The 10 biggest challenges facing new Eagles coach Nick Sirianni originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Nick Sirianni is a rookie head coach taking over a 4-11-1 team replacing a Super Bowl-winning head coach and was hired over an all-time Eagles great who remains popular within the incredibly demanding fan base.
And inheriting a quarterback who’s a mess.
This will not be easy.
Here are 10 of the biggest challenges facing the 39-year-old Sirianni as he prepares to take over as head coach of the Eagles:
Building a staff
Nothing is more important to a new coach, and the best evidence of that is Andy Reid’s 1999 staff, with Jim Johnson, Rod Dowhower, Ron Rivera, Brad Childress, Sean McDermott, Leslie Frazier, Pat Shurmur, Juan Castillo, John Harbaugh, Dave Culley, Tom Melvin, Tommy Brasher and Steve Spagnuolo. One of the greatest NFL coaching staffs ever. Sirianni doesn’t necessarily need seven future NFL head coaches, but he needs teachers, he needs motivators and most importantly he needs a staff that works well together to carry out his vision.
Winning over the locker room
This is a 39-year-old first-time head coach walking into a locker room where nobody knows him and a lot of the team’s veteran leaders were vocally supportive of Duce Staley’s candidacy for the job he got. Sirianni’s got to win over those veteran leaders — Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Brooks, Rodney McLeod (if he’s here), Jason Kelce (if he continues playing). If he can win over the key veterans, the young guys will fall into place.
It’s a tricky one because there’s no one thing wrong with Carson Wentz. There’s a lot and assuming Wentz is here in 2021, he’s got to be fixed both mentally and physically. And now Sirianni has to work alongside a QB with a reputation of being uncoachable, difficult to deal with and responsible — in part — for the dismissal of a popular head coach.
No matter how brilliant a coaching mind he is, Sirianni won’t be able to win without players. If the Eagles — with Howie Roseman at the helm — can’t upgrade the roster from the team that went 4-11-1 this year, Sirianni will have no chance. He’s inheriting a roster with only a handful of above-average starters under 30 — Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders, Alex Singleton, Jordan Mailata. Roseman has to do something he hasn’t done much of lately and nail this draft and get Sirianni something to work with.
Dealing with Howie and Jeffrey
Let’s face it, Sirianni will have to be able to navigate a front office that can be meddlesome. It’s normal for an owner — and in some cases a GM — to have a voice in some football operations, but Sirianni has to walk a fine line between making sure he’s true to himself and what he believes in while still being able to work productively alongside Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie. It’s not easy.
Then there’s Jalen Hurts
Wentz isn’t the only quarterback project on the roster. Hurts did enough good things in his late-season stint that he could factor into the Eagles’ future, especially if Wentz is traded. It’s not enough to get Wentz up to speed. Sirianni needs to make sure both QBs are ready and capable of winning games.
Winning over fans and media
Sirianni grew up in Jamestown, New York, played college football and coached in Alliance, Ohio, and has spent most of his NFL career in Kansas City, San Diego and Indianapolis. These are small markets, and although you’ve got some rabid fans certainly in Kansas City and to an extent in Indy, working in a city that’s this rabid about football with media that’s this competitive can be difficult for anybody, much less a rookie head coach who’s never seen this level of scrutiny. Sirianni’s going to have to develop a thick skin very quickly.
The salary cap
Nobody knows exactly what the NFL salary cap will be in 2021, but it’s going to decrease significantly, and the Eagles more than most teams are going to be in a crunch in terms not only of adding free agents but potentially unloading current players they might not want to get rid of. That could severely hamstring the Eagles’ efforts to rebuild the roster and make Sirianni’s first year a difficult one.
Just like Frank Reich had never called plays when he was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator, Sirianni never called plays when he was Reich’s offensive coordinator. It’s really the one gap on his résumé. And calling plays isn’t just picking plays off a laminate. It’s having a true understanding of your players’ skills and what they do best in what situations, understanding opposing defenses, figuring out how to keep defenses off balance, remaining unpredictable and staying aggressive when it makes sense to. Sirianni knows offensive football, but he’s going to have to figure out the play-calling piece very quickly.
The Carson-Jalen dynamic
There’s more to the quarterback situation than just getting Wentz and Hurts ready to play. It did not seem to be a particularly positive dynamic between them this year after Wentz was benched, and that’s not good for anybody. If Wentz and Hurts are both here, which is most likely, Sirianni has to make sure their relationship is productive and healthy, with no jealousy or envy, and both QBs committed only to what’s best for the team.