Popping corks in Philly. Popping veins in New York. The climactic moments of the regular season are revealing a generational shift in what makes an effective NFL coach. While two nearby teams led by old-school tough guys have struggled, Nick Sirianni’s flower-powered Eagles have won more games than the Giants and Jets combined. With emotional intelligence, authenticity and openness, the coaching team in Philadelphia is creating the perfect conditions for Gen Z players to thrive.
A genuine generation
Football is a game of heavy hits and crunching collisions. Players need physical toughness. But modern pros don’t match that rocklike exterior with a hard-hearted interior. The values and expectations of Gen Z players, born between 1997 and 2012, differ vastly from previous generations. Successfully coaching those players requires a new man-management style. And Nick Sirianni has brought that style to Philly.
Why is Gen Z important for the Eagles? Because around half of the team’s roster is from that generation, including the team’s QB1, RB1 and WR1. Typically, people in Gen Z value authenticity and open dialogue – which is why the McKinsey consultancy firm has dubbed them “True Gen”. Macho posturing and boot-camp bullying are a recipe for disaster with this demographic. Honesty, empathy and sensitivity are the key ingredients that have cooked up above-expected results for Philadelphia football this season.
Gimmicks gone, flowers flourishing
Right now, the Eagles are preparing for their second game against the Cowboys. The first game was an excruciating calamity. Sirianni showed up to a pre-match presser wearing a “Beat Dallas” t-shirt, then served up one of the most witless coaching performances in living memory. The showy gimmick backfired. It could potentially have caused Gen Z players to lose faith in their leader. But it didn’t.
Sirianni offered a remorseful mea culpa after the game – in stark contrast to Joe Judge’s two-fisted tirade after the Giants’ loss to Chicago this week. Snarky t-shirts got tossed to the back of the wardrobe. Subsequent speeches focused on fertilizing flowers and fighting back the flow of tears. While some have ridiculed Sirianni’s straight-from-the-heart style (and his public speaking skills), it feels like he is expressing himself honestly. He talks that way because he is that way. Players have responded well.
Gen Z players are also likely to value Sirianni’s support when they face off-field challenges. A report by the Harvard Business Review states that Gen Z has higher levels of depression and anxiety than other generations. The Eagles locker room features several players who have faced those problems publicly – and almost certainly more who face them privately.
The team’s response to the situation with Lane Johnson earlier this year was characterized by empathy and patience. Sirianni’s refusal to name a timeline for the return of Brandon Brooks suggests a similar spirit of sensitivity. This is a coach who understands the emotional needs of his players, and gives them time and space during difficult moments. However, Sirianni’s hairdrying outburst after Jalen Hurts’ fumble in Week 15 shows he also knows when to slip off the velvet glove and apply the iron fist instead.
Nothing is certain – except uncertainty
Sirianni’s coaching style has delivered impressive results so far, but it takes more than man-management to achieve success in the NFL. There are still valid questions about the rookie HC’s tactical approach. His ability to select supporting staff, such as his Defensive Coordinator, is another area of concern.
Creating the right conditions for Gen Z players to flourish, however, will be a decisive factor in the future of every franchise in the league. At the present time, it looks like Nick Sirianni is giving the Eagles a potentially powerful springboard for success. Looking ahead, the team is preparing to invest some valuable draft capital in young players this offseason, while Gen Z-ers Jordan Mailata and Josh Sweat have already earned big contracts. Getting the most out of players from “True Gen” requires more sensitivity and less screaming. Right now, Sirianni is giving Eagles fans plenty to shout about.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire