‘Surreal’: W&J’s Mike Sirianni Ready to Watch Brother Nick Guide Eagles in Super Bowl
Football is in the Sirianni family’s blood. Regardless of if it’s the high school, college, or professional ranks, wherever a Sirianni has gone, the program wins. A lot.
Mike Sirianni completed his 20th season as the head coach of Washington & Jefferson College this fall, finishing the year 9-2 and winning the ECAC Asa S. Bushnell Bowl 35-18 at home against Hobart College. Mike owns a .807 (176-42) career winning percentage leading the Presidents, fifth best among active coaches totaling 10+ years, narrowly behind Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney (.809) and ahead of Alabama’s Nick Saban (.801).
Jay Sirianni coached at the brother’s alma mater Southwestern Central High School in Jamestown, New York. He compiled a 101-26 record from 2003-14, won four Section VI titles, and back-to-back New York State crowns in 2008 and 2009.
Despite the success of oldest brother Mike (50) and middle brother Jay (47), the youngest Sirianni brother is about to make his mark on the biggest stage in sports. Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni sets his sights on Super Bowl LVII as the Eagles battle the Kansas City Chiefs in Glendale, Arizona this Sunday.
Nick (41) was named the Eagles head man on Jan. 24, 2021, after spending the previous three seasons as the Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator. Philadelphia was projected by many analysts as a team to watch for a potential breakout with an experienced defense and third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts, the runner-up to Joe Burrow in the 2019 Heisman voting. The Eagles burst onto the scene in 2022, winning their first eight games and 13 of the first 14 enroute to winning the NFC East and clinching the No. 1 seed throughout the NFC playoffs.
For Mike, the reality of seeing his younger brother, in his first head coaching role, guide the Eagles to becoming one of the NFL’s top three offenses (28.1 points per game) and to the big game remains a unique reality.
“It’s always going to be surreal,” Mike Sirianni said. “To me, he’s still my younger brother. I was in the training room the other day just walking by. Our trainers were working with one of our players and I look up and there he [Nick] is on SportsCenter. I just still shake my head at that.”
Our Coach of the Year pic.twitter.com/nRfFcalWeG
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) February 10, 2023
During the season, Mike talks to Nick every second or third day. Their conversations entail more than just football, primarily focused on traditional brother-to-brother conversations.
“To me, it’s very, very surreal and I’m sure to the rest of my family. To him, he’s the same person he’s always been his whole life,” Sirianni said. “That’s how he’s always been. I don’t know if it affects him one way or another, to be honest with you.”
From an early age, the Sirianni brothers were provided a platform to grow their love of football. Their father, Fran, also coached at Southwestern and laid the groundwork for his son’s football potential. He was inducted into the Clarion Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 thanks to his contributions in both football and track & field.
“It put us on the path that we are on,” Sirianni said. “After school when most kids were going home, doing their homework, playing video games, or watching TV, my mom took us right to football practice. We were jumping all over the dummies, pretending we were Walter Payton or filling up water bottles. It 100% set us on the path… very influential on what we are doing now.”
Fran had to step down from coaching in the early 1980s following news no family hopes to hear. Fran had Hodgkin’s Disease. The toughness of his father left an impact on Mike and one critical life lesson.
“Perseverance,” Mike said. “My dad was a coach and had to step down when I was in eighth grade. Nick doesn’t remember this as much as I do because I was older. … He was diagnosed with cancer, twice. It came back. … Both times he beat it.
“He could have given up but didn’t. [He] wanted to be there for his family so really the biggest one honestly all of us would say is perseverance and determination to be there for your family.”
Mike, Jay, and the Sirianni family attended the NFC Championship game on Jan. 29 against the San Francisco 49ers. The Eagles crushed the New York Giants (38-7) one week earlier to pair the conference’s top two teams in Philadelphia, where the Birds rained victorious 31-7.
“It was a great experience,” Sirianni said. “Unbelievable atmosphere. I was kind of actually disappointed that we were in his private box. I wanted to sit out there and see what this place was like… great to be a part of it.”
Hour and a half before kick! pic.twitter.com/2NWJNsTh9L
— Coach Mike Sirianni (@Coach_Sirianni) January 29, 2023
Philadelphia fans are known for being one of, if not the most loyal and vocal fan bases in all of professional sports, a trait that has left its mark on Mike. The W&J head coach witnessed a high level of support across the state.
“They’re very passionate. They want to win, and they’ll tell you if they don’t,” Sirianni said. “It’s a double-edged sword. If you’re good, they’ll love you. If you’re not… Doug Peterson won the Super Bowl five years ago and he’s not the coach there anymore. They are very passionate about their sports teams.”
