Sirianni Speaks

Photos: David Michael Howarth

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni sat down with SJ Mag’s Marianne Aleardi for an in-person talk about leadership, inspiration and a touch of football strategy.

Sirianni captivated nearly 400 audience members with stories of growing up as the son of a football coach, the intensity of Philly sports fans and his secret weapon to good football…love. It was a quick tangent from his usual talk of strategy and X’s and O’s, but it was definitely full of something we’ve seen every Sunday during the season: contagious passion.

Philly sports fans

I love this city. I love the passion. I feel so close to everybody here. No kid thinks when they’re growing up: ‘I can’t wait for that stadium to be half full and have fans kind of cheering for us, kind of not.’ I’ve been in cities, like San Diego, where football isn’t quite as important. When I was with the Chargers and we played the Raiders, we had to practice crowd noise. There were so many Raiders fans that they made it uncomfortable for us in our own stadium. Can you imagine that happening in Philly? It would never happen in Philly.

Crying during The National Anthem

I used to watch the National Anthem on TV for the Super Bowl, and I’d see the emotion in guys’ faces or them swaying back and forth or whatever – like this is going back to when I was 10 years old – and I’d think to myself, ‘Man, how 

unbelievable would it be if I could just stand there with my teammates getting ready to play on the biggest stage ever. That would be awesome.’ I guess it was just the flood of emotions of, hey, I worked really hard to get here, we’ve worked really hard to get here, this has been a dream of mine my entire life, and it was all just kind of coming true. 

Losing the Super Bowl 

After the game, you have one meeting with the entire team, and you first and foremost say, you’ve got a lot to be thankful for, because we do. You take a knee and you thank God for all the blessings you have. Then you talk to them about how special the season was and how much they mean to you. You just say what’s in your heart. Then you go up to each individual guy and connect and talk to them about what made them special. You try to comfort every guy.

Conviction 

You need complete conviction in what you’re doing, because not everybody is going to see it exactly how you see it. Conviction isn’t just blind faith. I’ve had people tell me before, ‘Sometimes you aren’t even right, but you have such conviction in what you’re saying, everyone believes you’re right.’ And I’m like hey, ‘That’s a skill.’ You really truly believe it, you know it’s going to work. You’re going to find ways to make it work, and then as it does, people feel it and it becomes contagious. 

The greatest motivation

With athletes who are going as hard as they possibly can, everything is on the line at all times. We play hard for each other because of our pride, but there is one thing that can get them to go a little bit further: love and connection. That doesn’t mean everybody has to be best friends, but they have to have that sense of, ‘I don’t want to let this person down.’ The greatest motivation you have is not wanting to let somebody down. 

Leading leaders

I didn’t step into a normal situation for a first-year head coach 2 years ago. I had these guys like Jason Kelce and Brandon Graham and Lane Johnson and Fletcher Cox who played for this organization for 10 years, and they’re great leaders. The best thing is when somebody does something wrong on a play, and before I get a chance to get over there – because I’m quick to get over there and correct somebody – Jalen is over there, or Kelce is over there or Lane Johnson. That’s accountability. Accountability is great when it’s coming from the coach, but it’s even greater when the players are correcting themselves exactly how you want it to be done.

Next year’s Super Bowl 

It’s going to be the same answer any time anybody asks me about the Super Bowl. We have a long way to go before we’re back in that spot, so we’re working one day at a time. But that’s part of leadership – every day, one day at a time and stacking days. Then we’ll accept our fate as we work our butts off to get there.

This year’s game on Christmas Day 

It’s actually nice in the sense that it’s a 4 o’clock game. Some of the players will probably end up going home after they stay in the hotel. I’ll be able to wake up with my family and spend at least the morning with them. I imagine they’re going to be excited to go to a game on Christmas, that’s a cool thing. So I’ll be the one that’s really nervous and everyone else is going to be having a great time.

Growing up with a father who coached football 

My brothers and I, we’re all in the same profession and we followed in our dad’s footsteps. I think that’s the best honor you can give your dad because you look up to him. You saw the impact he had on other people’s lives, and you want to do the same thing.

Ignoring the media noise

When we hired our staff, I had to do some media thing, maybe it was WIP or something like that. I did it and I was like boom, I crushed that, let’s hear what WIP has to say. And they killed me. So I said to myself, ‘I’m going to get criticism. I know what I signed up for. So don’t listen.’ When people say you’re the best ever, you can’t listen to it. You have to be locked in. And when people say you’re the worst and your first interview sucked and you’re going to go 0 and 16, this guy is only going to last a year, you can’t listen to that either. 

That infamous first interview as head coach

It wasn’t a great interview. I was fumbling over words and this and that, but there was a new player the other day, he said he had learned more in 6 days with the Eagles than he had in 6 years in his career. Everybody made fun of me back then about fumbling over my words, but I guess we made something out of this, right? 

Choosing new players 

You want to bring guys in who are about team. They’ve got to be a good football player, otherwise we’d stink, but they’ve got to have all the qualities we feel represent us. They have to be highly competitive. They have to love football. They have to be tough. They have to be smart. We look for those common denominators of great players. 

Listening to his team 

I got this job because I was an expert at offensive football. But now look at all these different ranges I have. I have to listen to the experts in their fields, whether it’s our media people or our trainers, doctors, strength staff, whatever it is, 

I have to listen to them and take their expert advice. Then at the end of the day, I make what I think is the best decision for the team, whatever that is. Not everybody is always going to be happy with me, and I understand that.

Interviewing new players

I always want to know how much they love football. I ask them to give me something ironic or weird that shows how they love football. Larry Byrd used to shoot 500 shots before school each day from 6th grade to 12th grade. That’s insane. So I want to know the crazy of these guys. It isn’t a deal breaker, but I do ask to gauge how much they love football, because when you love what you do, you’re going to go to great lengths to achieve it. 


 

Sal & Sirianni

ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio joinedthe conversation to talk sports.

SAL: What is one thing you wanted to do in that second half of the Super Bowl?

NICK: One thing I wrestle with a lot is: Should 

I have went for it, up 24-21, near the end of the third quarter? There are no guarantees, obviously, but I think it’s really healthy to drag yourself through the mud, because that’s the only way you’re going to get better. It’s ok to beat yourself up about decisions, and it’s ok to beat yourself up about plays. It’s just important that you pick yourself back up and are ready to go again.

SAL: It’s hard to go to the Super Bowl, and super hard to go back. What do you say to the team about managing that aspect of it?

NICK: We talk a lot about mountain climbing. At the beginning of the year, everybody is trying to reach the top of the mountain. All 32 teams. But you should never look up. Because if you do, you’re like, I gotta climb that? But you don’t have to climb that. You just have to focus every single day on what you have to climb that day. There aren’t going to be a lot of times you hear me say “get back to the Super Bowl,” because that’s not what we’re trying to do right now. What we’re trying to do is win the day. 

September 2023
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