Giving up play-calling duties helped Nick Sirianni lift the Eagles
There was a time when offensive gurus would never let go of what got them there. They made their way into the NFL as quarterback whisperers and innovative play callers and those attributes attracted an owner and general manager there to hire them for a head coaching position. Running the whole show also meant continuing to do what you do best.
Brian Daboll did not follow this script when he was hired by the Giants. He had been a prolific and capable point guard for several NFL teams, notably relaying the plays that made Josh Allen a star with the Bills. But when Daboll came to the Giants, he realized he had to be everything to everyone. He couldn’t have his face glued behind a laminated game board. Not only did he give up call-to-play duties on offense, but he didn’t hand over the mission to one of his longtime coaches. He went out of his network and hired Mike Kafka, someone Daboll had never worked with before.
Kafka came in from the Chiefs, incorporated some of Andy Reid’s offense into Daboll’s system and the pairing worked so well that Daniel Jones had his best season in the NFL, the Giants made the playoffs and Kafka has emerged as a hot candidate for head coach and remains in the running for openings with the Colts and Cardinals.
Nick Sirianni, in his second year as head coach, has the Eagles as one of only two teams remaining, a slight favorite to beat Reid’s Chiefs in the 2023 Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Sirianni became head coach at 40 and didn’t immediately do what Daboll did – give up call-to-play duties – but he eventually realized serving as head coach meant he had to focus on the situation as a whole.
Sirianni in 2021 began his head coaching career with the Eagles by calling plays. The Eagles started out losing five of their first seven games but rallied to finish 9-8 before a playoff loss to the Buccaneers. During that season, Sirianni actually handed the game over to Shane Steichen, the offensive coordinator. There was no official announcement and the change was not made public, but Steichen became the main caller for the game in the second half of last season.
In the No. 2 year, Sirianni made it clear that Steichen would call the plays. Unlike Daboll, who gave that responsibility to someone he had never worked with, Sirianni had a strong relationship with Steichen since their time with the Chargers. When Sirianni was their offensive coordinator, Steichen was the quarterbacks coach.
The move helped make Sirianni a better head coach and helped the Eagles soar throughout the season, averaging 28.1 points per game, third in the league behind only the Chiefs ( 29.2) and the Bills (28.4). Along the way, Sirianni learned something about himself: he enjoyed planning the game each week more than the actual call-to-play.
“It’s just the process,” Sirianni said. “It’s the same reason why you enjoy the journey of the season more than you perhaps enjoy a single game in particular, because it’s all about the journey.
“I love being in game plan meetings, going through and dissecting the whole movie and finding the little things that needed to be found to help players succeed, to put them in good positions, to help them understand the opponent It’s just the camaraderie with the coaches, the camaraderie with the players When you go through that process together we talk so much about connecting, that’s a really important part of that, connecting, because you’re tired together , you feel like your eyes are bleeding sometimes together, all of our backs and necks are messed up because we’re sitting in these chairs staring at a computer screen. We’re all together when it comes to coaching.
“Then kind of talk about the plan and discuss the plan and work out the details of the plans with the players. We have some really smart players that we discuss these things with and also change things based on what they see. It’s just the grind you love, it’s the journey you love, it’s the camaraderie of the grind and the journey that continues to bring people together.
Just as a call-to-play role raised Kafka’s profile, so too has Steichen’s. He recently spoke with the Texans and Panthers about their head coaching vacancies — DeMeco Ryans and Frank Reich got those jobs, respectively — and, like Kafka, remains in contention for the Colts job. At some point, Kafka and/or Steichen may have to decide whether to keep or drop the call to play if they become head coach.