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Mike Sielski: Nick Sirianni's success will come down to one thing, and it's not how well he coaches the Eagles

Mike Sielski, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Football

PHILADELPHIA — So the Eagles have hired Nick Sirianni, formerly the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts, as their head coach, which is an unqualified coup for the University of Mount Union alumni office but inspires a few questions regarding him and the team he is now supposed to lead. Let’s start with one of the most basic of those questions, then.

What is the primary purpose of Sirianni’s job?

On the surface, that might seem a silly thing to ask. Come on, man. His job is to coach the Eagles and help them win games. Like, duh. Given the arc of Doug Pederson’s five-year history as head coach, though, it’s a sincere inquiry with a murky answer.

It’s easy and correct to say that Sirianni’s No. 1 mission is to “fix Carson Wentz,” however one wishes to define the word “fix.” Boiled down, fixing Wentz probably means getting him to play much more like the quarterback he was in 2017 and much of 2018-19 and much less like a quarterback incapable of throwing a screen pass above a receiver’s shoe tops. The obvious thinking, by Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman, is that once Wentz is back to being the player he was, all will be right with the Eagles’ world again.

Maybe it will, provided the Eagles make the necessary improvements to the rest of their offense, to their defense, and to their special teams. But that’s just it: Those areas matter, and too often, Lurie has acted and reacted as if quarterback were the only position or person of consequence on the entire team.

Doug Pederson won a Super Bowl by working with his staff to revamp the Eagles’ offense to accommodate and accentuate the strengths of his backup quarterback. The following year, he won one road playoff game and nearly another with that same backup quarterback. But the Eagles scored just 30 points in those two games, which perturbed their owner, and when push came to shove, those coaching achievements weren’t enough to keep Pederson from getting fired, because he had failed in his true job: adequately developing the quarterback in whom Lurie had invested.

 

If nothing else, Sirianni should be clear-eyed about what his true mission is here, and it isn’t winning games 8-7. It’s winning games in the manner that his new bosses prefer, with the quarterback whom they handpicked. And if the Eagles’ best options came down to an offensive coordinator strong enough to scream at Tom Brady on the sideline (Josh McDaniels), a longtime assistant coach who would be even less patient and tolerant of Wentz’s poor play and resistance to coaching than Pederson was (Duce Staley), and Frank Reich’s mentee and understudy, it’s not surprising whom Lurie and Roseman chose.

So was Sirianni the right hire? No idea, and anyone who says that he or she knows for certain what kind of coach Sirianni will be is selling you something. One should always hesitate before asserting that an NFL team should or should not have hired a particular candidate to be its head coach, because there’s no surefire way to know whether a particular candidate will thrive or fail.

There have been several Bill Belichick disciples who were hailed as certain successes for learning and worshipping at a genius’ knee and who turned out to be duds once they were on their own. The Eagles “settled” for Pederson in 2016 and won their first Super Bowl two years later. Chip Kelly was the oh-so trendy choice in 2013, and he didn’t finish his third season before Lurie axed him. Andy Reid was, by reputation, not much more than a well-regarded position coach when he showed up in 1999 with his binder and his plan for turning the Eagles around, and he lasted 14 years here.

Again, though: The important track record, vis-a-vis Sirianni, is not that of his predecessors but of their quarterback situations. Reid had 11 seasons with Donovan McNabb as his prospective/actual starter, but Lurie gave him just three seasons to find a suitable replacement for McNabb. Kelly won 20 games and a division championship over his first two seasons with Michael Vick, Nick Foles, and Mark Sanchez. Then he swung for the fences in trading for Sam Bradford and trying to trade for Marcus Mariota, and he got 15 more games before Lurie decided to give control back to Roseman. Pederson’s standing went from solid to tenuous as soon as Wentz started to regress.

If Sirianni can’t reverse that regression or, failing that, can’t coax Jalen Hurts into becoming a star, his tenure here will end in much the same way.

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