Written by: Paul Burke
The talking heads, “analyst”, local and the national media have begun their bombardment of lists of possible candidates for the vacant GM position. Instead of wasting your time with whom they may target, which is anyone’s guess, we will lay out what qualities the new age GM or front office should possess.
The Giants organization has had a long tradition of stability, patience and loyalty. These are admirable traits and what draws front office personnel in the industry to the team. But these can also be a detriment to a business and game that often changes with scheme, personnel and overall environment of football. The successful organizations adapt to changes, implement tools, technologies, systems and hire talented individuals with diverse backgrounds to adapt to those changes. This is not any different than any other business outside of sports.
By reviewing the team media guide, it is quite evident that the organization defines the word stability. Your Ex-GM was in the front office of the NFL for 23 years, all with the NYG. You have two scouting directors, both with 30 years of experience within the organization. Your Director of Pro Personnel has been with the organization for 16 years. Prior to that, he was in scouting off and on with the Patriots for 10 years before being jettisoned by Belichick. Yes, you do have some scouts with limited tenure but others with 16-17 years. Marc Ross is one of the least tenured executives with 11 years in the organization. Ross is also one of the only executives with experience with several different organizations, but it doesn’t mean that he is an accomplished executive. Most, if not all, have degrees in sports management.
By contrast, we can look at the model of consistent winning in the NFL: the New England Patriots. Nick Caserio, the Director of Player Personnel, has a very diverse background from coaching within the organization before joining the scouting department for 15 years. He is tied to the hip of Belichick. He, along with the Director of College Scouting, are the longest tenured in scouting for the Patriots. Yes, you have tenured scouts within the NFL, including a scouting consultant with 55 years of experience. A significant aspect that stands out is the diversity of backgrounds as well as degrees from sociology, psychology and economics within the scouting department.
One key position and contrast between the two organizations above is the position held by Ernie Adams of the Patriots. He is the Football Research Director. His responsibilities include computer analysis, statistical evaluation and film coordination. By the way, Belichik first exposure to him was with the Giants in 1979. He was Director of Pro Personnel for them for four years before joining Belichik in Cleveland.
So what is the significance of this difference? Baseball was the first professional sports league that applied statistical evaluation and analytics as a tool in evaluation. Most already know of Moneyball and how Billy Bean recruited Wall Street computer techies to implement analytics to take advantage of the inefficiencies in evaluations. Basketball is another sport that has more recently implemented analytics to a wider degree. Football has been slower to adopt analytics, but teams such as the Patriots are implementing as exemplified by the position above. The Packers have a Director of Football Technology specifically overseeing football analytics .
There are many fallacies to human judgments as it relates to scouting evaluations. We are ingrained with biases, both through experiences and what may be ingrained in an environment or organization. The two most significant biases in player evaluation are confirmation bias and endowment bias. The confirmation bias involves confirming what you expected to see or not accounting for the unexpected. An example would be a scout who is prejudiced and likes a player because he reminds him of himself in his playing years, or a player he likes will arrange the data to support their conclusions. This is opposite for players they dislike.
Then there is the endowment bias whereby they overvalue the players they have versus weighing them against others in league or draft. There are others, including even racial or background bias, where players are easily pigeonholed in comparing a player of the same race versus others. Jeremy Lin was classic example as Asian athlete racial bias.
Physical traits cannot also detract from objective judgment. To get a more detailed and broader understanding of these biases and other fallacies in judgments as it relates to scouting evaluation get a copy of the book The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, who is also the author of Moneyball. The first chapter, titled “Man Boobs”, chronicles the learning experiences of Daryl Morey, the GM of the Houston Rockets. Many stories are related about biases that cloud judgment and how analytics can be utilized as a tool to overcome those biases.
There are those who will vehemently argue that analytics will not work as a tool for evaluation in football. It is the ultimate team game, and individual statistics are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. We would argue that those who reject it are intimidated with the unfamiliarity of the subject and hold on to the old-school scouting methods. Again, analytics is a tool and is not what drives scouting evaluations.
The statistics compiled range by position. You cannot rate data in a database that compares a CB vs OL. Examples of data compiled for OL is measuring short area foot speed, lateral quickness, strength bursts versus overall strength. Obviously, you would seek out the best players at their respective position in evaluation of the data for the specified position. Examples of data collected for a CB is measuring change of direction quickness, obviously speed but more importantly, how quickly to they get to top speed and vertical. All this data should be compiled from past and present players in order to compare and contrast.
Teams can implement and combine data for the numbers they have concluded are the most relevant for a specific position to assist in their evaluations. They can evaluate a position based on a specific situation, specifically red zone offense to fill a specific need on their roster. Data and statistics can also evaluate how efficient a player is on a per-play basis. Some college players are given limited opportunities and snaps based on the scheme of their respective team. The bottom-line analytics are a tool to help confirm or make a scout re-evaluate their opinion of a player.
Physical measurements are not the only area of data needs to be compiled. Evaluations for character, intelligence and background must be compiled as a tool to compare and contrast. Organizations must have constant review in place of the interview questions and the method of gathering information about a player’s character and background, especially when issues arise with players drafted.
This is an ongoing process. Once in place, you cannot assume it is fullproof. The front office of scouts and executives must buy into the process and seek constant improvement in the methods of analytics.
In part two, we will compare and contrast two different front offices: the Patriots and the Giants. We will compare and contrast why we feel one organization has been consistently successful versus why we feel the Giants have been very inconsistent. We will address why it is critical to have a long-range plan on how your roster is built. The salary cap makes this paramount. The aging veterans become less efficient based on the cap room they take up. Draft picks are the backbone of a successful long-range plan. You need to hit on some of your mid-round picks that play defined roles on your team.