It was a fair question posed to Nick Sirianni but it was hard not to think of the famous scene in the 1999 film Office Space.
What would you say ya do here?
Of course, the question in this week’s press conference was asked with more tact than that. But after finding out on Wednesday that Sirianni is prepared to cede even more power on offense and knowing that his speciality certainly isn’t on defense, where Vic Fangio is reportedly taking over, it is fair to wonder about Sirianni’s role going forward.
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“The head coach of the football team,” Sirianni answered.
OK, well, that doesn’t really answer much. So Sirianni was asked what that entails. His answer didn’t necessarily instill a ton of confidence.
Sirianni, 42, first said maybe he’d sit in on more defensive meetings. But the real answer came when he talked about the culture of the team, his core values and connecting with players.
It sounds like the Eagles are finalizing Sirianni’s transition to full-time CEO coach in 2024.
Which might work. But it also might not.
While Sirianni has already pretty much been a CEO-type of coach for the last 2 1/2 years since handing over offensive play-calling during the 2021 season, he certainly made it seem like he’s giving up even more offensive control in 2024. On Wednesday, he spoke about the next offensive coordinator bringing in his own scheme with fresh ideas, and said that person will be in charge of the offense. It’s hard to imagine this was his idea.
Because that’s quite a concession for Sirianni, who a little over a month ago explained why any criticism of the offense should go to him and not the since-fired Brian Johnson.
“I was hired to do a job here and got hired because I was successful as an offensive coordinator with our schemes and the different things that we did to coach players and help players win,” Sirianni said on Dec. 20. “I’m committed to that.”
Sirianni might have been committed to his offense — which he finally admitted this week got stale — but the Eagles certainly were not. And when push came to shove, Sirianni was committed to keeping his job and there’s no shame in that.
We’ll see who the Eagles hire as their next offensive coordinator because Sirianni’s level of involvement in the offense will likely depend on that person. If it’s a longtime NFL play-caller who might even have previous head coaching experience, then Sirianni is likely more hands-off. If it’s a first-time OC without play-calling experience, then his role is probably more significant.
So we’ll see how involved Sirianni ends up being on the side of the ball where his expertise is based.
Either way, it’s hard to imagine Sirianni not being involved at all on that side of the football. Even if the Eagles didn’t hire him for his offensive acumen as much as he might think, he is a former offensive coordinator and he did game plan for an offense that was elite just a couple years ago. But after an underwhelming performance in 2023, everyone should agree that new ideas are needed.
The questions about Sirianni’s involvement in the offense will likely persist all season. But it’s not like these types of questions don’t follow the other successful CEO head coaches in the NFL.
One of the most successful coaches in the league is Detroit’s Dan Campbell, a former NFL tight end who does not call offensive plays. But during his rookie season in 2021, he did the opposite of Sirianni. After losing to the Eagles 44-6 in Week 8, Campbell took over play-calling from OC Anthony Lynn after the bye week. Since then? Campbell hired Ben Johnson as his OC and Johnson has been a masterful play-caller, who might be a head coach in a few weeks.
And even Mike Tomlin, the longtime head coach in Pittsburgh, isn’t immune to all this. Here’s a post from Behind the Steel Curtain in 2021, which referenced this question floating around Steelers Twitter: “What does Mike Tomlin actually do?”
It’s also worth noting that former Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said after retirement that Tomlin had been calling plays on defense throughout Butler’s years in Pittsburgh.
Baltimore’s John Harbaugh is another top-tier example of a CEO head coach and he has been very successful throughout his 16-year run with the Ravens, who have allowed him to ride out some highs and lows during that stretch with just one Super Bowl appearance.
Back in 2014 when offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell left, Harbaugh explained why he wasn’t going to start calling plays on offense.
"I don't think my style is ever going to be to take one side of the ball, or one particular phase, and take it over, and then ignore the other two phases," Harbaugh said, via the Ravens' website.
"There are coaches that makes sense for, guys that were offensive coordinators their whole career and that's what they know, or they were quarterback coaches their whole career, and they're going to take the quarterback. It makes sense for those guys, and that's what they're going to do, and that's how they're going to do it. But that's just not my background."
The CEO model can definitely work.
OK, now is when you start to laugh and tell me that Nick Sirianni is not John Harbaugh. He’s not Mike Tomlin. He might not even be Dan Campbell. Fair.
But there are other attributes that can make for a successful head coach beyond being an offensive or defensive genius. Sometimes they’re overlooked.
During his tenure as Eagles head coach, Sirianni has shown an ability to breed a strong culture. He has shown an ability to connect with his players. And those things are important.
Two of the main elements of any good CEO coach is the ability to have a strong culture and to handle game-day responsibilities. The bad news for Sirianni is that the Eagles’ culture didn’t prevent a disastrous slide last season. And the game day management has been far from perfect too.
But it’s also easy to see why the Eagles didn’t want to get rid of Sirianni. They tried to look at this from a macro viewpoint. They think they have a culture-setter coach who has been successful and can perhaps morph into what they need him to be right now: A CEO coach with strong coordinators who is able to delegate and lead.
If he can’t become that? Then he won’t be here very long anyway.