On Sunday, we’ll get our first look at Nick Sirianni as a head coach in a regular-season NFL game.
We’ve had 6 ½ months to watch him coach, listen to him talk and study how he interacts with players and coaches and try to get a sense of just who he is and what he’s all about.
As the Eagles prepare to open the 2021 season Sunday against the Falcons in Atlanta, here are 10 things I’ve noticed about Sirianni since he arrived in Philadelphia in January.
Communication: Maybe the most impressive achievement of Sirianni’s first six months as head coach was winning over Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Jason Kelce, the Eagles’ unquestioned veteran leaders. His ability to negotiate a compromise in the spring after the Eagles had announced they would be boycotting OTAs was eye-opening. For a young, unknown coach to get through to some very accomplished veteran stars was impressive. And we’ve seen that communication skill throughout camp as well. Sirianni has an open-door policy and he comes across as honest, consistent and fair, qualities that all players value in a coach.
Hands on: Every head coach has a different philosophy about doing the kind of hands-on coaching they did as assistants. There’s no right or wrong. Buddy Ryan stood in the middle of the field during practice twirling his whistle and let his assistants do everything. Andy Reid occasionally pulled a player aside for some direct coaching but it was rare. Doug Pederson always spent time at practice with the quarterbacks. With Sirianni, you see it all the time, mainly with the receivers but at times with other positions as well. He just really seems to have a passion for the actual coaching part of coaching.
Larry Kehres: Buddy always quoted Weeb Ewbank. Ray Rhodes always talked about Ronnie Lott. With Andy Reid it was Mike Holmgren. Chip Kelly’s guy was long-time UNH coach Sean McDonnell. With Sirianni, the mentor he constantly refers to is his college coach, Larry Kehres, the legendary head coach at Mt. Union in Alliance, Ohio, from 1986 through 2012. Kehres was 332-24-3 at Mount Union and his .929 winning percentage is highest in college football history. But it’s clear after talking to Sirianni that Kehres’ influence on him goes beyond football and into a lot of his core values like connection, accountability, competition and so on. Other than his dad, nobody helped shape Sirianni as much as Kehres.
Energy: In a way, Sirianni comes across more like a typical high school coach than an NFL coach with his unwavering high-octane approach. I’m not sure how many NFL players are used to this sort of super-charged energy from a coach, but so far at least he’s made it work because it’s not a gimmick, it’s who he really is. And he knows ball. And really the best way to get players to buy in is by being yourself, being honest and truly knowing ball. I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to sustain this sort of pace over a long season, but I do know that every player appreciates a coach that’s working as hard as they are.
Getting better 1 percent every day: One thing every new coach has to be careful of is losing his players, and if you keep repeating the same things over and over, that’s a real danger. Sirianni speaks constantly about getting 1 percent better every day, about competition, about connecting, about core values. All that stuff makes sense, but my concern would be that eventually all those buzz words will start to lose their meaning if the players hear them day after day. Every coach has to constantly find new ways to engage players and keep them interested through the daily grind of film study, team meetings and practice.
All football: You don't have to spend much time with Sirianni to realize football is his life, and there’s not much else that interests him. His family, his faith and football. Maybe he goes to the movies and reads books and listens to music, but I'll bet while he's doing all those things he's secretly diagramming plays when nobody's looking. He lives it.
Incredible memory: This is something that so many coaches seem to have. Ask Nick a question about a specific type of play or formation and he’ll mention an instance when he used it with the Chargers or Colts and he’ll remember the down and distance, the yard-line, how much time was left in the quarter, how many yards the play got, who made the tackle and how the drive ended. His memory is uncanny.
Flexibility: One thing that really stands out about Sirianni is his flexibility. Some coaches have a philosophy and they stick to it and they never stray from it. And that’s not always a bad thing. Some guys have won a ton of games doing the same thing and doing it well. But there’s something to be said for a coach that designs his offense around the talent he has and the opponent he’s facing and doesn’t limit himself to a single belief or philosophy or scheme and then try to shoe-horn everything into it. That also seems to be a staple of Jonathan Gannon’s defense, which makes sense because there’s a real philosophical fit there.
The ankle: Sirianni often references the catastrophic ankle injury he suffered as a sophomore at Mt. Union and the ensuing infection that hospitalized him for a couple weeks in the fall of 2001. Although he did return to play football the next year, that injury played a huge role in Sirianni’s life because it’s really what made him realize he’d never be a pro athlete and pointed him toward his calling, which was a career in coaching. It obviously had a profound effect on him, and if you watch all his press conferences you’ll hear him mention it a lot.
Family: If Sirianni isn’t talking football, he’s talking about his family and his father and brothers, who – of course – all are also football coaches. Sirianni’s dad, Fran, coached football (and track and basketball) for 45 years at Southwestern High School in West Ellicott, N.Y., and brothers Jay and Mike are also both coaches. Jay won two state titles while coaching at Southwest and Mike is now in his 19th season at Washington & Jefferson in Washington, Pa. This is a close-knit family, and you get the sense that impressing his brothers and dad is as important as anything for Nick.
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