standing in the auditorium of the NovaCare Complex addressing his Philadelphia Eagles with a story about Pablo Casals, known as one of the great 20th-century cellists. And if you’re wondering how in the world Sirianni can engage NFL players with a world-renowned cellist, well, you’re not alone.
“Nick always has a story and somehow it ends up making sense,” wide receiver Josh Pascal says. “It’s one of his great ways of connecting with the players. It’s a gift, really.”
In this instance, Sirianni tells the Eagles players – this group of mostly Gen Z young men with a millennial or two thrown in there – of Casals’ obsession with perfection, how a career that lasted more than five decades at the very top of his profession happened because Casals dedicated himself every day to perfection. He was never satisfied. He never stopped working.
“And that’s why he was the best ever,” Sirianni says, excited as always. “He was always practicing, always trying to make himself better. Every day, he was obsessed with just making himself a little bit better and that’s always my message to the players. It goes back to that ‘one percent better every day’ idea. That’s what we’re trying to do here. Every day you work on the fundamentals. You improve one part of your game.
“I’ve always believed that if you do that, you’re going to be very pleased with your game.”
Sirianni has always believed it because he’s lived a lifetime in the coaching world. His father was a high school head coach when Sirianni was a kid growing up in Jamestown, New York and so many of his family vacations and time spent with “Pops” revolved around the game of football. Both of Sirianni’s brothers have coached and, clearly, his entire world has been about the sport. A standout who played wide receiver collegiately at Mount Union, Sirianni, you might say, was born to be a coach at some point in time.
Now he’s reached the highest level and in his second season in Philadelphia is generally regarded as one of the game’s brightest young minds. You know that Sirianni in his first year with the Eagles took a team that started the season 2-5 and won seven of the final 10 games in 2021 to reach the playoffs. A coach who talked about “planting the seeds to success” – another one of his stories that was heavily scrutinized and, indeed, mocked, in the media – is firmly in control of his locker room. He’s won them over with his stories, with his commitment to them, with his program and with his vision.
“You never know when you have a new head coach. You want to give him a chance to show you what he’s got and what he’s going to do,” veteran defensive end Brandon Graham says. “With Nick, the first thing we saw was his energy. He’s always upbeat, he’s always looking to make it fun for us. He’ll work us hard, but he just has a way of being there with us.
“Last year was rough, man. I got hurt early so I was working on my comeback. I stayed around the team and helped as much as I could, so it was a different deal for me. Seeing how he kept everybody together and that we made it to the playoffs, man, that was something. We all believe in Nick and what he’s doing. We’re just picking up where we left off and it’s only going to get better now.”
The Eagles have positioned themselves to take the next step in 2022. A huge offseason included trading for wide receiver A.J. Brown, signing edge rusher and South Jersey native Haason Reddick, cornerback James Bradberry and linebacker Kyzir White in free agency and drafting defensive tackle Jordan Davis, center Cam Jurgens and linebacker Nakobe Dean. The talent level of the roster has improved substantially, and everyone feels the rise in optimism among the fans and in the region.
Sirianni, for his part, is keeping it all in perspective. Even though he’s only 40 years of age, Sirianni has been in the NFL since 2009 working his way up the coaching ladder – he was an offensive quality control coach, then a wide receivers coach, then a quarterbacks coach, and for three seasons in Indianapolis, an offensive coordinator. The man is a lifer, so to say he is in his element is an understatement.
“Every day is a new one and I relish every opportunity,” he says. “I love competition and there is nothing more competitive than being in the NFL and being challenged. To win those games, you have to be at your best every day of the week before that. You have to win on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and so on. You have to work on the details. You can’t let the details slip, even a little bit. If you excuse those details, you’re going to find out on game day that you’re way behind, and in this league, you can’t afford to be even a step behind.
“I try not to be complicated for the guys. I think I’m very clear with my messaging and I think they understand that and respond to that. I know that when I sat in that seat as a player at Mount Union, I wanted to hear the truth from my coaches. I wanted them to be clear with what they wanted from me. Then it’s my responsibility to go out and do it.”
In “Year Two” of the Nick Sirianni era, the Eagles have an offense that appears, on paper, to be loaded. Jalen Hurts is back for his second season as the full-time starting quarterback, and he’s bolstered by potentially the most talented wide receiver duo in Eagles history in Brown and 2021 No. 1 draft pick DeVonta Smith. The running game, with a large assist from Hurts’ multi-dimensional skills, led the NFL last season. The offensive line is intact and expected to be among the very best in the league.
Adding all of those pieces in the offseason plus the return of Graham boosts a defense that expects to be more capable of dictating to offenses. The kicking game is solid, headed by the Pro Bowl foot of Jake Elliott.
So, where are the Eagles headed in 2022? The players are waiting for Sirianni to address the future, maybe the part about not getting ahead of yourself, staying in the moment, not listening to the outside hype.
“We haven’t heard one about that yet, but yeah, he has a lot of stories. Sometimes you say, ‘How much of this is really true?’ but I think Coach backs it up,” tight end Dallas Goedert says. “I do think they have an impact. We listen and we absorb what he’s saying. He’s trying to make us better as individuals and as a team and that’s the bottom line. That’s what you want from your head coach, so I know I’m all in when he’s standing up there talking. He loves to talk. He loves to tell the stories. And I think he does it because he feels it will help us, so how can you argue with that?”