Role Models Help Focus Sirianni’s Vision
The Buffalo Bills are taking the National Football League’s eighth-ranked defense into Lucas Oil Stadium today for a meeting with the Indianapolis Colts.
The man responsible for figuring out how to successfully deal with the likes of, among others, Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams and Tre’Davious White is Colts’ offensive coordinator and Jamestown native Nick Sirianni.
“They’re really well-coached,” Sirianni said earlier this week. ” … You can tell that on the film how well-coached they are and, shoot, they have very good players. That’s a good combination. That’s a combination we have to prepare for.”
Preparation has never been a problem for the 37-year-old Southwestern Central School graduate.
In fact, the son of Fran and Amy has always thrived on it. From his days at the University of Mount Union — he won three NCAA Division III national championships as a wide receiver — to his coaching stops at his alma mater, at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; at the Kansas City Chiefs, at the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers and now at the Colts, Sirianni has loved everything about the game.
“It’s the grind and process,” he said. “It’s paying attention to every little detail you could ever imagine.”
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Growing up, Sirianni rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Heck, his entire family did.
Of course, that was hardly a surprise. Fran and Amy grew up in Kane, Pennsylvania, and there have always been a lot of Steelers fans in greater Jamestown, which is a little more than a two-hour drive from the Steel City. The problem for preteen Nick was that the Bills were in the midst of their run to four straight Super Bowls.
“I actually picked the wrong team,” Nick lamented, “because, my goodness, that was like (Buffalo’s) prime time. I wished I was a Bills’ fan at that time. Man, I was jealous of Bills’ fans. They were rolling.”
Among the guys on that squad was reserve quarterback Frank Reich, the backup to Jim Kelly and the engineer of the single-greatest comeback in NFL playoff history. Years later, Reich was united with Sirianni when they were both assistant coaches with the Chargers — Reich as the offensive coordinator and Sirianni as the quarterbacks coach.
And when Reich took on a similar role with Philadelphia — he finally won a Super Bowl with the Eagles last season — he didn’t forget about his old colleague when the former was hired as the head coach in Indianapolis last February.
“I was just honored that he asked me to work for him,” Sirianni said. “I was really excited when I got that call. I just want to do everything I can do for him to help him. He’s great to work for, a great coach and a great person. I owe him a lot. … I learned so much from Frank when he was an offensive coordinator and I was quarterbacks coach (with the Chargers) about quarterback play. Now I’m learning so much from him about being a coordinator and also a head coach.”
Fire and Ice. Together again.
“I’ve been around this game a long time, and been around a lot of great offensive minds, (and) Nick is among the top offensive minds I’ve ever been around,” Reich told Colts.com earlier this year. “This guy is a stud. He’s incredibly fast-minded. He’s great in the pass game. He knows the run game very well. He’s dynamic on field with players. He’s a great teacher. He’s got a lot of charisma. He’s a grinder, hard worker. This is a guy I have complete confidence and trust in.”
Apparently, it’s a mutual-admiration society.
“He’s so experienced and so even-keeled, too. I need that,” Sirianni said of Reich. “I need that steadiness, and not to be so up and so down. I’m learning that everyday from him. … When you’re around good people and good coaches, it really develops your career.”
Sirianni sure has had his share of role models.
Father Fran, a member of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame, coached Southwestern High School from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s; brother Mike is the head coach at Washington & Jefferson College where he has compiled one of the best winning percentages in the NCAA; and brother Jay coached Southwestern to a pair of New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships in 2008 and 2009.
Once he arrived at Mount Union, Sirianni played for Larry Kehres, who guided the Purple Raiders to 11 national championships in his career. Upon his graduation, Sirianni began his ascendency in the coaching ranks, ultimately reaching the NFL. His first stop was in Kansas City in 2009.
“One of the reasons I’m in the position I’m in now is because of the successful coaches I’ve been around, starting with growing up in a coach’s house, learning how to coach with my brothers, and then, obviously, playing for the most successful coach in NCAA football history in Larry Kehres. Gosh, I went to school to study education when I went to Mount Union, but I was really getting my Ph.D. in football coaching.”
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Obtaining an “advanced degree” in the nuances of football also has other perks, Sirianni maintains.
“I’m wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt right now,” he said. “I haven’t shaved in a week and I haven’t combed my hair in a week, and they pay me to watch tape and to help guys become better football players.”
With the Chargers, he was instrumental in helping quarterback Philip Rivers and wide receiver Keenan Allen have the NFL’s No. 1 passing attack and the No. 4 overall offensive unit in 2017. This year in Indianapolis, he works daily with Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton.
“They obviously already have so much talent,” Sirianni said of the Colts’ quarterback and wide receiver. “My goal is to make them a little bit better or reach a little bit higher. I can’t score any more touchdowns. That’s over. Every touchdown I score is through hard work and preparation. When they score a touchdown, it feels almost the same now as it did at Mount Union or Southwestern.”
Sirianni is hoping that touchdowns will be forthcoming this afternoon as the Colts (1-5), who are averaging 25 points per game, look to knock off the offensively challenged Bills (2-4).
“We just have to finish the job,” Sirianni said. “There are going to be close games every week. We’ve been fortunate enough to be in every game. We just have to finish and win those games. That’s what good teams do. We’re in the process of becoming that. It doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes you have to go through the negative times to accomplish the highs. We’re not satisfied one bit to (just) be in the game. Obviously our goal is to win every game we play. We work too hard, we grind too much to ever have a moral victory.
“We just have to coach better, play better to accomplish the end goal. Everybody we play is going to be really good. Every player on each team is going to be really good. That’s why they’re in the NFL. It sucks to lose and to be in the position we’re in right now, but the good thing about football and the great thing about the NFL is we get to do it again on Sunday.”
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The perception is that coaching in the NFL is a glamorous occupation. While it certainly has its share of perks, it’s not without its challenges.
“With the hours we work, you better love it or you’d be a pretty miserable person,” Sirianni said.
As an example, he left his home in suburban Indianapolis, which he shares with his wife, Brett, and two young children, for the Colts’ practice facility 30 minutes away early Tuesday morning. He didn’t return until Thursday night.
“I’ve got a nice couch in my office,” he said with a laugh.
Judging from the trajectory of his coaching career, however, Sirianni has been quite comfortable in every situation.
The sweatshirt, the sweatpants and the facial stubble appear to fit him — and the Colts — just fine.