Giving up play-calling duties helped Nick Sirianni elevate Eagles to new level

There was a time when aggressive gurus would never give up what they got there. He made his way into the NFL as quarterback whisperers and innovative play callers, and those attributes attracted an owner and general manager to hire him for a head coaching position. Running the whole show also means continuing to do what you do best.

Brian Daboll didn’t follow that script when he was hired by the Giants. He was an accomplished and skilled play caller for several NFL teams, notably relaying the plays that made Josh Allen a star with the Bills. But when Dabool came to the Giants, he realized he needed to be all things to all people. He couldn’t stick his face behind a laminated play chart. Not only did he relinquish play-calling duties on offense, he didn’t give assignments to any of his longtime coaching colleagues. He went outside his network and hired Mike Kafka, whom Daboll had never worked with before.

Kafka came over from the Chiefs, incorporated some of Andy Reid’s offense into Daboll’s system, and the duo worked so well that Daniel Jones had his best NFL season, the Giants made the playoffs, and Kafka became a leading head coaching candidate. Become and stay in the race. to open with the Colts and Cardinals.

Nick Siriani
Nick Siriani relinquished play-calling duties when the Eagles struggled last year.
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Nick Siriani, in his second year as head coach, has the Eagles as one of only two teams left as slight favorites to beat the Reds’ Chiefs in the 2023 Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. Siriani became a head coach at age 40 and didn’t immediately do what Daboll did—give up play-calling duties—but he eventually realized that serving as a head coach meant he had to make big decisions. Need to focus on the image.

Siriani began his head coaching career with the Eagles in 2021 calling the plays. The Eagles began losing five of their first seven games but went 9-8 before losing to the Buccaneers in the wild-card playoffs. During that season, Siriani actually turned the play-calling over to offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. No official announcement was made and the change was not made public, but Steichen became the primary play caller in the second half of last season.

In Year No. 2, Siriani made it clear that Steichen would call the plays. Unlike Daboll, who handed the responsibility to someone he had never worked with, Siriani had a strong relationship with Steichen from his time with the Chargers. While Siriani was their offensive coordinator, Steichen was the quarterbacks coach.

The move helped make Siriani a better head coach and helped the Eagles average 28.1 points on the season, third in the league, behind only the Chiefs (29.2) and Bulls (28.4). Along the way, Siriani learned something about himself: He enjoyed game-planning each week more than actual play-calling.

Shane Steichen
Shane Steichen took over as the team’s play caller last year.

Nick Siriani
Nick Siriani said he enjoys game planning more than play calling.
Getty Images

“It’s just the process,” Siriani said. “It’s the same reason why you enjoy the journey of the season more than you might enjoy a particular game because it’s just about the journey.

“I like being in the game plan meetings, going through all the film and grinding and dissecting and finding the little things that you can do to help players succeed, to put them in good positions, to understand the opponent. Needed, loved. It’s just the camaraderie with the coaches, the camaraderie with the players. When you go through this process together, we talk a lot about bonding, that’s a big part of it. Yes, to connect, because you’re tired together, you feel like your eyes are bleeding sometimes, all our backs and our necks are bad because we’re sitting in these chairs looking at the computer screen. We’re all in this together as far as coaches go.

“Then talking about the plan and discussing the plan and refining the details of the plans with the players. We have really smart players that we talk through these things, and tweak 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 keeps bringing people together.”

Just as a play-calling role raised Kafka’s profile, so with Steichen. 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, is in the running for the Colts’ position. At some point, Kafka and/or Steichen may have to decide whether to keep or give up play calling when they become head coaches.

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