Every year in Boston, luminaries from the world of sports join statheads from across American for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where there's plenty of mingling and discussions of analytics in sports. As someone who is interested in advanced analytics—even if my grasp of them comes and goes—I always follow the conference with interest.
This year, Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff joined the proceedings as panel members yesterday, discussing everything from Smith's hiring to how he selects coaches. The price tag was a little much for a humble marketer and Falcons writer, but thankfully there were plenty of people live-Tweeting the proceedings. I've collected some of the most interesting remarks here with my commentary for you guys to discuss. I hope you enjoy them, and an appreciative hat tip to @benjanmingaines for providing them.
A huge factor in Mike Smith getting hired by the Falcons had to do with his acceptance of advanced stats. #SSAC14— Ben Gaines (@benjamingaines) February 28, 2014
This is startling, because Mike Smith does not project the air of a man who is particularly invested in statistical analysis. You can see glimmers of it when he chooses to go for it on fourth down and in some of the ways the Falcons divide their snap counts, but you would have to know you were looking for it. I'd be fascinated in hearing Dimitroff and Smith discuss this in more detail.
Numbers get you thinking and evaluating and direct you where you need to go to get more information - Coach Smith @atlanta_falcons #SSAC14— Denise Bailey-Castro (@DBeeCee) February 28, 2014
This is as close as we might get, but the Falcons do appear to have access to advanced analytics and stats. It's just a question of how they're using them to make decisions.
Smith wanted to have former NFL HCs on his staff to help him avoid the kinds of mistakes that they made. #SSAC14— Ben Gaines (@benjamingaines) February 28, 2014
If you look at Smith's staff from his first year, there's a ton of experience there, even if Mike Mularkey was the only one with genuine head coaching experience at the NFL level. I like the attitude there, though.
Mike Smith had never met Thomas Dimitroff prior to his job interview, which is extremely rare in the NFL. #SSAC14— Ben Gaines (@benjamingaines) February 28, 2014
Smith (HC) and Dimitroff (GM) "don’t go a day without talking." #SSAC14— Ben Gaines (@benjamingaines) February 28, 2014
There's no apparent deep discord between the head coach and the general manager, which is nearly always good news. They may also own friendship bracelets. Smith did go on to say disagreement is part of any relationship, and that it's healthy.
"As a coach, I live week to week. As a GM, Thomas has a much longer timeline. . . he is all about next season." -Mike Smith #SSAC14— Ben Gaines (@benjamingaines) February 28, 2014
"Coaches gravitate toward veterans; it’s comfortable for them." -Dimitroff #SSAC14— Ben Gaines (@benjamingaines) February 28, 2014
Oh, maybe a little friction, though of the most natural kind. Certainly the 2013 Falcons were a reminder that this reality is present on every team, as veterans hang in there a little too long or young players are thrown into the fire before they were truly ready. It's a balancing act, but certainly it appears the Falcons needed to break Smitty of his veteran habit through 2013.
Dimitroff used analysis of picks by round to give away 4th rounders (only 14% end up starting) with other picks to draft J. Jones. #SSAC14— Ben Gaines (@benjamingaines) February 28, 2014
This is a great example of using analytics to help you make a major move. The Falcons gave up two firsts and a second, which are difficult to part with, but the Falcons were able to determine that fourth-rounders rarely turn into superstars and use two fourths to make that deal work. The Falcons have dealt from all over the draft board, but this certainly is eye-opening.
Matt Ryan threw 19 INTs during his senior season, but Smith judged that all but a few those were not his fault. #SSAC14— Ben Gaines (@benjamingaines) February 28, 2014
Apparently, Smith watched every snap of Ryan's last season at Boston College to come to this determination. It explains why the Falcons weren't particularly fazed by Ryan's high interception total, the same interception total that spooked a humble Falcons blogger who only saw about half of Ryan's games.
What do you think of these remarks?