PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon warns that whatever you do, under no circumstances should you invite coach Nick Sirianni to a game of blackjack.
Or failures. Or H-O-R-S-E. Or anything remotely related to winning or losing. You’ll regret it.
This guy is about as demoralizing as it gets in my opinion, Gannon said, via the Eagles’ team website.
Gannon worked alongside Siriani on the Indianapolis Colts staff from 2018-20 before joining him in Philadelphia this offseason – Gannon served as Siriani’s cornerbacks coach and offensive coordinator – and was often drawn to Siriani’s competitive aura.
He came and started drawing bits and pieces and I said: Nick, it takes it away. And they became three-hour conversations in which I said: Dude, I gotta go.
You don’t want to [challenge him] because he’s probably going to beat you, and if he doesn’t beat you, he won’t let you go until he beats you somehow. … He’s a wild man now. He’s a wild man.
Sirianni, 39, will be head coach with the Eagles and is a relative unknown outside the NFL bubble.
His foray into the mainstream, in the form of an inaugural press conference in late January, made a shaky first impression. He stood alone in the auditorium of NovaCare and spoke virtually to the media. He seemed nervous and too focused on his notes at the music stand, leaving little room for his personality or natural ease to shine. The awkward encounter made critics thoughtful and only amplified the concerns of those skeptical of Doug Pederson’s dismissal, while it also amplified questions about why qualified minority candidates, such as Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Benimi, weren’t taken more seriously in the Eagles’ recruiting process.
Sirianni takes over a 4-11-1 team, replacing the only Super Bowl-winning coach in club history, in one of the toughest media markets in the country. The organization is plagued by dysfunction and is in the midst of a roster transition that includes the departure of quarterback Carson Wentz. Not only is Sirianni taking on the duties of player and coach for the first time, but he has assembled the youngest coaching staff in the NFL to support him. The average age of head coaches and coordinators for the 2020 season was 49. Sirianni and his key lieutenants have an average of 35.
The cards are stacked against Sirianni in many ways. But those around him tell ESPN they’re not worried. They have seen characteristics develop in him over time that they believe allow him to perform the grueling duties of an NFL head coach. Like the strength and compassion that came from a football injury that nearly cost him his leg and his life. He gained a deep understanding of the game throughout his life, being surrounded by top football coaches – from his father Fran to Mount Union legend Larry Kehres to Colts coach Frank Reich. And the competitive spirit his older brothers unleashed when he was younger, which has only grown in ferocity.
Fran and Amy Sirianni support their son, Nick Sirianni, who spent three years at Mount Union University in Alliance, Ohio, as a receiver. Sirianni’s polite family
Short-term loss of limb or life
Sirianni’s parents, Fran and Amy, were in the backyard in Jamestown, New York, when they got the call that Nick had been injured. They immediately jumped in the car and headed for Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio.
It happened in September, during a soccer practice during Sirianni’s sophomore season in 2001 – the day after 9/11, according to his parents. As a wide receiver, he lined out to right field and ran a route. I threw some sauce on the court, Sirianni told ESPN. I was going to glue the pole and rip it all the way through. I stay on the bar and my ankle hurts a little. I finished the course and now I’m making this cut all the way through and [the ankle] is going all the way through.
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The doctors’ initial diagnosis was a joint injury in his right ankle that will keep him sidelined for several weeks. But when he returned to campus, his leg went numb and he was rushed back to the hospital. He suffered from compartment syndrome, in which severe swelling impedes blood flow and oxygen supply, causing blood to pool at dangerous heights near the injured area.
I remember it because it was an excruciating pain. It’s like someone has an air pump and is pumping air into my leg. Pump, pump, said Sirianni.
When they opened my leg to get the blood out, the muscle fell off. It’s torn in two [as part of the initial injury]. So they repaired the wound, but the swelling was so bad they couldn’t stitch me up.
As a result, he spent a week in the hospital with an open wound. Six weeks later, he got a staph infection. At that point the situation became very serious.
It’s the one where I almost lost my leg, Sirianni said. And if it goes any further, I’ll lose a leg or a life.
He became ill and returned to Jamestown. He was in the hospital for a week and a half, receiving eight infusions a day. Sirianni managed to get through. Fran and Amy pay their respects to the medical staff at the scene and pray that their son’s life can be saved.
But doctors have said he probably won’t be able to play football again and may not even be able to walk.
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Forget it, I’m going back to football. You can’t tell me that, Sirianni said.
He stayed home for just a few weeks before returning to Mount Union, where he walked on crutches and self-bonded his injury three times a day, all in the name of returning to the team and his friends.
Months of rehabilitation followed. Fran and Amy remember Nick running up and down the street in front of their home in Jamestown and around the cones on the adjacent field, over and over, so determined to get his football career back on track.
He returned on the 7th. September 2002 against Wisconsin-Whitewater to resume play. Sirianni ran for four catches and 110 yards with two touchdowns in Mount Union’s 30-14 victory. The Purple Raiders won their third consecutive Division III national championship this season.
When he returned to the field the next fall, we were all very emotional, Amy says. We were all crying because we thought ….
He was blessed, Fran said, putting an end to Amy’s thoughts.
I admire his courage in the face of it all, Amy said.
Sirianni caught 52 passes for 998 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior and played one year for the Canton Legends in the Atlantic Football League Indoors after high school.
