Veteran NFL coach Ken Whisenhunt has worked with both new Eagles coach Nick Sirianni and new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, when Whisenhunt was offensive coordinator, Steichen was quarterbacks coach, and Sirianni coached wide receivers in 2016 on the then-San Diego Chargers.
Whisenhunt said this week he thinks the combo will work well in Philadelphia, and won’t have any trouble establishing credibility in the locker room.
The Eagles are scheduled to introduce Sirianni at a noon Friday news conference, more than a week after they settled on the idea of hiring him.
“I think that the [San Diego] players respected both of these guys because of their knowledge of the game and how they communicated it to them. I think it was really important that they set the tone for helping these guys get better,” Whisenhunt said.
“NFL players, by and large, regardless of who you are, if they feel that you can help them get better, they accept you, respect you, and like you. You can really tell that readily, with both of those guys.”
Whisenhunt knew Sirianni from Whisenhunt’s earlier stint running the Chargers offense, in 2013, before Whisenhunt left to be head coach of the Titans in 2014-15. Steichen was with the Browns in 2013.
“He had a great passion for the game,” Whisenhunt said of Sirianni. “You could obviously tell that when you talked to him. Little [wide receiver] techniques — the splits, the stances, the depth of the routes, how you come out of the route.”
Whisenhunt, who played tight end at Georgia Tech and in the NFL, said one of the first things he learned about Sirianni was that he was proud of his days as a Division III Mount Union wideout.
“He was a good college player. We talked about that and laughed about it a number of times, because he had some tape,” Whisenhunt said. He noted that Sirianni’s father and his two brothers have all coached.
“That part of it was [solid]. Then you see him do the work, the things that go with that besides just the coaching on the field. The preparation, the study, how you break down an opponent, what you’re looking at. He did a very good job in that, and he was very creative.”
Whisenhunt said that when he returned to the Chargers in 2016, “You could just tell about how much he had grown and how good he was. Especially interacting with the players. That was a big part of it.”
Quarterbacks are different
Both Sirianni and Steichen, at different times, served as the Chargers’ quarterbacks coach, working with Philip Rivers, an established veteran. Rivers is less than six months younger than Sirianni, and is 4½ years older than Steichen. Whisenhunt said both men gained Rivers’ cooperation and respect.
Carson Wentz, at 28, doesn’t wield the clout Rivers had accumulated in his mid-30s in San Diego, but given Wentz’s reported thoughts that he might prefer to go elsewhere after a disastrous 2020, there will be some selling involved, if the new staff really does end up being tasked with “fixing” Wentz.
“With a quarterback like [Rivers] — a high-functioning, high-level, Pro Bowl-caliber player that had been very successful in the league — when you talk with those guys, they’ve been in a system that’s different, we changed the system a little bit when we got there,” Whisenhunt said. “You have to essentially sell them on that, and the way that you do that is, how you prepare, how you show them, how you interact with them. And I think both of those guys, in their dealing with Philip, gained his respect, from the standpoint of their knowledge of the game — not so much [the knowledge itself] as how to communicate that.”
Whisenhunt said both Sirianni and Steichen were able to effectively communicate “what your ideas are, why you are attacking your opponent this way. ... Then you can speak in terms of how the defense is playing you — fronts and coverages and pressures, and how all that interacts, and then, what’s your answers for that.
“Both of those guys do a great job with that, and I think that’s why they’re successful. It’s not so much, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ it’s ‘Look, this is what we’re thinking about, this is what we like, how do you feel about it?’ "
Whisenhunt said that players at other positions generally only need to know what affects them — say, a receiver wants to know how and where he will get the ball. But quarterbacks are different.
“QBs want to understand the total thing — ‘Why are we doing this run check? Why are we doing this pass check?’ " he said.
Part of the reported discord between Wentz and former Eagles coach Doug Pederson had to do with Wentz not believing in or not wanting to run some of the plays Pederson called.
“You have to understand why you’re doing it, and then communicate that to the quarterback, so he can understand it, so he sees the picture and can operate,” Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt has been an NFL head coach twice, the first time in 2007, when he took over the Arizona Cardinals after interviewing with several teams, as a not-quite-45-year-old Steelers offensive coordinator. What will Sirianni, 39, have to adjust to, in his first shot at being in charge?
“The amount of time that’s invested in things other than just preparing an offense. There’s a lot that’s going on and a lot you have to be involved with, instead of just breaking down an opponent and communicating it to your position group, or to the offense. Now it becomes a big-picture deal,” Whisenhunt said.
“You’re interviewing cornerbacks at the combine. Not that you can’t do it, or you’re not prepared to do it, but it’s a portion of your time that you’re not used to giving up, because you’re focused on your area. ... One thing that stands out about Nick is his ability to handle that. He’s [handled changing demands] in a lot of different situations, and he’ll find a way. He’ll be good with that.”
Whisenhunt said he didn’t think he could give a lot of insight into exactly what sort of offense Sirianni and Steichen will run. He said he’s sure it will depend at least partly on their personnel.
“The one thing that I’ve found with both of those guys is that they’ve been flexible,” Whisenhunt said. “I think they’ll listen to what other people say, or how they want to make that approach, and then they’ll go about it in the best way to be successful. It’s not going to be ‘This is what it is and this is how we’re going to do it.’ … It’s not force-feeding.”