Speaking after practice one day this week, Eagles second-year receiver Jalen Reagor said he appreciated that he was being held accountable by new head coach Nick Sirianni.
Less than 24 hours later, that was put to the test.
Because during the very next practice, Reagor made a mistake, which was met with screaming from Sirianni and offensive assistant Kevin Patullo. They really laid into him.
The next day, Reagor had his best practice of training camp.
“The standard is high,” Sirianni said. “The standard is high of what we want and sometimes those conversations happen like that, but it's all out of just one thing is to get the guys as good as we possibly can get them and get them better.”
We won’t know for a while whether or not Sirianni will be a successful NFL head coach.
But through eight days of practice, the 40-year-old has been doing things his own way — confidently and unapologetically.
That means hammering home his five core values — connecting, competition, accountability, intelligence, fundamentals — ad nauseam. That means wearing Brandon Graham and Jake Elliott shirts to practice. That means coaching up the receivers because that’s his background. That means short practices with little wasted time. That means teaching using visuals in the meeting room. That means competing in everything, ping pong and rock, paper, scissors included. That means unrelenting enthusiasm and energy.
And sometimes that means giving a kick the pants.
While Sirianni wouldn’t divulge exactly why he was upset with Reagor or what he said, the point remains. As much as Sirianni is known as a players coach, there are times where he’s going to give his players some tough love.
So far, they seem to be responding to it.
“I feel like that’s exactly what we need,” Greg Ward Jr. said. “We need to be held accountable. It’s only going to make us better, to make us grow as a unit. It’s definitely going to push us to where we want to be.”
Sirianni explained his philosophy on tough coaching comes from his college coach, Larry Kehres, a legend at Mount Union. Kehres would ride his players during the practice week — yelling and screaming — and then become a cheerleader on Saturdays when they played.
That’s very similar to how offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland operates. When Jordan Mailata was a rookie, he was in shock when during the first preseason game, the guy who had been yelling at him all week was suddenly his most supportive fan. The idea is that the hard work is done during the week; by game day, guys just need some positive encouragement.
“You know what my experience is that if you're helping a guy become better, that’s all that these players really want,” Sirianni said, “ … Can this guy make me better? And when that is the case, I think you can coach them as hard as you want to.”
Of course, every guy is different, and Sirianni understands that too.
He yelled at Reagor on the field this week because he thinks that’s the best way to get through to him. Sirianni on Thursday brought up his teaching background and again mentioned that he comes from a family of teachers. It’s important for a head coach to know how to get through to his players the same way it’s important for a teacher to know how to get through to his students.
“Every player is handled differently and that's why it always starts with a connection,” Sirianni said.
Welp, he mentioned another core value. Drink.
It would be easy to roll your eyes at Sirianni. The skeptic in us wants to. Maybe some fans already are. After all, some of it seems hokey, right? Talking about connection and competition and, you know, the other core values on an endless loop. But with Sirianni it seems to come from a genuine place, which means his players are buying in … at least the ones who really matter. Get the veterans behind you and you’ve got the locker room. And it seems like Sirianni has the Eagles’ veterans behind him.
There’s a fine line to this too. Because it’s important for Sirianni to earn the trust and the support of the veterans in the locker room but those aren’t the players who need the most coaching. A lot of his messages to the team have to be geared toward players who are in their early 20s.
One of them is JaCoby Stevens, a 23-year-old linebacker from LSU. He chuckled this week, recalling how Sirianni showed the entire team a video of competitive eaters chowing down on hot dogs.
And then Stevens marveled as he realized the message stuck.
“Our fifth core value is fundamentals, and (Takeru) Kobayashi, there's this video of Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut competing and they go, ‘Why is Kobayashi so good at eating hot dogs?’” Sirianni explained. “The details and fundamentals he puts into it — he has to have the right temperature of water to dunk the thing. He has to break the hot dog perfectly in half.
“So my point on that is, yeah, we are all seeing it and watching it, and it’s like, ‘What's the point of that?’ My point is, if you want to be the best in the world at what you do, right, on the football field, it comes down to the little things and that right there was a fundamental talk.”
That’s the thing with Sirianni. Everything has a point, everything is thought out. There’s a lesson to be had. You might not agree with his methods, but you can be sure he has a reason why he’s doing what he’s doing. And you can imagine how that would have been impressive to Jeff Lurie as he sat across from Sirianni in an interview.
The fact that Sirianni is doing things his own way is even more impressive because of the confidence with which he’s doing it. This is a first-time head coach who seemingly came out of nowhere to take the Eagles’ gig. Now that he has it, he’s taking ownership.
We’ll find out over the next few seasons whether or not all this works. But win or lose, success or not, the Eagles are going to do it Sirianni’s way.
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