In considering how Nick Sirianni has fared in his first season with the Eagles and how his performance compares to other recent head coaching hires, let’s begin with things said and end with things left unsaid.
For a while, Sirianni’s introductory press conference, back in January, defined all the trepidation and worries that people had about him. He had never been a head coach before, at any level of football, and that lack of experience seemed to show as he addressed the media through a Zoom call. He was nervous. He stumbled over sentences and incessantly repeated the ones he managed to utter clearly. He appeared full of naive exuberance, and it was easy to presume that his tenure would be loaded with happy high-school horsebleep, and that it would be brief.
It might yet be, relatively speaking. But while Sirianni has made his mistakes this season, he has shown himself so far to be a competent NFL head coach, especially given the team he inherited and the circumstances surrounding it. His quarterback situation remains unsettled at best, mostly because his bosses, after drafting and signing and tying the Eagles’ long-term success to a franchise QB, traded that franchise QB. His team doesn’t have elite personnel on defense, and his coordinator’s strategy can be maddeningly passive. Yet the Eagles are 6-7 and still in the playoff race. They’re not great, but they’re better than people, in general, thought they would be.
Sirianni, if he were the kind of guy to say I told you so, could point to several examples around the NFL that ought to remind the Eagles and everyone who follows them how much worse off the team could be. He’s not the best of the bunch, but he’s close.
Brandon Staley, one of the Eagles’ coaching targets in the offseason, has the Los Angeles Chargers in second place in the AFC West, with an 8-5 record. But he also has Justin Herbert.
In Atlanta, after that embarrassing 32-6 loss to the Eagles in Week 1, Arthur Smith and the Falcons have gotten themselves to 6-7 despite a roster that has a solid-but-expensive quarterback (Matt Ryan), a couple of high-end skill-position players (Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts), and not much else.
Aside from Staley and arguably Smith, Sirianni has been as good as or better than any other first-year head coach in the league. Robert Saleh is 3-10 with the Jets, who are the lesser team in a market that includes Joe Judge and the Giants — no easy feat, that. Dan Campbell is gnawing legs and laying eggs in Detroit, where the Lions are 1-11-1. David Culley is trying to make do with a mess of a situation in Houston; the Texans are 2-11, and a bizarre silence still hovers around Deshaun Watson’s absence. The Raiders are falling apart, having lost five of their last six games under Rich Bisaccia, who stepped in after the team fired its $100 million internet commenter, Jon Gruden.
Then there’s Jacksonville’s Urban Meyer, and if ever there were a head coach genetically engineered to be a cautionary tale to any and all NFL franchises, Meyer would qualify. His .854 winning percentage and three national championships as a college coach made him a tantalizing prospective savior, and Jaguars owner Shahid Khan handed him a contract reportedly worth as much as $12 million a year.
Except the Jaguars are 2-11, and Meyer has retained all the worst habits and qualities of a coaching dictator who was accustomed to handpicking his own unpaid workers. He has ditched his team during a road trip to grab a lap dance in Columbus. He reportedly called his assistant coaches — men whom he hired — “losers.” He acts as if he’s accountable to no one but himself, which shouldn’t be surprising. He was a college football coach for 17 years.
Worst of all for the Jaguars, Meyer has shown no indication that he’s capable of developing Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, into a decent NFL quarterback, let alone the star Lawrence is supposed to be. Chip Kelly is regarded here in Philadelphia as at best a failed experiment and at worst an outright fraud. But at least he coached the Eagles to two 10-win seasons and an NFC East title, coaxing a remarkable performance out of Nick Foles in 2013 and a career-best season out of Mark Sanchez in 2014. Meyer should aspire to such accomplishments.
Which brings us back to where we began. Sirianni didn’t create the greatest first impression here, but sometimes what goes unsaid is more revealing than 20 minutes worth of stammering incoherence. In 2015, Meyer published an autobiography, Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season. The book purported to offer to readers Meyer’s “unparalleled insights into leadership, team building, and the keys to empowering people to achieve things they might never have thought possible.”
Yet over Above the Line’s 262 pages, there is one name that is conspicuously absent: Aaron Hernandez. One might have thought that Meyer learned a lesson or two from recruiting, coaching, and indulging a troubled young man who went on to be convicted of first-degree murder. Apparently not. Compared to such hubris, a fondness for “Rock, Paper, Scissors” is a blessing.