PHOENIX — Nick Sirianni violates every tenet of NFL coaching boredom. He’s a character who does not, or cannot, conceal his personality. If he’s not careful, his peers will fine him for being interesting.
He’s so fun.
He’s so obnoxious.
He’s so genuine.
“I don’t apologize for having fun,” Sirianni said. “This is too hard not to have fun, and I do this because I love it. I chose this profession because I love it. It is a little bit blown out of proportion with all of those things. I loved playing football, and I love coaching it. I’m not going to hide my emotions at any point.”
It is a good thing that he won’t change. NFL coaches are the blandest leaders in sports, and they’ve been intentional about building that reputation. At this Super Bowl, Sirianni is juxtaposed with Andy Reid, the Kansas City Chiefs coach with Hall of Fame-caliber credentials whose large presence belies his ability to shrink in public. Over 24 years as a front-facing figure, Reid has perfected the art of saying absolutely nothing while speaking with great kindness. He’ll joke about his weight and talk at length about cheeseburgers. When not dressed for practice, he’ll wear the loudest, loosefitting shirts. But other than that, Reid is the most invisible coaching giant in all of sports. And most of his colleagues probably envy that part of him.
Sirianni might not be an isolated mold-breaker, though. He signifies a different approach slowly beginning to surface. You see similarities in the way 46-year-old Dan Campbell, who was hired during the same cycle two years ago, is leading the Detroit Lions with passion, profanity and a knack for connecting with players. In Miami, Mike McDaniel, just 39, possesses a nerdy charisma, and he’s not shy about embracing all of his quirks. They’re all having initial success their way, and if they can sustain it, perhaps more coaches will feel free to behave like humans.
For several years, the NFL has been infatuated with young coaches. The first wave of them, with Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay among the most prominent, introduced us to a slightly cooler variation of the norm. Their youth coated them with charm, but the classic rigidity and obsession remained. They have been easy to appreciate but difficult to get to know. But now a few rambunctious 30- and 40-somethings are getting jobs.
Campbell made his first impression by cursing and talking about biting kneecaps to explain persistence. It was weird because he’s weird. Two years later, the Lions are an entertaining team with a future. Sirianni’s debut in Philadelphia was even more awkward. Actually, it was embarrassing. He stammered badly while attempting to articulate his vision. He mispronounced the names of his bosses. He was dismissed as a fidgety clown. Since then, he has overseen the Eagles’ rapid ascension as a deep and balanced team with a cutting-edge, run-based offense.
“I wasn’t hired to wow the media or do anything like that,” said Sirianni, who is now as engaging as it gets. “You train all your life to be a football coach, and then you go into that moment, and I wasn’t good enough in that moment. No excuses made. I wasn’t good in that moment.”
He owned the shame. He played his opening news conference for his players, critiqued it with them, poked fun at himself and expressed vulnerability in admitting how much the criticism bothered him. In doing so, he began to win over his team.
Sirianni isn’t interested in being hailed as a mastermind. He just wants to teach and lead. He’s from a family of teachers. His wife is a former teacher. He’s a tutor and connector who would have found joy running a high school football program.
But he’s guiding a team that stayed atop the NFL for the entire 2022 season. Because of his brash antics, Sirianni has plenty of detractors. Last week, Giants safety Julian Love criticized Sirianni during an NFL Network interview, said he was enjoying a “free ride” with the Eagles and proclaimed anyone could coach Philadelphia. The Eagles players stood up for Sirianni, but for the most part, the coach shrugged. He knows his antics make him a target. Yet for as emotional as he gets on the field, his team doesn’t consider him a self-promoter seeking the spotlight. In the locker room, he’s actually the opposite.
“He always says, ‘It’s always about you guys,’ ” Philadelphia cornerback Darius Slay said. “You’ll fight for a guy like that because he actually cares about you and always wants to fight for you.”
In 2021, his first season, the Eagles started 2-5 before recovering to make the playoffs. In the middle of that year, Sirianni stopped calling the offensive plays, turned the unit over to coordinator Shane Steichen and focused on the big picture. When you ask about the Eagles’ quick turnaround, he credits the veterans he inherited, including defensive linemen Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox and offensive line stalwarts Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce.
“You want to know the secret to really good coaching? Get good players,” Siranni said. “I think you feed off each other. I’m confident because we’ve got really good players, and some of them are 10-year veterans who have not only been to the top of the mountain, but they’ve planted a flag at the top of the mountain.”
Sirianni is content being the exuberant conductor of a well-built team. He doesn’t have jitters anymore.
“I guess it would be safe to say my opening news conference wasn’t flattering to who I am as a person or as a coach,” he said.
After reflecting, he sat up straight and grinned.
“But you know what?” he said. “I feel like I’ve gotten better, wouldn’t you say?”
Sirianni flashed a sly grin, but on this day, he showed restraint. No trash-talking — just a little boyish authenticity. He’s the funny face of the Philadelphia Eagles, and the more he wins, the more he becomes a serious threat to the NFL’s milquetoast coaching image.