How did a coach nobody heard of win over Eagles' locker room?


PHOENIX — They had no idea who he was. They didn’t know anything about him. He wasn’t a hot coaching candidate, and he wasn’t a big-name veteran.

Most of the Eagles had never heard of Nick Sirianni.

So when Jeff Lurie introduced him as the Eagles’ new head coach just 25 months ago, you can imagine that everybody on the roster was thinking, “OK, prove yourself.”

And he did that.

In a hurry.

“He had a lot of ideas about doing what’s best for the players and of course that’s what I’m all about, what’s best for the players, and that helps, that’s why you’ll fight for a guy like that who actually cares about you and wants the best for you,” Darius Slay said. “That will really trigger a player. 

“You could tell early on. He came in with the energy, the mindset. The first thing he always mentions is, ‘It’s always about you guys,’ because we’re the ones who go out there and play. As a group and as a team, he makes sure it’s about you.”

It can’t be easy for a new head coach to get players he doesn’t know to believe in what he's saying. Sirianni did it by being himself. 

Genuine. Authentic. Real.

After his widely panned introductory press conference, Sirianni addressed the team and didn’t hold back about his feelings in the wake of the intense and unfair criticism he got.

“You know what? He won me over when he first got here," Brandon Graham said. "Because that press conference he had that he did all that stuff, said all the wrong things, and you guys got on him, I felt like he came into here and gave us his honest answer on how he felt about it, and he was pissed about it.

“And I love that because a lot of coaches wouldn’t admit when the media gets under their skin, and it was just cool. … So that’s when he won me over, man, just coming in and being real about how he feels.”

For any head coach, those first few meetings, those first few practices, those first few days and weeks are pivotal.

Players can see right through a fraud. When you have seasoned veterans like Graham, Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson in the room, you better be good. Because if you don’t win them over, if you don’t get buy-in from the team leaders, you’re finished before you even start.  

“Right away, he came in and you could tell he was passionate, you could tell he cared about the players, you could tell he was smart and knew what he was talking about,” Jack Driscoll said. “So I would say you could tell right away he knew what he was doing.

“He told us our top core value was connecting and that’s what he’s passionate about and we saw it right away and saw how badly he wanted to win and how competitive he was, so we really all bought in right from the start. 

“There’s obviously guys in high school, college, pros who might try to get that across but you can tell it’s not real, but that’s not the case with Coach Sirianni. You can tell he’s truly genuine, which is what makes him a special coach.”

It’s important to remember that when Sirianni became head coach, the entire roster was Doug Pederson guys. And a bunch of them had won a Super Bowl with Pederson, most of them had been to the playoffs with Pederson, and they were fiercely loyal to him.

So now you’re bringing in an unknown assistant who had been a position coach only three years earlier to replace a guy who had won just a Super Bowl.

That’s not easy to navigate.

But when players realize you know your stuff, they will buy in. That’s what happened with Dallas Goedert. He quickly realized Sirianni could help him become a better player. That's all he needed to see.

“My first impression of him was he said, ‘No banana cuts,’” Goedert said. “He wants everything to be sharp and detailed and initially I was like, well damn, you know, when I came here with Zach (Ertz) we rolled into every one of our routes, and I wonder if I can do it? 

“Just his coaching style, what he believes in, and then the success we started having doing what he believes. He’s a great coach the way he coaches. He shows us a clip of what we did, he shows us a clip of how he wants it to look, and just doing that over and over again, we really realized how important the details are and how if we make everything look alike, it’ll make our jobs easier. 

“Just his competitive nature, his fun-loving nature, really helped us buy into what he believes.” 

Lurie has hired six head coaches since he bought the team in 1994, and all six have won at least 10 games and reached the playoffs at least once in their first two years. All but one — Chip Kelly — have reached the conference semifinal round in their first two years.

He's got the magic touch.

The Eagles started out slowly in Sirianni’s first season, but since that 2-5 start they’re 23-6 in meaningful games.

He’s the 17th coach in NFL history to take a team to the Super Bowl in his first or second year, and he's now trying to become the seventh to win. The last eight are 1-7, with the lone exception coming from the guy Sirianni replaced. Pederson is the only coach since Brian Billick in 2000 to win a Super Bowl in his first or second year.

Special team. Special year. Special coach.

And it didn’t take anybody long to realize it.

“The thing is, him coming in, I knew he was qualified because he was hired,” Boston Scott said. “I trust in Mr. Lurie and Howie [Roseman] getting together and making the best decision for the organization, so I knew as soon as he came in he would be able to play to our strengths and put us in situations to be successful.

“You just have trust that they know what they’re doing. That’s really all it comes down to. Look at their track record. They haven’t missed yet.”

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