Mount Union, hard times and family: How Sirianni connects with his players


If you’ve spent any time listening to Nick Sirianni over the last couple of years, you already know how important connecting is to him.

It’s the core value the Eagles' head coach mentions most. Sirianni believes in the power of connection and it goes far beyond the football field.

Sirianni, 41, makes a concerted effort to relate to his players on and off the field. He thinks it goes a long way and his players seem to back that up. We’ve heard plenty of times before about how Sirianni has related to Jalen Hurts, who is also the son of a coach and comes from a football family.

But it isn’t just Hurts. Sirianni works to relate to and connect with all of his players.

So we went around the locker room this week asking over 20 players a simple question: How does Sirianni connect with you on a personal level?

WR Quez Watkins: “Honestly, he called me into his office. He was doing that in the offseason. He would talk to me about Philip (Rivers) because we’re both from Alabama. He’s a hometown legend. So he just tells me stories about him. They coached him and he’s from my hometown, he played at my high school. He tells me stories about him. And we just be talking about football, basketball, whatever. We just be talking.”

CB Josiah Scott: “A big thing with me is my brothers. They went to Mount Union. He’s a Mount Union guy obviously, so we connect in that sense. Where he went to school, where I’ve spent a majority of my life with my older brothers playing football there. We know a bunch of the same people and things at Mount Union.”

OL Josh Sills: “He talks to everybody. He gets to know everybody. He’s easy to approach, he’s easy to talk to. He relates to a lot of guys. He went to school at Mount Union, which everybody knows that, and that’s like 2 1/2 hours from my house. My high school football coach played there and I had another one of my buddies from back home play at Mount Union so we joke around about that a lot.”

WR A.J. Brown: “We talk about … I got him a book. I got him a 'Jesus Calling' book and we talk about that from time to time. It’s like a devotional. A daily devotional. We read it and we talk about it. We discus that sometimes.”

TE Dallas Goedert: “I have a lot of conversations with Nick. He’s just a good friend of mine. We’ll text back and forth. He does a really good job of just being aware of what’s going on. He’ll see the Jackrabbits do something, he’ll talk to me about the Jackrabbits. Something will happen with another tight end, he’ll talk to me about that. He’s just really good at communicating with everybody. He’s just a relatable guy. He finds something to relate to, whether it’s Jalen with pop culture, me with South Dakota State. He just does a good job communicating with everybody, making everybody feel important.”

QB Ian Book: “He definitely has that ability. You can just tell. I just feel like every day he’s talking to a new guy on the team. He’s in the QB room. That’s where I’d say we connect the most, talking about certain players we both know. For me it’s Notre Dame people who maybe went to Indianapolis and he coached them. And then we also have this relationship where we both know Coach (Tommy) Rees, the Notre Dame offensive coordinator. So that’s where we connect a lot. Nick Sirianni was the receivers coach in San Diego and Tommy was the quality control so they knew each other and then Tommy became my coach and pretty much my best friend. So it’s pretty cool we have those similar things. Tommy has put in certain plays at Notre Dame that we run here. So that’s pretty cool. That’s how we’ve connected.”

WR Devon Allen: “I think, for one, being a younger coach, he already connects with the age demographic. We have guys in their 30s, I’m 28 as a rookie. He’s close to our age to where he relates and understands the same things we’re going through as athletes because he was a football player in high school and college. And I think, too, he has a lot of passions. He played basketball growing up so he’s in there shooting with us in the team meeting. His dad is a high school track coach, coaches the hurdles, and he was a track athlete growing up as well. To me, he connects through that. And I got to meet his dad. That was pretty cool. I think he does a good job of just trying to find something in common with everybody on the team and makes an effort to reach out. Not that most coaches don’t talk to everybody but there’s a lot of guys on the team so it’s hard to do that with everybody. And I think that’s why the team is doing so well. Because even the players go out of their way to reach out to each other and that’s pretty cool with how many people come and go throughout the year. When a new guy comes in, he’s accepted right away. When I got here, I was accepted right away. Everybody made the effort. During OTAs, Jalen invited me over to his house for a crawfish boil a couple days before the Penn Relays. And then I was here running in the Penn Relays and I invited some of my teammates and about 10 of them showed up to watch and they just met me five days before. It’s pretty cool. I think that’s part of the culture here and I think that’s part of the reason we’re doing so well and Nick does a good job of instilling that in us.”

LS Rick Lovato: “We were just the other day talking about high school football. Me being from New Jersey and now that he lives in that area, not his kid but the school near him was playing in a playoff game. We were talking about that. Just little things that he’ll come up to me and ask me questions about on a day-to-day basis. Always connects with me after our field goal period, always comes up to me and gives me a high five every time. He really cares about each and every player and that’s so important to have as a head coach. He truly cares about all of us.”

OL Andre Dillard: “Definitely. I remember a time I was going through some stuff and he texted me and said, ‘Hey, come up to my office and talk about it.’ He let me kind of vent whatever I was feeling and kind of just made me feel better. He related to me in a bunch of ways. I think a big way he relates to everybody is how charismatic he is. He jokes around with us a lot. Aside from just being our coach, he acts like he’s our friend too. And we all really like that.”

