The crucial next step for Eagles coach Nick Sirianni

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The crucial next step for Sirianni originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Buddy Ryan had a higher winning percentage than Doug Pederson. Chip Kelly had a higher winning percentage than Dick Vermeil. Rich Kotite had a higher winning percentage than any of them.

Regular-season coaching and playoff coaching are completely different animals.

That’s why Marty Schottenheimer has a higher career winning percentage than Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry even though he was 5-13 in his career in the playoffs and Noll, Walsh and Landry won nine Super Bowl championships.

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That’s why Wade Phillips has a higher career winning percentage than Tom Coughlin, Mike Shanahan and Mike Ditka but a 1-5 postseason record compared to their five Super Bowls.

That’s why Nick Sirianni has the best won-lost record in Eagles history – much better even than Andy Reid – but still has so much to prove.

And it starts Saturday.

Coaches more than anybody – more even than quarterbacks – are defined by their success in the postseason.

Consider a guy like Jason Garrett. Coached the Cowboys for nine years, had one losing season. Higher lifetime winning percentage than Jimmy Johnson. Won two playoff games in those nine years. Johnson won two Super Bowls. You know which one is a folk hero in Dallas and enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Postseason coaching separates the frauds from the Hall of Famers. If you win 12, 13, 14 games but sputter in the postseason, nobody looks at your season as a success. Look at Matt LaFleur. Led the Packers to three straight 13-win seasons, a No. 2 seed and two No. 1 seeds, but didn’t get to a single Super Bowl. John Madden and Vince Lombardi are the only coaches since 1930 with a higher winning percentage than LaFleur, but nobody in Wisconsin is building a Matt LaFleur statue just yet.

Pederson has won 10 games once in his six seasons as a head coach, but it’s pretty clear the guy is a postseason genius. If 2017 didn’t prove it, the Chargers game did. He’s already won as many or more playoff games in six seasons as Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden, Norv Turner and plenty of other guys who’ve coached in 15 years or more. And he’s done it with a backup QB and a 23-year-old QB.

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Which brings us to Sirianni.

He’s proved beyond a shadow of a doubt he can coach. His .676 winning percentage is 18th-highest in NFL history among 367 coaches with at least two years of experience. His 23 wins are fourth-most in history by a coach in his first two years. In just his second year ever as a head coach on any level, he led the Eagles to a franchise-record 14 wins.

But now the real work begins. Now is where guys like Sirianni really show what they’re all about. The Eagles lost last year in their road wild-card game in Tampa, but considering the 2-5 start, just getting to the postseason with an injured first-year starting quarterback seemed like a terrific achievement. As disappointing as that 31-15 loss was.

This year, the expectations are astronomical. The Eagles just need to win two home games to reach the Super Bowl. When you’re the No. 1 seed, anything short of the Big Game is a huge disappointment.

Lose Saturday? It’s a catastrophe. Lose next weekend? Just think back to 2002 and 2003 to remember what losing a home NFC Championship Game means. Get to Arizona? Sirianni is now a Super Bowl coach, and the entire football world will forever look at him in a completely different way.

What separates coaches who have postseason success with those who don’t? There’s no easy answer.

I think it starts with being yourself. Preparing and coaching the same way in the postseason as the regular season. Don’t make it more than it is. It’s still a football game. Approach it the same way you’ve approached every other one. Even though there’s so much more at stake, you can’t try to be something you’re not. Stick to what you’ve done all year. Stick to what works. Stick to what got you there.

And you can’t coach scared. A lot of coaches lose the aggressiveness they had in the regular season. If you would throw deep or run outside toss on 4th-and-inches in the regular season, don’t be afraid to do it in the playoffs. Once you start playing it safe because it’s the playoffs, you’ve already lost. Pederson’s postseason success is overwhelming evidence of what staying aggressive means in the postseason. He lives on the edge, and it works.

READ: Reddick relishing every moment of first trip to playoffs

There’s a lot to like about Sirianni.

With his core values, Dawg Mentality and emphasis on connecting, he won over the locker room quickly. His groundbreaking approach to training camp, practice time and rest clearly works. The Eagles’ league-best 7-1 record against winning teams this year shows that his teams don’t back down from the biggest challenges they face.

Now he’s got to show he can win and win big in the postseason. It’s the final frontier.

Only four coaches in Eagles history have won more than one playoff game. Big Red won 10, Pederson four and Dick Vermeil and Greasy Neale three apiece.

Neale and Vermeil are in the Hall of Fame, Reid will be on the first ballot, and nobody would be surprised if Pederson winds up in Canton one day.

Where does Sirianni fit in among all the Eagles coaches who came before him? Saturday night will begin to answer that pivotal question.