safeties coach in 2018, a role that he served in over the next four seasons. In 2022, the Bills then named Babich the linebackers coach, where he served through the end of their most recent season.

But the relationship with McDermott goes longer than just Buffalo. Babich originally got his NFL start in Carolina in 2011 as an administrative assistant to the coaching staff, before getting promoted to a defensive assistant in 2012. McDermott was the defensive coordinator for the Panthers in both seasons.

Before being elevated to the top defensive coaching position in Buffalo, Babich had received requests to interview for vacant defensive coordinator jobs with the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins, according to reports. A rising star within the coaching staff since his arrival, the Bills likely did not want to lose him.

“Bobby’s a good coach. He’s developed players,” McDermott said at their season-ending news conference. “I think when you evaluate a coach, are you taking what you have and making it better? It doesn’t need to get any more complex than that, and Bobby’s done that.”

Babich is the son of longtime NFL assistant coach Bob Babich, who also spent five years with his son in Buffalo, serving as the linebackers coach, before retiring in 2021. Bobby Babich took over his father’s positional job the next season.

Making players better

In each of his two positional grouping stops in Buffalo, the Bills watched both the safeties and linebackers flourish under Babich’s tutelage. The team’s defense was led by the safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer for several years, as the two had their best seasons in Buffalo during the time Babich was their positional coach. Babich got the opportunity to work with two extremely talented players for those four seasons, but his best work happened over the last two years.

When made the linebackers coach, the Bills saw former middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds have the best season of his young career in 2022 before leaving for the Chicago Bears on a massive free-agent contract. And then in 2023, the Bills went through both a full-scale starting competition in the summer, and then losing their best linebacker early in the year when Matt Milano suffered a season-ending leg injury. With Babich, second-year linebacker Terrel Bernard took a massive step forward in his career after winning the middle linebacker job in the summer outright. Then after Milano’s injury, they moved backup Tyrel Dodson from the middle linebacker spot to outside linebacker, created a strategy to have Dodson come off the field on obvious passing downs to accentuate his strengths, and watched as Dodson had the best season of his career. Dodson had been a middle linebacker most of his Bills career.


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Defensive coordinator in waiting?

Babich has been on a career path eerily reminiscent to the one McDermott himself went on in Philadelphia before being named the Eagles full-time defensive coordinator in 2009. McDermott went from assistant defensive backs coach, to the lead defensive backs coach and then the linebackers coach before ascending to the coordinator role. McDermott likely saw potential in Babich early and helped his new defensive coordinator reach his coaching potential as the lead man. McDermott has long believed in promoting from within to those who deserved it. That’s what McDermott has done with his last three coordinator hires — Ken Dorsey, Joe Brady and now Babich.

Even early into Babich’s career with the Bills, he was doing some notable things that few assistant coaches had done. After some practices, he would corral the defense to stay on the field and would run an extended walkthrough just for the reps, likely from both a player perspective for the upcoming game and for him as a coach looking to gain experience. Babich had always been the name to keep an eye on if Frazier ever moved on from his post, and now with seven years in McDermott’s scheme, Babich is now trusted to do so full-time.

Who calls the plays?

The one lingering question with the hire is if Babich will call the plays. McDermott took over the defensive coordinator duties in 2023 and handled all the defensive play-calling in addition to being the head coach, to which general manager Brandon Beane said he believed McDermott could handle both roles moving forward. However, Babich was under consideration to be the defensive coordinator even dating back to last year once Frazier stepped away. He was also potentially interviewing with three teams that had head coaches with an offense background, meaning he would have called the plays if he successfully landed one of those jobs.

It really all depends on what McDermott wants to do, as the Bills are likely leaving the decision in the head coach’s hands. However, if there’s someone McDermott could trust enough to run his defense in a similar way to how he would do it, Babich is likely that person. McDermott also has a good self-awareness for his career that a team and a coach trusted him to do the same when he was young in his career. So that could help ease any hesitation to relinquish calling the plays.

McDermott could choose to split the difference here if he feels as strongly about Babich’s potential as he shows whenever asked about him. The team naming Babich the defensive coordinator could have been to thwart the threat of him leaving the organization while creating a plan to eventually hand off play-calling duties to him at some point in 2024 or in 2025 once he is fully comfortable with the role.

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(Photo: Fred Kfoury III / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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