WASHINGTON, Pa. – As Mike Sirianni continues to rack up the winning seasons as head football coach at Washington & Jefferson College, his roots in Southwestern New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania remain close to him.
Sirianni enters his 20th season as head coach of the Presidents with a record of 167-40, a winning percentage of .807, ranking him 5th among active coaches in all levels of the NCAA with at least 10 years of coaching experience, just ahead of Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (.806) and Alabama’s Nick Saban (.800).
“My dad (Fran) was the head football coach at Southwestern High School growing up, so that taught me that I wanted to be a coach,” Sirianni said.
The Sirianni coaching tree is an impressive one. Fran is a native of Kane and went on to a standout career at Clarion University from 1965-1968, helping lead the Golden Eagles to a pair of PSAC West titles in 1966 and 1967. He was also a standout in track and field.
“I’m not sure, but I think he still might hold the all-time record for interceptions at Clarion,” Mike said. “He went into the Clarion Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.”
In addition, Fran was also a longtime track and field coach at Southwestern. He passed that love of coaching onto his sons Mike (Southwestern Class of 1990), Jay, and Nick.
“The winters stunk and the summers were fun,” Mike, the oldest of the three brothers, said with a laugh about growing up in Chautauqua. “It was a good place to grow up. Western Pennsylvania and Southwestern New York are pretty similar. There are a lot of things to do and it’s full of good people with good values. It’s funny, I used to tell people I was from Western New York and they’d be like ‘oh the Yankees.’ Oh no, you can go to Pittsburgh and back and back to Pittsburgh in the time it takes you to get to New York City.”
Jay continued his father’s legacy at Southwestern, guiding them to back-to-back state titles in 2008 and 2009.
Nick, meanwhile has coached in the NFL since 2009 and spent 2018-2020 as the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts. On Jan. 24, 2021, he was hired as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, guiding them to the playoffs in his first season.
Coaching success at all levels, and never a dull moment when they are together – or apart.
“You always have something to talk about,” Mike said. “There’s no lull in the conversation. It’s good to bounce ideas off them. It’s definitely an advantage. It’s something we always wanted to do, with my dad being a coach.”
And, despite the differences in coaching in high school, college, and the NFL, the values remain the same for the Sirianni’s.
“Just being able to affect young kids’ lives,” Mike said about one of the things he loves most about coaching. “My brother (Nick) is at a little different level. But I think that the people that play for him on the Eagles would say he’s had a positive impact on their life.
“At our level, it’s more about the type of man that you’re going to become and that’s what I learned from my dad growing up. It’s great to bounce ideas off each other. Football is such a great sport, teaching life lessons to make yourself a better person. It’s the best sport in the world for that.”
And of course, no matter the level, the coaching profession is constantly evolving and changing. Entering his 20th season at W&J, Sirianni has certainly seen plenty of that.
“The way you coach has to evolve,” Mike said. “The days of coaching like Bobby Knight are over. Players don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their teammates, in front of everyone. If a young man knows you care about them, they might play a little harder for you. It’s evolved a lot.
“I tell my coaches all the time, these are 18-22-year-olds. They have a lot more going on in their lives than just football. If they’re not performing well or if something isn’t going well it’s our job to figure out why to help them not just as a football player, but to help them in their lives. That fuels me too.”
And he has found similar values in the people he’s worked with and coached at W&J when he was growing up.
“It’s very similar to what I’m dealing with now,” Mike said. “A lot of people that do things the right way and hard-working people. It was a neat place to grow up. My dad is from Kane, again, that same area. Kane, Warren, Sheffield. I can picture it even though I haven’t been there in years. I can picture the drive. Going from Warren to Eisenhower and all those places.”
Mike Sirianni was inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 2021, and his track record at W&J speaks for itself.
He is a seven-time Presidents’ Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, the 2012 D3football.com South Region Coach of the Year, and the 2017 American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Region 2 Coach of the Year.
Despite, that, there’s still plenty left on the plate for Sirianni to accomplish with the Presidents, who were picked to finish second in the PAC preseason poll.
“We haven’t won a national championship, W&J doesn’t have one,” he said. “Is that a realistic goal for 2022? Eventually, we want to do that. There’s always something to prove.”