PHILADELPHIA – Rewind back to January of 2021 and it would have been hard to imagine that nearly 10% of the NFL would end up being piloted by members of Nick Sirianni’s coaching staff.
The Eagles’ off-the-radar selection to replace Doug Pederson looked overmatched in his opening Zoom press conference, a stark reminder that first impressions can be misleading.
While Sirianni’s second season came up just short of the ultimate goal with a 38-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII, the league quickly validated what the Eagles’ second-year coach has built by coveting his first lieutenants. Hours after the Indianapolis Colts officially pilfered offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Arizona extended Jonathan Gannon’s stay in the desert by tabbing the Philadelphia defensive chief to rebuild the Cardinals.
It was the first time since 2013 that an NFL team has both of its coordinators coveted when Washington and Minnesota took Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer away from Marvin Lewis’ Cincinnati team. It’s been nearly two decades since teams showed the patience to wait out the Super Bowl and take both coordinators from a big-game participant (1994 when George Seifert’s 49ers lost Ray Rhodes, who was hired by Jeffrey Lurie to be the Eagles’ mentor and Mike Shanahan was stopped up by Denver).
Others deeper on the coaching staff, like quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo, and defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson have already gotten interviews for coordinator positions as well, and Johnson is the favorite to replace Steichen in Philadelphia, while Wilson is a strong contender to follow Gannon with the Eagles.
At 41, Sirianni has replaced Sean McVay as the guy in the NFL when it comes to the copycat game.
Whether that’s sustainable moving forward remains to be seen but Sirianni was cognizant that he would likely be raided and had set in motion succession plans months ago.
“That is a very important part of being a head coach, is who you replace guys with,” Sirianni said in January. “You’re hoping that you have success. You’re hoping you lose guys for the benefit of them and their career and their family. You hate to lose guys, because the reason they’re here in the first place is because I felt like they were really good coaches.”
It’s the reality of the industry something Sirianni’s own meteoric rise from Kansas City to the Chargers to Indianapolis and finally Philly highlights.
“Just like you go into a job interview and you say, ‘I want this guy, this guy and this guy.’ That’s not always the reality that you’re going to get all those guys,” the coach explained. “It’s the same scenario here. Of course, I want to keep these guys, they’re great coordinators, but in the event that I lose them, I have an idea of what I want to do at both spots.
“The answer is sometimes, yes, it’s in the building. Sometimes it’s outside of the building. But I feel like we have a lot of good options, and I feel like we have a lot of good options in the building that we’d be excited about if that were to happen.”
Now that it has happened we will see what the plan is. Johnson, who Jalen hurts is very comfortable with, is the heavy favorite to be the OC with Alex Tanney, a young coach Sirianni is very high on, taking over the positional job. Wilson was Gannon’s right-hand man and the obvious replacement for the new Cards coach with DK McDonald bumping up to secondary coach duties.
“Brian’s a really smart coach,” Sirianni said. “He’s played this game at a high level at Utah and now he coaches at a high level, and I think what you always want for coaches is to make this game that is complex, simple.”
The head coach, meanwhile, sang the praises of Wilson’s leadership skills.
“He’s just a great leader of men, and he’s able to bring a group together,” Sirianni said. “I look at Coach Dennard like a really good offensive line coach where you’ve got to bring them all together. They’ve all got to play as one, and that’s a really important position to make sure you’re doing this, and Dennard is really good at that.”
One of the many job descriptions of an NFL head coach is to coach his own assistant coaches and Sirianni has proven adept at it.
Steichen and Gannon have already graduated, and now it’s time for the underclassman to live up to the standard.
“I’m very particular and I know what I believe in,” Sirianni said.