BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Before the Bills play on Sunday, some local fans will have competing interests in the NFL playoffs. Two Western New Yorkers in contention for NFL Coach of the Year accolades will be on opposing sidelines when the Eagles hosts the Giants in Saturday night’s divisional round.
Jamestown’s Nick Sirianni guided Philadelphia to a franchise-record 14 wins and the NFC’s No. 1 seed in his second season as a head coach, while Brian Daboll, the former Buffalo offensive coordinator who was raised by his grandparents in West Seneca, ended New York’s five-year playoff drought in his first head coaching season.
“It’s pretty cool that two guys from our area are head coaches at the top level of the profession,” said Jerry Smith, who coached Daboll at St. Francis High School, along with Eagles personnel executive Dave Caldwell.
Sirianni’s brother Jay, the former Southwestern High School coach and current Section VI football chair said, “it’s really exciting for Section VI football to see two guys who played here as NFL head coaches.”
“If you look at both of their styles, and the way that their teams play, it’s Western New York to a T,” Smith said. “They are tough, they are relentless, they know their assignments. That’s what you see in Western New York football.”
Aside from the WNY connection, both coaches played Division III college football, Daboll at University of Rochester, and Sirianni at University of Mount Union. They also formed a relationship over the past decade after working together for one difficult season with the Chiefs in 2012.
“They are friends from working together in Kansas City,” Jay Sirianni said. “I know they stayed in touch when Brian was with the Bills. They are both offensive-minded coaches. I think what they both do well is connect with players. Both are players’ coaches, and you can see that with the way their teams play and the success that they have.”
Before the first of two regular season matchups that the Eagles won, Nick Sirianni credited Daboll for mentoring him early in his NFL coaching career. Daboll was Kansas City’s offensive coordinator when he hired Sirianni out of Indiana University of Pennsylvania to coach the Chiefs’ wide receivers.
“I always felt like he took me under his wing,” Sirianni told reporters in Philadelphia. “He took me, like any good coach does, you’re here, and you want them to be able to take you to the next level and then some. That’s what we try to do with players. How can we get these guys to raise their game to another level? Well, Brian Daboll did that for me as a coach. … He took me a couple of levels higher because of the things he taught me about offense, about defensive football.”
Daboll was more than a decade into his NFL coaching career, in his third offensive coordinator job, but still able to learn from Sirianni.
“I’d say he had an impact on me too,” Daboll told The Athletic. “He was a fantastic coach. He was young, he was just getting started. But you could tell right from the beginning because I spent a lot of time with him, I thought his arrow was pointing up. And fast.”
The coaches bonded during a 2-14 season that was made more challenging when Chiefs player Jovan Belcher shot himself in the parking lot of the team facility after killing his girlfriend.
“It wasn’t by any means a year that either of us probably want to remember,” Sirianni said. “When you go 2-14, and one of your biggest mentors is one of the guys on the staff from that 2-14 team, you know he’s teaching me a lot in that sense.”
The 41-year-old Sirianni got his first head coaching job a year before his mentor, in part because Daboll, 47, reportedly was not interested in the Eagles’ opening. Sirianni’s relationship with Daboll helped in preparation for his first draft when evaluating quarterback Jalen Hurts, who had played for Daboll at Alabama, and is now an NFL MVP candidate.
“I just have so much respect for him and really appreciate everything he has done for my career,” Sirianni said. “He made me a way better coach just being around him for a year.”