The Eagles are hiring Nick Sirianni as their new head coach, The Inquirer confirmed, through an NFL source. ESPN was the first to report the news. The move seems to be very much about trying to straighten out quarterback Carson Wentz.
Sirianni, 39, has been the Colts’ offensive coordinator the past three seasons under head coach Frank Reich, the former Eagles offensive coordinator who ran the offense when Wentz was an MVP candidate.
Sirianni is from upstate New York and played wide receiver at Division III powerhouse Mount Union in Ohio. He has spent 12 years in the NFL, working as a wide receivers coach and quarterbacks coach for the Chiefs and Chargers before being hired in Indianapolis. Reich was the Chargers’ offensive coordinator when Sirianni was there.
When he hired Sirianni in 2018, Reich said he knew from their time with the Chargers that “if I ever had the opportunity [to be a head coach], he would be the guy I would want to be my coordinator.”
Reich called Sirianni “very intelligent,” and said: “He’s a great teacher, very systematic in his thinking, and just the way we see the passing game, and the way we think about offensive football, very similar, and [I’m] very excited that we could get Nick.”
An NFL source called Sirianni a “good guy, solid candidate. Fairly smart but not super smart.” The source questioned whether Sirianni could take a team to the Super Bowl. “Low drama, even keel,” the source said.
Eagles players contacted Thursday evening said they didn’t know much about Sirianni. One said, “I don’t [know anything about him], but if he’s at least half the man Frank was, we got a good one.”
Part of the narrative around Doug Pederson’s departure was that the Eagles might be more comfortable with a coach owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman can dictate to, in terms of staffing and personnel. Sirianni’s age and relative lack of a league-wide profile might play into that view.
With the Colts, Reich has called plays, but he has credited Sirianni with doing a lot of the game planning.
On social media Thursday, advocates for the hiring of Black coaches noted that the “doesn’t call plays” knock has been used repeatedly to explain the lack of head-coaching opportunities for Eric Bieniemy, the offensive coordinator for Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs.
Quincy Avery, a private QB coach who has worked with the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, among others, tweeted that “Even looking in a vacuum, the Eagles and Lions hires aren’t good. It’s tiring talking about qualified Black candidates being passed over but that’s kinda where we are.”
Quite a few Eagles players advocated for the candidacy of running backs coach and assistant head coach Duce Staley, who is Black. Staley was among the Eagles’ 10 interviewees. He also was interviewed during the 2016 head-coaching search. There is no indication yet of how many Eagles assistants Sirianni might retain.
Sirianni is the son of Fran Sirianni, who was a longtime high school coach at Southwestern Central, in Jamestown, N.Y., where Nick was a star receiver. One of Nick’s brothers, Jay, also was head coach at that school. His other brother, Mike, is the head coach at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., near Pittsburgh.
Sirianni is the fifth coach hired during Lurie’s 27-year reign as owner, not counting Rich Kotite, whom Lurie inherited from previous owner Norman Braman. Sirianni might have some work to do to win over a fan base that isn’t entirely sure firing Pederson, the only Eagles coach ever to win a Super Bowl championship, was a great idea. Pederson was 42-37-1 in five seasons, 4-2 in the playoffs, where his teams made three appearances, most famously winning Super Bowl LII.
Sirianni’s Tuesday interview at Lurie’s Palm Beach, Fla., residence continued on Wednesday. On Thursday, there were reports that the decision might come down to Sirianni or Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was Denver’s head coach in 2009-10. With the Sirianni hiring, Lurie keeps alive his streak of having never hired a coach who had been a head coach elsewhere in the NFL. McDaniels carried baggage, from his disastrous tenure in Denver, to having backed out on the Colts in 2018 after accepting their head coaching position. That transgression, which caused agent Bob LaMonte to drop McDaniels as a client, led to Reich’s departure from the Eagles. Strange synergy there, with Reich’s protege about to take over in Philly.
It could be argued that the 2021 Eagles are in a much tougher spot than in 2016, when Lurie hired Pederson after firing Chip Kelly with one game left in what ended being a 7-9 season. The core of difference-making players was younger then, and Roseman was about to begin a series of moves that would take the Eagles from the 13th drafting spot to second, where they would select Wentz, hailed by many observers as a sure-fire franchise quarterback.
The new coach inherits a roster whose core of difference-makers hasn’t changed much, except for getting a lot older — Fletcher Cox is 30, Jason Kelce is 33, Brandon Graham will turn 33 in April, Lane Johnson will turn 31 in May, Zach Ertz is 30, Brandon Brooks is 31, and Rodney McLeod will turn 31 in June. The Eagles are coming off a 4-11-1 season, despite playing in a dreadful NFC East, and are way over the projected 2021 salary cap. Roseman has acknowledged that they banked on the cap rising substantially with new TV deals, instead of falling or staying the same because of the pandemic.
Thornier, perhaps, is the situation at quarterback, where Wentz spent 2020 seemingly trying to prove he wasn’t a franchise quarterback after all. At 28, he is reputed to be hard to coach, unwilling to come to grips with flaws. The Eagles signed Wentz to a four-year, $128 million extension in 2019, and would take on the largest dead cap charge in NFL history — more than $34 million — if they traded him this year.
From what we know of questions asked during the interview process, fixing Wentz was a prime focus of this search. Sirianni’s relationship with Reich ought to help out there; Wentz was at his most productive when paired with Reich. Also, Sirianni has handled a tricky quarterbacking situation before, when Andrew Luck abruptly retired at age 29, just before the start of the 2019 season.
In this case, Sirianni’s first task might be convincing Wentz that he really wants to stick around, after reports near the end of the season indicated the QB would prefer to start over elsewhere,.
Another part of the QB dilemma Sirianni inherits is Hurts, a second-round draft pick in 2020 who started the final four games of the season after Wentz was benched. Hurts is going to want at least a chance to compete for the starting job. More critically, there will be teammates who won’t be happy if Hurts doesn’t get what they perceive to be a fair chance at winning the job.
The Eagles are scheduled to draft sixth overall in the first round this spring. It’s quite possible there will be an intriguing QB candidate on the board then. Would they take the view that this prospect might be a better bet in the long run than Wentz or Hurts? Could they afford to go to the QB well again, with so many positions needing high-quality upgrades?
How Sirianni handles this mess very well might define his tenure.