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Mike Leach talks football analytics

Mike Leach is known for telling jokes and stories, but he also said some very insightful things about analytics and much more.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Most of the time when Mike Leach participates in an interview, the highlight is whatever offbeat story he told that time. Whether it's fishing in the Keys or the blackberry pie one of his daughters makes every Thanksgiving. While those stories can be fun and are great for his radio hits, they don't, however, take advantage of Leach's insight and openness to sharing it.

Bill Connelly of SB Nation was able to tap into that insight quite a bit as part of a feature he wrote discussing the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and the state of football stats. The entire feature is an excellent read if you are into stats, and even if you aren't. It's pushing 8,000 words though, so if you want to skip to the Leach quotes, look for the "Your 2014 College Football Analytics Panel" subthread about halfway down the page.

There was no college football analytics panel at Sloan, so Bill interviewed Leach, CBS' Gary Danielson and ESPN's Jeff Bennett separately then combined their responses into a quasi panel discussion. Leach's comments are excellent. I'll provide a small piece of what he said on each topic, but would absolutely recommend checking out the full responses.

On hurry-up, no-huddle offenses

We're a little more limited in using the hurry-up than some. I can't say we've ever utilized it as much as some teams do, but we've never not utilized it. We want to be quick but not hurried.

On advanced football stats

Information's only valuable if it can be applied practically. And with 22 different players, and with each team's ability to substitute to whatever situation they want to ... how do they apply all this information quickly enough to be effective?

The usefulness of stats

Sometimes coaches'll say, "In this zone, six percent of the time they run this trick play." But what are you going to do with six percent? They're going to beat you with all the stuff they do 94 percent of the time. There's a point to where you have to respond to their best pitch.

On compiling data

Football is studied by people of all different shapes and sizes. Their focus and emotional level is constantly changing. No matter how precisely you can eventually evaluate a team, there's always going to be the aspect of constant improvement of your own skill, how to specifically teach.

On all-22 film being made publicly available

In my first three years in coaching, we used 16-millimeter film. There were certain teams that, you'd get a copy of their film, but they'd never let you see them score. One-yard run or 80-yard pass, you never got to see them score. Even now, a couple of teams don't let you see the scoreboard. So you have to chart whether it's first down, second-and-three, whatever. When video first came out, you'd get video from somebody, and they'd screw with the tracking. "Yeah, we sent 'em the film." Or they'd send it a day late, and you're dealing with a tight turnaround. It could have been accidental. Maybe the tracking was an accident, or the flight really did get canceled.

On efficiency

Explosives are important. You want to have explosives. They're like home runs, and routine plays are like on-base percentage. At the end of the day, on-base percentage is going to come out on top, but the one thing about explosives is that you can put it out of reach really quickly. But it seems to me that the power hitting is quite a bit streakier than the on-base percentage.

Classic Leach, insightful, a little outside the box and with a rambling story or two mixed in. And that's only a taste of what he had to say on each topic and didn't include a random reference about the movie The Social Network. There were also some interesting things left on the cutting room floor.


The state of football stats: How to build a better Sloan, and improve the conversation about analytics -
Washington State head coach Mike Leach, CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson, and the senior director of ESPN's Stats and Info group, Jeff Bennett.

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