When Nick Sirianni was an assistant coach with the Chargers, his father once attended training camp. And as he watched from the family/friends section, he was asked to point out his relative on the team.
He motioned to his son in the visor.
“Oh,” the questioner said, “you mean the coach who’s yelling at everyone?”
Sirianni told this anecdote Friday when asked about his temperament and how he’s changed. The first-year Eagles coach doesn’t yell much anymore. But he can still get hot on occasion. There’s been plenty to be upset about through six games.
He can’t, though, outwardly ride the emotional ups and downs of an NFL season. Sirianni said that last weekend’s mini-bye, when he had the chance to reflect upon his bumpy start as head coach, reaffirmed for him that lesson.
“As bad as I feel after a loss, as good as I feel after a win,” Sirianni said, “I can’t let myself get on the roller coaster of what this league can potentially be.”
The Eagles’ 2-4 start has brought Sirianni criticism and second-guessing. The same could be said of Jeffrey Lurie’s decision to entrust his franchise to a neophyte head coach.
But given the proper context, Sirianni’s launch was always likely to incur turbulence. While there have been few smooth patches, outsiders are just looking for the 40-year-old to steady the Eagles airliner.
Sirianni said he understands the Philadelphia nit-picking because currently it’s warranted, and also because it was how he was raised, especially by his father, Fran.
“When I was growing up in this Italian family that I grew up in – he wasn’t really shy about telling me if I was making mistakes. And he let me know about it,” Sirianni said.
“But he was the first one there to hug me when I did it right. … And that’s kind of what I feel about this city, right?”
Sirianni has made his share of errors, most of which he’s owned up to. In a week in which accountability became a buzzword for why the 76ers’ Ben Simmons hasn’t been accepted by Philly and Eagles like Jason Kelce have, the new football coach in town understands its importance in and out of the NovaCare Complex.
But, still, some corrections haven’t yet been made in terms of run game neglect, defensive passivity, and penalties. Most rational fans will have patience. They understand there will be a learning process. But they want to see growth.
Sirianni has the same approach with his team. If he sees the same mistakes being made, it’s often why he may erupt.
“I’m a yeller and screamer whether it’s good or whether it’s bad,” Sirianni said last month. “I’m not going to change … they’ve got to look at me and know that I’m the same guy no matter what, right? It’s not all nice out there when we’re out there, whether it’s coaches, players, whatever.”
He has already accepted that he needs to evolve, however, in certain areas. The pause last week allowed for Sirianni to watch other games, and a few, he said, made him reevaluate his decision-making in certain circumstances.
But the losing has also, he added, made him double down on his core values of connectivity, competition, accountability, football IQ, and fundamentals. He can change only so much. The graphic shirts aren’t going away.
Sirianni might regret the “Beat Dallas” shirt he wore before the Cowboys game, not as much highlighting the rivalry, but focusing on result over process. But the supposed effectiveness of slogans like “Dawg mentality” and other such coaching methods are often dependent on wins and losses.
“The shirts are cute, but it’s really all about overcoming adversity,” tackle Lane Johnson said last month. “I don’t need to be motivated because I try not to get emotionally involved in the game. I just try to see my opponent as objects, who I’m blocking.
“I notice when you get emotionally invested, you don’t really play as well as you want to because you’re distracted by all that other BS.”
The connection element, though, is perhaps Sirianni’s No. 1 principle. He referenced it again upon Johnson’s return to the team Monday. The offensive lineman missed three games to deal with what he called “depression and anxiety.”
Sirianni’s sympathetic handling of Johnson’s mental health crisis may reflect how society has progressed, but an old-school ethos still exists in the NFL. The Eagles coach, meanwhile, talks about the importance of love in building a winning culture.
“It’s, like, there’s no way I can work any harder than I’m already working, right? But there is,” Sirianni said recently. “And the only way there is, is if you have something deep down, and it’s like, ‘I really care about that person. Like, I’m willing to go a little bit further that I didn’t even know I could because I care about that person.’
“And that’s a strong bond.”
But like his former high school coach father, Sirianni will harp on the mistakes and repeat offenders. He met individually with defensive end Derek Barnett after one too many personal fouls. He called out defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and his assistants after the Chiefs game.
Sirianni has had to learn how to delegate, especially on offense. But he wants his lieutenants to be prepared. Gannon got caught with the wrong call when Kansas City got receiver Tyreek Hill lined up opposite linebacker Eric Wilson. Sirianni didn’t call a timeout because the Eagles should have had a check-to call.
Gannon called Sirianni “very demanding,” but in most cases, his assistants don’t need to be disciplined because they’re already self-critical. In the spring, one Eagles staffer questioned whether the group would burn out from grinding too hard.
But the first offseason is always the most time-consuming, and Sirianni’s open-ended schedule for his coaches isn’t unreasonable. He’s a young father and has made concessions for others, as well.
“It’s not set hours. You’ve got to do what you need to do to get done,” he said last month. “I don’t make them watch their desk or wait until I leave or whatever.”
Sirianni has a boss, too. Lurie has been omnipresent at practice this season, for whatever reason. There used to be a joke among former coaches that if you didn’t see the Eagles owner until Friday, you knew he felt good about his team.
Lurie met with predecessor, Doug Pederson, every Tuesday during the season, but Sirianni said he has no such scheduled meeting.
“We talk all the time,” Sirianni said last month. “This is an awesome organization in the sense that Mr. Lurie is at practice all the time, so I get to talk to him every day at practice.”
Pederson had an agreeable personality, which may have influenced Lurie’s increased involvement. There is obvious concern that Sirianni’s inexperience and his amicable nature will allow for the owner and general manager Howie Roseman to overrun him.
But several sources who have worked with Sirianni caution against the perception that he can be manipulated. He is his own man, they said, and has fundamental beliefs that are written in granite, which is why, when they aren’t carried out by others, he can flip like a switch.
“I think it’s an intensity, like, ‘Hey, there’s a standard that is set, and if you meet the standard, then we’re really excited about it,’” Sirianni said last month. “If you don’t meet the standard, then we’ve got to correct it.
“Sometimes that correction is made in ways where you’re yelling. Sometimes that correction is made in ways that you’re teaching. Sometimes that correction is made in the film room. Sometimes it’s made in practice.”
It’s become more the latter three than the former, apparently.
There are many questions surrounding the Eagles, and you should ask us yours! Beat writers EJ Smith and Josh Tolentino will answer many of them on Sunday’s live pregame show on Gameday Central. You can send questions to them here. Then stay with Gameday Central throughout the game for in-game analysis, stats, photos and more.