INDIANAPOLIS — The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, in part, because of their reliance on analytics that supported an increased aggression on fourth down and other game management scenarios.
Jon Gruden made clear Wednesday he is no pioneer in the field.
He isn’t totally against it, either.
Gruden largely downplayed his willingness to use analytics during a 20-minute news conference at the NFL Scouting Combine. He met with reporters afterward for an additional 15-minute session during which he seemed a little more open to football data concept.
Technology has evolved mightily since Gruden, 54, first became the Raiders’ head coach in 1998. For that matter, things have changed dramatically since he last coached the Tampa Buccaneers in 2008. Statistics today can track a player’s movement, be it the speed at which he moves or the distance he may travel over the course of a practice or game.
“Are you talking about the analytics, the GPS, all the modern technology?” Gruden asked a reporter in response to an analytics question. “Man, I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998. Really as broadcaster, I went around and observed every team. I asked a lot of questions. I took a look at the facilities, how they’re doing business. There’s a stack of analytical data that people don’t even know how to read it. It’s one thing to have the data. It’s another thing to know how to read the damn thing.
“So I’m not going to rely on GPSes and all the modern technology. I will certainly have some people that are professional that can help me from that regard. But I still think doing things the old fashioned way is a good way, and we’re going to try to lean the needle that way a little bit.”
To the side, Gruden was asked a follow-up question on his stance, particularly that he seemed not be an analytics fan.
“I like analytics,” Gruden said. “I know a lot of guys, veteran coaches, who have hired analytical staffs and bought a lot of really cool equipment. I also know a lot of coaches that have this information and data and don’t know what to do with the data. Look, I like it. I was always looking for new technology. But then I realized, I don’t want ‘new’ technology. I want ‘better’ technology.
“We don’t need new players. We’re looking for guys who can help us get better, and I think that’s the key. If you’re going to have the analytics, what are you doing with the data? What are you doing?”
Gruden said that he believes he was maybe the world’s first quality control coach in 1990 when with the San Francisco 49ers. He was unfamiliar with the title when assigned. The job required him to calculate various opponent tendencies, which would be presented on computer printouts.
He cited third-down or red-zone blitz tendencies as examples.
“There’s a 27 percent chance they’re bringing all-out heat in the red zone,” Gruden said. “Big deal. You’ve still got to use your gut. You’ve got to look at the other sideline, and you’ve got to say, ‘You know, he’s blitzin’ here. I got a feeling he’s blitzin’.’ You’ve got to make some gut reactions. I know guys in Major League Baseball. I’ve spent time with Lou Piniella. He’s my neighbor in Tampa. I’ve spent time with Tony LaRussa. There’s guys who are getting computer printouts and moving their left fielder over 8 feet. There are guys who are putting their lineups together because they hit right-handed pitching better than they hit left-handed pitching.
“And I believe there is some useful value. Like I said, we’ll get the data, and I got a couple guys who are going to help me trim the stack, and if there is something that can really help us, we’ll use it.”