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How Sirianni's coaching philosophy was born in a hospital bed


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How Sirianni's coaching philosophy was born in a hospital bed


It was September of 2001, and Nick Sirianni was stuck in his bed at Alliance Community Hospital in Northeastern Ohio with a catastrophic injury suffered at football practice.

He was a sophomore wide receiver at Mount Union College and after undergoing surgery for a torn muscle in his ankle he developed a very serious infection in his leg.

Forget football, the doctors said. There was a chance he could lose his leg and if things got worse the infection could even be fatal.

That Saturday afternoon, Mount Union had a home game in Alliance against John Carroll. Before the game, legendary Mt. Union coach Larry Kehres showed up at the hospital to visit young Nick.

"I don’t remember what we talked about,” Sirianni says now. "It’s not what he said that was important. I know he said, ‘Nick we’re going to miss you out there today,’ just stuff like that. Here’s a guy that’s won so many football games and national titles, and he really cares about me, and the day of a game he’s at the hospital checking up on me.

"The doctors were telling me I can’t play football again, but I’ll never forget that day telling myself I’m going to be an All-American for this guy. Because I knew how much he cared about me and I knew he loved me.”

Sirianni didn’t make All-America, but he healed up and did play football again the next year. He caught 11 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns in 2002, helping the Red Raiders win their seventh NCAA Division 3 championship. (They’ve won six more since.)

Two decades later, Sirianni is a rookie head coach with the Eagles, and he looks back at that hospital meeting with Kehres as a pivotal moment.

Because that’s when he realized the power of people connecting and how athletes and coaches will always go a little bit extra when they’re playing for people they care about.

When you listen to Sirianni today, you hear the word "connect” all the time. He talks all the time about the importance of his players and coaches connecting not only on the practice field and the meeting room but away from football.

"He’s big on building a culture where people are not just playing football together but really forming a bond and being connected outside of football as well,” Jason Kelce said. "There’s been a lot of activities centered around creating those relationships between players and players, players and coaches, vice versa, and you can tell that’s a big part of what he believes in.”

When Sirianni lists his five core values – connecting, competition, accountability, intelligence and fundamentals – connecting is always first.

There’s a reason for that. It’s really a fundamental building block of his coaching philosophy.

"When you know somebody - when you really know somebody and you connect with someone - you’re going to go a little bit harder for them,” Sirianni said in a recent chat with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "I shared that story about coach Kehres and the hospital with the team. And you always get guys who say, ‘I already go as hard as I possibly can. I go 100 percent every day,’ and that’s probably true most of the time, but there’s still something more there and something extra that you’ll give when you care for somebody. When you know what they’ve gone through or sacrificed to get where they are now. When you understand who they are as a person and as more than just a football player.

"That’s what you want (as a coach). Guys who know each other and like each other and respect each other and then you have the accountability there that you don’t want to let your teammates down. And when you really care for somebody and know them as a person, that kicks in more and more and more and more.”

It makes a lot of sense, but it can be a tricky proposition convincing pro athletes – especially grizzled veterans who’ve seen and heard it all – that getting to know their teammates off the field can translate into wins on Sunday afternoons.

Sirianni sells it just because he’s so authentic. This isn’t an act. It’s who he really is, and he comes across that way.

So they buy in.

"My experience is that they buy in because I’m saying something that’s real,” he said. "I didn’t make this up. One of my favorite things to do is study great teams and great players and see what makes them tick and what’s the common denominator there, and they all have that connection between players and coaches.

"If I was saying something that was crazy and way off the wall, I could see guys rolling their eyes. But I’m saying something that they know deep down is true. Is everybody buying in? I don’t know. But I know guys deep down realize how important it is, whether you’re in the league one year or a rookie or 11, 12, 13 or 14 years in.”

Sirianni grew up in a football household with a father who coached for decades and brothers who played and became coaches.

He always marveled at the number of his dad’s former players who stopped by the house in Jamestown, New York.

"One of the reasons I wanted to get into coaching was because guys who played for my dad would come back 10 or 15 years later and come to the house for spaghetti dinner, just to see my dad,” he said. "I always thought that was pretty cool. I want to be into that and have those lasting relationships.”

Sirianni said he hasn’t heard other coaches he’s been around use the word "connection” the way he does, but he said the concept of emphasizing togetherness is one he’s heard all his life in sports, most recently from Colts coach Frank Reich, the Eagles’ former offensive coordinator.

Going bowling together or shooting hoops in the driveway or just sitting together in the cafeteria won’t win or lose football games.

But Sirianni points out that there’s a very fine line between winning and losing in the NFL. And if you’re out there fighting not just for your teammates but for your best friends, you might give the extra 1 percent to help your team overcome that fine line.

"There’s nothing like winning in the NFL,” he said. "Coming in the locker room on a Sunday after you win and celebrating with your teammates. And when you’re really connected with somebody, that handshake or high five means a little bit more, and that feeling becomes a little stronger. The good teams I’ve been on or coached on have all had that, and it’s something I’ll always (emphasize) as long as I’m coaching.”


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If the Eagles manage to play better than .500 ball this year, this culture will be one of the biggest factors, I think.

Looking at last year's team and how quickly they went completely off the rails, I have to think they were fractured in the locker room. Sure: injuries, playcalling, yada yada yada. They started losing and all sorts of weirdness and media leaks started popping up. Leading to Doug and Carson both leaving under a black cloud. 

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