How Eagles' Nick Sirianni turned a hot dog eating contest into a teaching point

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles rookie linebacker JaCoby Stevens was lounging on the couch watching TV with his girlfriend when the 2021 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest came on ESPN. Naturally, his mind turned to Eagles coach Nick Sirianni.

Stevens shed light this week on Sirianni's approach to teaching his players. During team meetings, Philadelphia's 40-year-old coach will make a point, tell a story that puts the point in context and then play a video to drive the message home.

Sirianni shows a lot of Kobe Bryant videos. ("I love Kobe Bryant and everything he stood for as a player," Sirianni said.) Bryant, the five-time NBA champion and Basketball Hall of Famer, died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter, Gigi, and seven other people in January 2020.

One video that resonated with Stevens was about how Bryant had to learn to train his body differently when he became a professional player, so he could endure an 82-game regular NBA season and still have juice for the playoffs. It helped set Stevens' mindset as he transitions from a truncated 10-game schedule at LSU in 2020 to a 17-game slate with the Eagles.

But his favorite video so far was about the six-time hot dog eating champion, Takeru Kobayashi, during a Sirianni-led meeting focused on the the importance of details and repetition.

"I'll tell you about that," Sirianni said. "[One of our core values] is fundamentals, and there's this video of Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut competing and they go, 'Why is Kobayashi so good at eating hot dogs?' The details and fundamentals he puts into it -- he has to have the right temperature of water to dunk the thing. He has to break the hot dog perfectly in half.

"My point is, if you want to be the best in the world at what you do, on the football field, it comes down to the little things."

We're learning more about Sirianni's approach as the weeks go by in his first year as Eagles' coach. He's over-the-top into competition, having his players face off in anything from table tennis to Pop-A-Shot hoops. He keeps a running tally of whether defensive or offensive players outperformed the other at practice, and lets the players know who the victor is daily. (So far in training camp, the defense is dominating.) Sirianni is hands-on during practice sessions and more demanding and vocal than anticipated.

Sirianni views things through a teacher's lens. He was an education major at the University of Mount Union. His parents were teachers. One of his brothers is a high school history teacher, the other received his education degree en route to becoming a coach. And all of their spouses have education backgrounds.

The way Sirianni sees it, the Eagles players can only listen to him talk for so long, so he uses visuals to aid his presentations.

Eagles guard Nate Herbig was most taken by a video about basketball legend Michael Jordan.

"Every day in practice, he would treat it like a game. He would put the pressure on himself," Herbig said. "The coach would flip him to the scout team and the losers had to run and they'd be losing 5-1 and [the game is to six] and he'd come back to win. So he said when he got into the game and those big moments came, it was nothing new to him. He was ready for it. That really resonated with me: just treat it like a game every day, so when it comes, you'll be ready for it."

Whether the Eagles will be ready for the big moment when they open the season at the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 12 (1 p.m. ET, Fox) remains to be seen, but some of Sirianni's teaching methods appear to be effective early on.

"The videos stick with me a little bit more because the videos are new: I never met a coach who played a video during a team meeting," Stevens said.

"I'm sitting on the couch with my girlfriend watching TV, and [the hot dog eating contest] comes on, and the next thing I know, I'm thinking about what coach said. So it works."