He isn't one to look back and reflect for long because, as Nick Sirianni gears up for his second season as the Eagles' head coach, he knows just how fast and furious things move in the NFL on a daily basis. Staying in the moment is something Sirianni lives and something he preaches to his football team, but if he were to take a peek back at 2021, he could note a list of accomplishments that may very mean a whole lot for Philadelphia in the season ahead.
• Sirianni kept his message on point and his team together and focused after a 2-5 start, eventually ripping off seven wins in nine games to clinch a playoff berth.
• He guided second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts to a banner first full season as a starter as Hurts produced nearly 4,000 total yards and a combined 26 touchdowns and then became the youngest signal-caller in franchise history to start a postseason game.
• In the midst of the season and without a whisper to the media and, connectively, to the opponents, Sirianni turned the gameday playcalling duties over to coordinator Shane Steichen and the offense became the league leader in rushing the football and ranked the best in the NFL in explosive plays.
More than all of that, Sirianni grew into the responsibility and the position of being the head coach. He learned about the intensity of the job that comes from every conceivable angle and how to handle all that attention and focus.
"How are we going to win this next game? It was just staying in the moment," Sirianni says when asked what he learned in 2021. "When you handle it that way, you can handle the criticism, you can handle what looks to be an unclimbable mountain. It was just a day-by-day process of 'How are we going to get better?'
"Everybody is looking at you at all times. There's not as many unknowns and getting better emotionally and not riding the ups and downs of the season and not looking ahead too far into the season. It's easy to get into that mode. And connecting. Everybody needs my attention, and a little bit of attention goes a long way. I'm definitely better at carving out the time to do those things."
Everyone is still looking at Sirianni as Year 2 begins on July 26 when the players report to the NovaCare Complex for the start of the 2022 Training Camp. They are looking at him differently. His accomplishments last season gained notice, for sure, and after an offseason in which the Eagles addressed the roster with bold moves and decisive actions, adding star-power players on both sides of the ball, Sirianni braces for a different set of challenges.
"I think the message is exactly the same as far as how we prepare and everything like that," Sirianni says. "It's just noticing the fact that, hey, there's going to be a lot of people telling you how good you are. Probably more so, right? Or how good you could be. But that's still could be. The same amount of work is going to be required regardless if you have high expectations or low expectations. You have to work. You have to work. How many times have we seen a team start off really hot and maybe buy into the hype? So, that's going to be something. I'm very conscious of that as far as I know what some of these guys are hearing as far as outside noise.
"So, the message is, 'If we want to do what we want to do, if we want to win the first game and move on from that, then we have to be committed to the process of how we work.' And that is high detail in meetings starting with the coaches, full speed to the snap in walkthrough, high intensity at practice, and a commitment to how we get better at the core values every single day."
Sirianni references the core values – connecting, competing, accountability, high football IQ, fundamentals – almost every time he speaks to his players because, well, those are the foundational elements to what he believes constitutes a strong, winning football program. He has a compilation of stories that he will tell throughout the course of the season – those stories are already at his disposal and scheduled for just the right time to tell.
The energy and the enthusiasm and genuineness of Sirianni and his staff "make it fun for us," running back Miles Sanders says, and keep things fresh during the long grind of the NFL season. That's not by accident.
"You find ways to make it fresh and different, but the core values are still the core values. That's not changing," Sirianni says. "That's what we build our whole thing on."
Here we are, in Year 2 with Sirianni as the head coach and Hurts as the quarterback and the coaching staff largely the same as last season and a roster that has been, on paper, tremendously upgraded through a series of moves made in free agency, the NFL Draft, trades, and the post-draft period. It's been an exhilarating ride as the Eagles added a standout, A.J. Brown, at wide receiver to provide a huge playmaking upgrade. The team dramatically remodeled the defense by adding pass-rushing force Haason Reddick and tackling-machine linebacker Kyzir White in free agency, defensive tackle Jordan Davis in the first round of the draft, promising linebacker Nakobe Dean in the third round, and then added the exclamation points to the offseason by signing cornerback James Bradberry and safety Jaquiski Tartt later in the offseason.
The offense, Sirianni says, is his – built through the offseason and prepared each week as the coaching staff works on the first 15 plays, the order of the third-down calls, the two-minute offense, the four-minute offense – even though Steichen will again call the plays. There was no "aha moment" when Sirianni decided last year to turn over the duty to Steichen, just that "I just wasn't good enough job communicating to the guys and I trusted Shane." Sirianni and Hurts are on the same page about the offense and where the Eagles think it can go with so many pieces back and so many possibilities in place. The game plan "will go through A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert," says the head coach, with Hurts pulling the trigger.
Hurts improved throughout the spring and Sirianni expects that will continue for No. 1, who is a dogged competitor and who understands he needs to take the next step. The two are connected in every way, a bond that grows every time they meet on Fridays and discuss the upcoming opponent. That bond allows Sirianni to provide Hurts, the son of a football coach (as is Sirianni), with some tough love when it is needed.
Instead, it is direct and professional and respectful and demanding back and forth. Sirianni is very particular in what he needs from his quarterback.
"Ranking what's important in a quarterback, accuracy is always going to be No. 1," Sirianni says. "I'm back and forth at No. 2 between decision-making and the ability to create plays for the offense. I'm really impressed with his ability to process and get it out on time. He's making good, accurate decisions and he's doing it on time. I'm seeing a better base to make throws. He has to continue to be on the uprise, or it's just talk. He's gotten better throughout his entire career."
And as it's all upon us, Sirianni takes a deep breath. It's all about, he says, staying in the moment. For him. For his coaches. For his players. It's a long journey. Enjoy every bit of it.
"I'm fired up about it and I know my players are, but the messaging is going to be the same," he says. "How can we get better every day? Our first game is in Detroit and our focus is to win that game. Before that, we have a lot of days to work hard and improve. That's where I'm at and that's where this team is at."