There have been moments over the last year when Nick Sirianni has been the butt of jokes. It happened when he flubbed his introductory press conference. It happened when he played rock paper scissors with draft prospects. It happened when he talked about flower roots.
No one is laughing at Sirianni anymore.
There were seven head coaches hired last January and there’s just one of them who has his team in the playoffs a year later.
“I don't think about that,” Sirianni said on Monday. “All I care about is that our team is successful, our team is ready to play each week. So, I haven't really thought too much about that.
“I’m just thankful that we're in the position we're in now to go down to Tampa and play a really good team in the playoffs and prepare for that.”
Sirianni, in fairness, doesn’t have time to think about that or reflect on his first season as an NFL head coach because it’s not over yet. He has to get his team ready to play the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday in Tampa.
But as a reminder, here’s a look at how first-year coaches fared in 2021:
Eagles: Nick Sirianni (9-8), made playoffs
Chargers: Brandon Staley (9-8)
Falcons: Arthur Smith (7-10)
Jets: Robert Saleh (4-13)
Texans: David Culley (4-13)
Lions: Dan Campbell (3-13-1)
Jaguars: Urban Meyer (2-11), fired
Sirianni is one of just two rookie head coaches to guide his team to a winning record and the Eagles’ turnaround from a 4-11-1 season to 9-8 is more impressive than the Chargers’ going from 7-9 to 9-8 with a no-doubt-about-it young stud quarterback.
When you dive deeper into Sirianni’s first season at the helm, his accomplishments are even more impressive. He’s had to navigate a lot.
When Sirianni was hired, the main question was about Carson Wentz and his future with the team. Then there was the Zach Ertz situation, massaging a rocky relationship between one of the franchise’s all-time great players. Then there was his Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson taking a three-game absence to deal with mental health issues. Then there was the realization that he needed to swallow his pride and make this offense a run-first attack.
And, finally, there was the tough schedule early this season, which left the Eagles with a 2-5 record and an enormous mountain to climb.
But Sirianni knew the only way to climb that mountain was one step at a time. That’s what he stressed to his team throughout the turnaround. And he got them to buy in because he’s a genuine dude.
If you think back to when Jeff Lurie hired Sirianni, that was one of the major reasons.
“I think for the Eagles, what we've harped on very, very much is we're looking for the best football leader going forward,” Lurie said last January. “It's not about who is the hot coordinator, who is the best X's and O's, who has the best résumé. Everything is important. Everything is important.”
Lurie once used the term “emotional intelligence” when he moved on from Chip Kelly. He found that attribute with Doug Pederson and he found it again with Sirianni.
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It’s not that X’s and O’s don’t matter — they obviously do — but Lurie was looking for a leader first.
“I think it's really valuable to have somebody that innately and genuinely cares about who they work with, the players that play for them and with them, the other coaches, the staff,” Lurie said last January. “Somebody who is genuine about caring. For me, Nick epitomizes that.”
While it’s too early to say for sure, it seems possible the Eagles have won their second consecutive hiring cycle. They clearly did back in 2016 when they hired Pederson and the other six teams hired Mike Mularky, Adam Gase, Dirk Koetter, Hue Jackson, Ben McAdoo and Chip Kelly.
Lurie has a knack for hiring good coaches and it looks like Sirianni is no exception.
No matter what happens in Tampa on Sunday, Sirianni’s first season at the helm has been a success. He wasn’t the popular choice at the time, but the Eagles nailed it.