We’ve heard this tune before.
On Tuesday, the Eagles’ website presented a youtube.com video: an informative, well-produced, 25-minute chalk session with new coach Nick Sirianni. Sirianni shined. He sounded like a really good coach. He simplified offensive concepts and tenets. He did so with clarity and enthusiasm.
Lots of enthusiasm.
Awesome, phenomenal, great enthusiasm — the sort of hyperbolic descriptors and delivery typical of former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.
So much enthusiasm, in fact, that he seems too enthusiastic to be true. He’s true.
“That’s exactly how he acts,” said an NFL source, who is familiar with Sirianni’s three-year tenure as the Colts’ offensive coordinator.
Kapler’s “Be Bold” strategy did not utilize enough “Teaching Moments” to extract enough “Value at the Margins” to make the Phillies the “Best version of themselves“ in 2018 and 2019.
Mantras fall flat in Philly; just ask Chip “Culture beats scheme” Kelly. Accountability works here.
Can a coach with a personality like Sirianni’s effectively lead an NFL team?
“I don’t know,” the source replied. “I’ve never seen anything like it [as an NFL head coach] before.”
Philadelphia certainly hasn’t. We like our coaches somber and reflective, like Andy Reid. Or, we like them brash and funny, like Buddy Ryan. Or we like them southern-fried frat-boy and relatable, like Doug Pederson.
We do not like a coach to be giddy like a fanboy, uncritical and hollowly positive, like Kapler so often was: a Richard Simmons on the sideline.
Apparently, owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman like exactly those things. They passed over more qualified and more caustic candidates like Josh McDaniels and Eric Bieniemy, who have coordinated the Patriots’ and Chiefs’ offenses, respectively, for several years.
It came off as contrived when, last month, Sirianni talked about the “good, young talent” in the wide receiver corps. An undrafted player led the team with 58 catches (converted quarterback Greg Ward). A sixth-round practice squad player led the team with 539 yards (Travis Fulgham). Sirianni also said he “fell in love” with 2020 first-round disappointment Jalen Reagor and 2019 second-round disaster JJ Arcega-Whiteside. That sounded phony.
How will this act play with a locker room stocked with Super Bowl champions who now are in their 30s, some of whom will be playing for their fourth Eagles coach? That has been the question with most longtime NFL sources and observers. That includes that source who vouched for Sirianni’s authenticity. He’s not necessarily concerned with Sirianni’s knowledge, or his youth -- he’s 39 -- or his staff’s inexperience. He’s concerned with Sirianni’s leadership, and his carriage. Will the players quickly tune him out the way Kapler’s endlessly “amazing” baseballers did?
You hear these sorts or things every time a young coach gets his first job. You heard it about Sean McVay, who, at 30, became youngest head coach in NFL history, then, at 33, became the youngest Super Bowl coach in NFL history. You heard it about Mike Tomlin, who, at 36, became the youngest Super Bowl winner, two years after the Steelers hired him. But you also heard it about passive, dithering Dave Shula, who was 33 when he got the Bengals job, and McDaniels, uncompromising and harsh, who was 32 when he took over in Denver. They were unmitigated disasters.
A coach’s personality might not seem important, but anything beyond the bounds of normalcy is a very valid concern.
Sirianni delivered his X-and-O lecture with a directness that delights both football nerds like me and actual football experts, like Fran Duffy, the Eagles’ production manager who hosted the episode.
We love Sirianni’s insistence on detailed execution: “I don’t like ‘banana’ routes. It’s, ‘stick your foot in the ground and rip it!’ "
We love the “three-dog pressure” jargon in the “all-22″ sideline shots, decorated with helpful yellow arrows and circles and dashes that help describe coverage angles and offensive objectives.
And then, at the end of the “three-dog pressure” play, Sirianni launches into a sermon about the “caring of the teammates.” Why? Because, at the end of a crossing pattern to Michael Pittman that turns into a touchdown, the teammates ... block. Which, of course, is their job. Whether they care about each other or not.
He then spends almost a minute diagramming the positioning of the practice squad -- yes, the practice squad -- as it looks on from the stands. Because the practice squad players, obliquely, made that play happen, too. You know, by being on the practice squad.
It is constant. It is distracting. It is weird.
Tight end Jack Doyle’s commitment to a decoy route gets his “friend” T.Y. Hilton open on a play. Friend? Like Doyle wouldn’t sell the route for some other teammate he didn’t like as much?
A backup tight end gains 6 yards after the catch, which happens near the Colts’ sideline, and Sirianni exclaims, “Go back! Go back! Look at the teammates! Look at how much love they have for each other!” A quick rewind shows modest celebration of a modestly successful play.
To Sirianni, everyone, friend or foe, is exemplary: Houston’s Romeo Crennel is a “phenomenal” defensive coordinator, Doyle is an “awesome” teammate; and every opposing defensive back is “great” -- or, at least, they were great, until the Colts unleashed their own awesomeness, against which mere greatness stands no chance. I guess.
That same energy
For Sirianni, game-planning is not an exhausting chore; it’s “addicting; it’s a rush.”
He explains how coverage against likely successful play calls tempts him to clutter the airways on the game-day headphones with exclamations of anticipatory delight.
He, incredibly, says coaching is more exciting than playing, because he gets to “serve” the players. If true, Nick Sirianni is the only former football player who believes this.
If he wins, this won’t matter. His offensive philosophy -- quick-release passes, thrown accurately, that lead to yards after the catch -- will play well in Philly if it works. If it doesn’t, this sort of persona will doom him.
We’ve seen him three times since he was hired. We’ll see him four times a week during the season, plus weekly radio and TV appearances. He’s off to a rocky start.
He appeared wildly inauthentic in his introductory interview in January.
Six weeks later, addressing offseason plans, Sirianni seemed no more grounded.
Tuesday, in the safest of environments, Sirianni continued to present himself ... oddly. Awkwardly.
Will that be a factor in the team’s performance? Who knows.
It certainly didn’t work for Gabe Kapler.