DT Milton Williams: “Me and his connection was different. His pops was sick and earlier this year my moms was sick with cancer. His dad came out on the other side and then he got it back so he’s still kind of fighting it. My mom had breast cancer and she went through all the treatments and stuff. Luckily she’s good now, she’s got it out of her system now. But me and him kind of connected on that at the beginning of the year. He was just telling me to stay strong and just giving me advice on how to deal with the situation.”

LB Kyzir White: “It’s crazy because my safeties coach at West Virginia (Matt Caponi), him and Coach Sirianni, they were best friends. They were like college roommates and stuff. They played on the same college team. That’s how we first started connecting. But like you said, he connects with everybody."

OT Jordan Mailata: “There was one time when I just went up to his office to talk about … oh it was last year, exit meeting. Obviously, we talked about areas you need to improve on. But then we just talked about family. And I sat in there way longer than I should have. Just general conversation about stuff I value. My family, my fiancé, just stuff like that, man.”

OG Landon Dickerson: “There’s not been like once instance of this is how we connect. I think it’s just who he is as a personality. He gets to know you personally while you’re eating lunch, while he passes you in the hallway. He’ll bring up something you’ve maybe talked about. Like, we talk about wedding planning and stuff like that. Little stuff. He’s not just treating you like a player. He gets to know you on a personal level and him showing that he genuinely cares about you as a person. For everybody in the building, that starts at the top and reciprocates with everybody.

QB Gardner Minshew: “I don’t know, man. I think, shoot, from the first time I met Nick on my visit to Indianapolis, we played HORSE. Little stuff like that. We played ping pong together. I think just spending time, taking that extra time to show that you want to connect, that you want to make those relationship happen, that’s all you really have to do and he does a great job of it.”

OL Sua Opeta: “He’ll make sure to always say ‘What’s up?’ to you individually, make you feel important. ‘Hey Sua, how’s your day?’ But there was one time I remember in the weight room, he was asking me what I do in my downtime around the city. We just had had a conversation about that. I told him I walk around the city. I’m not from the city, it’s cool to see the city. I’ve been here for a few years but it’s still fascinating to me. I just walk around and visit some restaurants and stuff. It’s cool that he like took his time out and have a conversation as simple as that."

LB Shaun Bradley: “First and foremost, he’s a great coach. He’s a players coach more than anything. He finds ways to connect with every player on the team, whether it’s through different videos. With me, he’ll even come talk to me about movies or different shows. He said I looked like some guy on a TV show (Tell Me Lies). But he’s been really on top of me, man. He’s been pushing me a lot to be a leader on special teams and embrace that role, lead the guys and make plays. We have a great relationship, man. He’s a great, great coach."

WR Britain Covey: “He’s asked me a little bit about my missionary service that I had. And he’ll keep up with me about my wife because my wife’s pregnant right now. So he’ll ask me about that. It’s only been as of recent that we’ve started to make more of a connection because obviously he’s got such little time. But it means a lot to his players when he does though.”

S Andre Chachere: “I feel like he does a good job of explaining everybody’s roles to them. That’s one of the big things on a personal level to make sure we’re locked in on the roles that we have for the week, throughout the year, whatever it may be. I feel like he does a great job of that with everybody individually.”

CB Zech McPhearson: “Knowing your role. Last year it was a bigger transition coming into the NFL. But this year, I feel like I took a bigger step knowing exactly my spot on the team and it helped me play a little better, helped me excel a little better. Just knowing your time is going to come. But for now, be where your feet are and understanding the aspect of the team. That’s helped me a lot and that’s the message I really took from him.”

DT Javon Hargrave: “We just know some of the same people like Darius (Shaquille) Leonard, who was over there with the Colts and stuff like that. He just talks. He just talks and asks me how I’m doing and stuff. But I don’t really talk that much. Maybe with the D-line and stuff but I’m not big in talking.”

OT Lane Johnson: “Just general conversation. With the team, video clips of movies, trying to get a point across or something. I think today was an old movie with Kevin Coster … I don’t know if it’s 'Field of Dreams.' But anyway, this dude had a good series and he was like, ‘Damn, can’t you just be proud of me?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, moment’s gone.’ Trying to indicate, yeah we clinched the playoffs but so what? Now what? This coaching staff in general, they’re pretty up with the recent trends, movies that will go a long way with the players.”

RB Boston Scott: “Me and Nick have talked a few times. A lot of it is ball. It’s something that we both love so that’s a connection for sure. But during training camp, we would have a conversation here or there. It’s cool, though.”

TE Jack Stoll: “I think it’s everything. He’s in there with us shooting (basketball) shots every day. Just kind of pulling each other aside, making jokes, stuff like that. From what I always heard, I thought when I got to the NFL it would be a very business-like organization. I think he does an unbelievable job, almost as much as my high school or college coach, if not more, of connecting with his players and getting to know them. It’s just conversations here and there. I don’t think it’s one specific thing but I think he’s just done an unbelievable job of connecting not just with me but with everyone on the team.”

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