During his recovery, Nick Sirianni’s brother Mike, who coaches football at Washington and Jefferson College Division III in Pennsylvania, supported his younger brother by writing Nick’s jersey number, 25, on the cap he wore on game days. Sirianni took this idea and made it his signature. Now he posts injured players who can’t participate – he did this last season for Colts players Parris Campbell and Marlon Mack – so they know how you feel about them and are represented appropriately.
It’s more than that, said Sirianni, who has a scar on her right leg that runs from her knee to her ankle. She reaches out to them, she talks to them, she cares about them.
Amy added: He has a new empathy for someone who has experienced trauma. … If you are going through a trial yourself, you can connect with someone who has also gone through a difficult time.
A new chapter begins. #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/AFWghGm1au
– Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) January 25, 2021
Combat and leisure clothing
Competitive seeds were planted early.
Sirianni is the youngest of the three boys. He is 9 years younger than his older brother Mike and 6 years younger than Jay. It’s a family of football coaches. Mike has been coaching at the varsity level since 1996, and Jay took over as Fran’s football coach at Southwest Central High School after coaching for over 40 years and being inducted into the Chautauqua (NY) Sports Hall of Fame.
The family traveled often. As a metaphor for Nick’s position in life when he was younger, he always took the middle seat while his older siblings sat by the window and always took up his space.
He was squished on one side and the other, and had to fight with both when we were in the car, until Fran stopped and gave him one of each: Don’t make me come back! Amy said he was always pushed into everything by them.
I think he might have been the most competitive of the three, Fran said of Nick.
His old friend, Tom Langworthy, was also connected. They fought it out at basketball in the driveway and football in the backyard. At one point they even created their own Olympics by making Jenga, Jeopardy! and miniature golf an almost bloody sport.
Nick and I had a bit of an argument, Langworthy says. And in a few minutes, everything will be back to normal, like the brothers.
From left to right: Friends Tom Langworthy, Eric Ekstrand and Nick Sirianni pause to capture the moment after the 1993 youth football game. Courtesy Tom Langworthy
When Sirianni, an athletic training student, graduated from Mount Union, he first worked as a football assistant at his alma mater. He earned $8,000 a year and lived in a house on campus with several other graduate instructors. Sirianni had a room on the ground floor without heating. During the day it was McDonald’s, at night Subway. It may not have been much, but the house served as a think tank for coaches and eventually had Division I coaches like Jason Candle of Toledo and Matt Campbell of Iowa State walking around.
The alpha values were high. Whether they were betting on PlayStation games (college football, of course), debating who was the best player at Mount Union, playing cards and darts, or venturing onto the basketball court, there was always a certain camaraderie mixed with admiration that they shared.
Sometimes they almost degenerated into fights because we were so competitive, Sirianni says.
Campbell says Sirianni is a great coach because he is obsessed with being the best, not being afraid and doing everything in his power to truly become the best version of himself that he can be. That’s what makes Nick really special: He has a very serious obsession, but he also has a big heart and a big mind.
That allowed him to move up pretty quickly, from Mount Union to Indiana University or Pennsylvania to the NFL. He and Todd Haley did the same YMCA next to Haley’s summer home in Chautauqua Lake, and between sessions they had a joint shop to talk about respect. When Haley became head coach of Kansas City in 2009, he brought in Sirianni as an offensive quality control coach. After four seasons in Kansas City, he moved to the Chargers (2013-17), where he coached quarterbacks and wide receivers before becoming Reich’s right-hand man in Indianapolis in 2018.
When he got the job of offensive coordinator with the Colts, he told his wife Brett that his days of sleeping in the office were probably over, because offensive coordinators don’t usually do that.
It’s her: Yes, it’s true. They’re sleeping in the building, Nick said. I can’t tell this story anymore, she won’t believe me because I’ll probably have to sleep on it as head coach too.
The Eagles head coach spent the last three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, where he was offensive coordinator under Frank Reich. Courtesy of Kiel Legger/Philadelphia Eagles.
Sirianni has had a few more tries since the opening press conference and seems more at ease, but no amount of reps will completely flatten the edge or put him in traditional caching head shape. We learn that he is restless and can get sidetracked when he encounters a subject that animates him and takes the conversation in an unknown direction. Where his predecessors, like Chiefs coach Andy Reid and Pederson, were more balanced, Sirianni’s RPM needle will vibrate in the red zone.
The Eagles knew he had a different style than jumping. Sirianni was vacationing in Florida when he received a call in February for an interview with the owner of winter home Jeffrey Lurie in nearby Palm Beach. Sirianni had no suit on and walked into Lurie’s $30 million lakeside villa in casual clothes. The Brass team had also dressed up to please him, setting the tone for the marathon that took place the next day. At one point, it seemed that soccer practice was breaking down because of Sirianni’s enthusiasm.
I remember during a practice interview we were talking about the quarterback position and the coach stood up and showed us exactly what he was looking for. I was waiting for him to tell one of us to go all out, said general manager Howie Roseman. I think you saw that passion, energy and attention to detail from the beginning of the interview.
The hope is that those qualities will help him pick himself up and pull the Eagles out of the ditch and back into the spotlight.
He’ll be a hard worker. We’ve seen the nights and the time he spends there. He’ll be sympathetic, Amy said.
You see someone obsessed with proving, Campbell continued, that he has earned the right to do this.