The passion of sports fans in Pennsylvania leaves few surprises in the depths people will go to in support of their favorite franchise. Compared to Pittsburgh and Steelers fans, Eagles faithful are cut from a different cloth.
“It’s probably more in terms of the passion about their team in Philly, especially the Eagles. They’re more passionate about the Eagles there,” Sirianni said. “That’s amazing because my guys and my team [W&J] are passionate about the Steelers but these Eagles fans, wow. Maybe it’s because they’re successful and they’re winning but they are crazy, in a good way, when they are winning.”
All three brothers played college football at Mount Union under legendary head coach Larry Kehres. Kehres coached the Purple Raiders for 27 seasons amassing a 332-34-3 (.929) record, earning the highest winning percentage of any coach in college football history. He guided his team to 21 undefeated regular seasons and 11 NCAA Division III National Championships. In the early days of their coaching careers, Nick and Mike coached for Mount Union. Mike described Kehres as the greatest coach in the history of football at any level.
“A lot of our success at W&J and a lot of his [Nick’s] success as a coach has come down to the Mount Union mantra: focus on each day,” Mike said. “Win every day. 1-0 every day. Not every game, every day. I think that’s the approach that he’s taken. I don’t think they are surprised that they are there when you take that approach. The ultimate goal is going to be there for you.”
In only his second season leading the Eagles, Nick has depended on his down-to-earth personality and authenticity in guiding the current Super Bowl favorites — a key talking point for doubters.
“Some people criticized him about that. A lot of the criticism is about your X’s and O’s and the way you’re coaching and that’s fine. Someone criticized him for the way he acted,” Mike Sirianni said. “You don’t know him. That’s just the way that he has been and always will be. I think his players appreciate that. You should appreciate that more because there are so many of these coaches who shut down and don’t have any emotion. That’s the way he’s always been.
“He took over a team that won four games that won a Super Bowl three years earlier. I think he’d be the first to admit that his GM [Howie Roseman] did a lot to get them where they are with the type of players that they signed and drafted. He’s built [the Eagles] back up to a Super Bowl contender.”
Super Bowl Opening Night Monday provided a platform for players and coaches on both sides to express their emotions regarding the biggest game of their lives. For Mike, it was another example that his brother’s dream had come to reality.
“That was surreal too. I turned on the NFL Network and there they are,” Sirianni said. “I thought that was pretty neat too when he called Michael Irvin ‘the playmaker’ live on TV. How many coaches in the NFL would do that? Not many.”
W&J and the Eagles display similar traits offensively, specifically at the quarterback position. Hurts and Presidents’ QB Jake Pugh both run a considerable amount of RPO’s (run-pass-option) to keep multiple options on the table.
“A lot of what they do, especially in the run game, has a lot of college elements to it with RPOs and quarterback runs. I give them credit because that’s the way the quarterback [Jalen Hurts] is built,” Sirianni said. “He’s very mobile. I give them credit for adjusting their philosophy to Jalen’s strengths. That’s kind of the same thing we’re going to do going forward with Jake.
“The Eagles are awesome at that,” he said. “Playing to the strength of your players. Their offensive line is unbelievable.”
Leading up to the Super Bowl, Nick called Mike to make sure things were in place for the overall festivities for his family to enjoy, to which his older brother directed him that they will take care of things and allow him to keep complete focus on winning the Eagles their second championship.
Mike, his wife Jennifer, and daughters Jenna and Lauren are flying out of Pittsburgh to Arizona early Friday morning, joining Jay and his family along with their dad Fran and mother Amy in support of Nick. The family has a list of activities throughout the weekend to enjoy the potential once-in-a-lifetime experience, and hopefully, Mike says, for his daughters to meet Rihanna too.
Super Bowl LVII between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs will air on FOX with kickoff scheduled for 6:30 p.m. from State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Nick’s competitive nature has driven him his entire life, even in conversations with family members. Regardless of the event, Nick remains a loving uncle and caring family man who Mike says always enjoys competition.
“My oldest child [Jenna], she’s 22, she went to the NFC Championship game with us. They like to argue about certain topics back and forth,” Sirianni said. “After the NFC Championship game, we’re back over at their [Nick’s] house just hanging out watching the AFC Championship Game. The two of them start bantering back and forth about something. I don’t even know if it was the same argument but I’m like ‘Nick, you’re going to the Super Bowl you just won the NFC Championship why the heck are you arguing with a 22-year-old?’ But that’s just his personality. It was funny.
“They just won an hour and a half ago and now you’re arguing with Jenna about something. I just think that’s the type of person he is, that’s his personality and I think that’s the reason they are where they are today.”