PHILADELPHIA — When Nick Sirianni concluded his introductory press conference as the Eagles' new head coach, he was ridiculed by the national media for his awkward performance.
Many labeled the first-time head coach as “unqualified” for the position simply due to the way he conducted himself for a brief period speaking to reporters.
But little did Sirianni’s naysayers know, behind the scenes, the 40-year-old already had a foundation in place he was preparing to instill when becoming a top coach of organization.
Rewind to Sirianni’s tenure with the Colts. One of his pupils, wide receiver Zach Pascal, had a phrase on a T-shirt that caught the coach’s attention. The shirt possessed a graphic that read ‘DAWG Culture,’ and Pascal was a brand ambassador.
The brand was inspired by a 35-year-old cancer survivor named Mike Hill. Hill overcame stage-four Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and through his grueling battle, formed a mentality he preaches upon to this day.
"My mom kept telling me that you have to tell your story. I told her I'm not going back down that road," Hill said when discussing what inspired DAWG Culture. "That was too dark. That was too painful. It's going to open up too many wounds. I can't do that.
"Then, out of nowhere. I started bumping into cancer patients. There's no way I can see them going through what they're going through and not say anything. I'd walk up and tell them I had stage-four cancer. My doctor told me I was going to die multiple times. I'm still here and you'll still be here too when it's over.
"People need hope. I needed hope. Although, I had to find my strength in my mother, I said what did I need in my situation that I can give to someone else? I literally say cancer saved my life because now, after what I've been through, I found my purpose. The dog got you through. That's the mindset that got you through. You treated cancer like football. And that's how [DAWG Culture] started.'
Sirianni suggested to Pascal that the Colts' entire team order DAWG Culture hoodies, but the gear was only worn during training camp.
After accepting the Eagles’ position, Sirianni had Pascal reach out to Hill to place an order for 200 shirts, which was the beginning of the mentality the head coach wanted his new team to adopt.
“We’ve been talking about dawg mentality over and over again,” Sirianni said recently. “It’s a week- to-week thing, a day-to-day thing. If I think about on Wednesday when we come back out here how well I played in the Atlanta game, then I’m gonna get my butt kicked this upcoming Sunday, so it’s living in the moment of what you are in.
“We literally live in the moment of how are we going to leave this building today better than we were yesterday. If you’re thinking about the past or have a big ego based on how you played, you won’t do that.”
From unqualified to bringing a newfound identity to a former Super Bowl champion team that lost theirs, Sirianni is covering all the bases a head coach attempts to establish during his first season.
The next time you notice ‘DAWG Culture’ clothing along the Philadelphia Eagles sidelines, remember the mentality behind the culture.
"My mission for the NFL is for everybody to embody the dawg mentality. No matter what situation you're in, understand that my journey is going to help somebody else along the way," said Hill.
"I can't take my journey lightly. I can't be out here just existing. The people that are attached to my purpose can benefit from my purpose instead of me just being here. I don't care what position you are or what level on the roster you are. You can learn from embodying the [dawg] mindset and help people that are looking up to you. Believe it or not, you're a role model, you're in the NFL.
"Understand there are always eyes watching. So the dawg mentality, I'll break it down. Desire, attitude, will, and grind."
The meaningful message which inspired ‘DAWG Culture’ can be taken in every facet of life. We are in control of ourselves and our destinies. Allowing others to put labels on what we can or can’t do is counterproductive to the culture, and that’s the message Sirianni is preaching to his team.
The first-year head coach could not allow the national media scrutiny to define who he is moving forward. The coach instead had the mentality to improve every day. That drive is what ‘DAWG Culture’ gave Sirianni, and it’s the same drive he’s demanding of this Eagles’ team.
All of Philadelphia’s players have bought into the message. Miles Sanders not only posted on his personal social media page himself repping the ‘DAWG Culture’ brand but tagging Hill himself in the post as well.
"It's nothing but respect I can give to those guys," Hill said. "They're showing me love and they don't even know me. A lot of people are effected by this thing we call cancer. I do believe the emotional connection of not backing down to a disease that has been taking people out. That emotional connection is why I think [the Eagles] are so behind the message."
The Eagles embraced the underdog mentality once before. But this time around, they’re basing a culture off a similar mentality, and Sirianni has already made a noticeable impact implementing his foundation in a short amount of time.
Listen to the full interview here on Eagles Unfiltered's podcast page (or wherever you get your podcasts):
Find Mike Hill and learn more about DAWG Culture or purchase products here:
Conor Myles covers the Philadelphia Eagles for SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-hosts the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast on Bleav Podcast Network. Reach Conor at ConorMylesSI@gmail.com or Twitter: @ConorMylesSI
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.