As Nick Sirianni's Eagles prepare for the Bucs, he needs more Coach of the Year love

Let's go back in time to around 350 days ago. January 29, 2021. That day, brand new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni gave his first media conference.

It did not go well.

He stumbled. He stuttered. He looked and sounded nervous. He repeated himself a lot while managing to say very little. Very few people felt confident in Sirianni or the Eagles once it was over.

Now, almost a full year later, Sirianni is the only rookie head coach to make the playoffs. He's managed to clean up the mess created by former head coach Doug Pederson, former starting quarterback Carson Wentz, general manager Howie Roseman, and owner Jeff Lurie. He took a 4-11-1 team and turned them into a 9-8 team with a legit run game and a young quarterback who has done nothing but grow. He became the second NFL coach in history to lead a team to the playoffs after a 2-5 start.

And yet, as the Eagles gear up to face Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a playoff game that no one expected even two months ago, Sirianni has barely been mentioned in the Coach of the Year conversation. It's a huge oversight, because Sirianni's turnaround of an unimpressive Eagles team has been one of the best stories in the NFL this year.

Nick Sirianni's Eagles struggle in beginning

That first presser was not the best way for Sirianni to start in Philly. Things got even worse in April when he revealed he played rock, paper, scissors with potential draft prospects during their Zoom interviews. He was a laughingstock before the first game was played. Thankfully, that first game was a blowout win over the Falcons.

Philadelphia needed that blowout first win, because the next two months were not great. With holes and questions all over the field, the Eagles lost five of their next six games and felt mired in sludge. The low point, at least from a fan perspective, was on Oct. 27, days after falling to 2-5 thanks to a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. During a press conference, Sirianni chose to use a flower metaphor to illustrate the Eagles' growing pains. He was, once again, roundly mocked for being a weirdo, albeit a sincere one.

How did Eagles turn it around?

What the Eagles were doing on the field wasn't working. So instead of continuing to do the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result, Sirianni and his staff decided to change things. Through the first six games of the season, the Eagles were throwing the ball on early downs more than 65 percent of the time. After that, the Eagles ran the ball on early downs more than any other team, and the results were remarkable.

After Sirianni made his much-mocked flower pot analogy, the Eagles went 7-3 in the final 10 games of the season and became the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to rush for at least 175 yards in seven straight games. Jalen Hurts used his legs more and scored 10 rushing touchdowns, the most by an Eagles QB in a single season, which is saying something when your franchise history includes Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick. Miles Sanders became the first Eagles player since LeSean McCoy in 2014 to rush for at least 100 yards in consecutive games.

“We had those conversations after Tampa Bay, we had a mini-bye, and we sat down and talked as a staff on what we need to be better at,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen told The Athletic. “And we sat down and we started looking at a whole bunch of different things. It started to evolve from there and it started to take off.”

Sirianni did of the most important things a head coach can do: He recognized that all the various pieces of the Eagles' game weren't fitting together right, engaged his staff to figure out why, and put the puzzle back together, better than before.

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni has led his team to a surprise playoff appearance, but he isn't getting much consideration for Coach of the Year. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni has led his team to a surprise playoff appearance, but he isn't getting much consideration for Coach of the Year. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images) (Steve Marcus via Getty Images)

Why isn't Sirianni getting more Coach of the Year attention?

There is one big strike against Sirianni in the coach of the year discussion: strength of schedule. The Eagles had the weakest schedule in all of football in 2021. They only played three games against teams that had a .500 record or better last season (Bucs, Chiefs, Saints), the combined record of the teams they beat was 53-99-1, and they played just five games against teams that made the playoffs last season.

It's true that the Eagles' schedule, especially in the in the second half of the season, wasn't filled with world-beaters. But they don't set their own schedule, and it's not their fault that half the teams in the NFC East are atrocious. All they could do is play the schedule they were given and make the most of it, which is exactly what they did.

The Eagles executed a hairpin turn at a critical point in the season and it succeeded with flying colors. Sirianni got his players and coaches to buy into his coaching philosophy, corny mantras and all. Now they're in the playoffs. Sirianni might not get many Coach of the Year votes, but he did more with a majorly imperfect Eagles team than some coaches did with their stacked lineups. Chargers first-year head coach Brandon Staley inherited a franchise quarterback and a solid team, but now he's sitting at home after finishing with a 9-8 record and no playoff spot.

Best of all for the Eagles, Sirianni remains committed to getting better every day.

“You have all these things in your pocket of what you learned, but you've never done it yourself, and so there had to be growing there, and I guess that's where I feel like I've grown,” Sirianni said in January, “but always want to be leading in that way as far as if I want the guys to get a little bit better every day, I've got to get a little bit better every day, and hopefully they see that because I felt that throughout the year.”