A cheeky 24-year-old New York Giants safety named Julian Love stirred things up last week by saying pretty much anyone could coach the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have amassed so much talent, Love said, that Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia’s actual head coach, had “a free ride” all the way to the Super Bowl.
“You know what, man? People always got something to say when they’re at home,” Brandon Graham, the Eagles’ veteran linebacker, would respond just hours later. “They got time to think about it. So I ain’t going to touch too much on it.”
Then, of course, Graham touched on it. The Eagles were not expected to do much last season, in Sirianni’s first year as coach, he said, and they made the playoffs. Then he said the Eagles improved in Sirianni’s second year, winning their first eight games, finishing the regular season with a 14-3 record, then pulverizing two playoff opponents, one of them the Giants.
“A lot of people are just mad about what happened this season. I understand,” Graham said. “But it definitely carries no weight because Coach proved himself each and every day. And if you’re not in here, you wouldn’t really know that. It’s all lip service.”
Love is apparently not a fan of the 41-year-old Sirianni, in part, because he is brash. Late in the rout of the Giants, Sirianni mugged for a TV camera: Look at us now, suckers. Sirianni, a father of three and coach’s son who was a wide receiver at a small college (albeit a pretty good one, Mount Union in Ohio), does seem to enjoy stoking up people.
Love has a point about the resources available to Sirianni, though: Philadelphia’s constant-motion general manager, Howie Roseman, has drafted or acquired so much talent that others surely could successfully coach the Eagles, a narrow favorite to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona (even though the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, the likely NFL MVP).
But that sells Sirianni short. He had an impressive resume when the Eagles hired him from the Indianapolis Colts, where he’d been the offensive coordinator. Before that he’d been an assistant coach for three years in Kansas City. One of Andy Reid’s first decisions upon becoming Chiefs head coach in 2013 was to let Sirianni go. That could add spice to Sunday’s game, although Sirianni seems relaxed about the past.
“It was kind of more so just kind of receiving my fate there,” Sirianni said last week, adding, “[Reid] pulled me into the office and asked to meet with me and told me face-to-face that he had a guy, but had heard good things about me, and I appreciated that, his honesty, his ability to get to me as soon as he possibly could, so I could move on and find another job.”
Sirianni landed in San Diego, working under Frank Reich, who later jumped to the Eagles as an offensive coordinator, then got the head coaching job in Indianapolis. Reich brought Sirianni to Indy. Reich was fired two weeks before the Eagles rallied for a 17-16 victory over the Colts on 20 November. Sirianni crowed into the stands, “This shit was for Frank Reich.”
The thing is, though, Sirianni has grown into his job. When he was introduced as Philadelphia’s head coach in January 2021, Sirianni was so wired up and evasive that it looked like the Eagles might have made a mistake. At one point, trying to credit his mentors, he said, “You take the good, you take the bad, and you make the best out of you from those people.”
The Eagles lost five of their first seven games under Sirianni but won six of their last eight that season to make the playoffs. Sirianni tapped into Philadelphia’s most famous working-class character by showing a clip from Rocky, then insisting that someone who keeps getting dumped on the canvas can demoralize a foe by hopping back on their feet.
This year, though, his message has been more about consistency. Jason Kelce, the Eagles veteran center, said last week, “His No 1 job has been to facilitate a team that is focused on improving, that is focused on working, that comes to the building every day with energy, that’s motivated to get better. These things far outweigh what play we call on third down. I think Nick does a phenomenal job with it. I think he deserves all the credit for that.”
Roseman added talent to the receiving corps, linebackers and secondary, and quarterback Jalen Hurts is a heady, dual-threat sensation, but Sirianni’s Eagles are founded on their mammoth, ruthless and punishing offensive and defensive lines. The Eagles bolstered their defensive front mid-season by acquiring veterans Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph.
“With all new coaches, you got to create a relationship, from coach to player and player to coach. You can’t help but want to go out and play for him,” said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, one of four linemen who have played for the Eagles for 10 years, most notably the team’s Super Bowl-winning season five years ago.
The Eagles don’t have an apparent weakness, but that has been said about some previous teams that failed to finish the job. Sirianni is a coach, as the cornerback Darius Slay said, “who actually cares about you and wants the best for you. That’s what triggers a player.”
Sirianni does have less big-game head-coaching experience than the 64-year-old Reid, who will be taking a team to the Super Bowl for the fourth time. The first of those teams was the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles, who lost to the Patriots. But Reid won it all with the Chiefs just three years ago (then went back the next year). Big Red gets an edge in the coaching matchup.
But Sirianni is nothing if not determined. Graham laughed when was asked about that awkward initial news conference just 24 months ago.
“He said all the wrong things. We got on him. I felt he got in here, gave his honest answer about how he felt, [but] he was pissed about it,” Graham said.
“That’s when he won me over,” Graham added. “Him being real about how he feels. Sometimes, you wear your emotions on your sleeves, which he does. He does a great job with owning that – and moving on from it, too.”