Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan's son took a brand new position with the Jaguars this season, creating a department that had little to no use before the team took over. Tony Khan, the Jaguars Senior Vice President, Football Technology & Analytics, is bringing math and statistics into the fold and trying to get the Jaguars franchise ahead of the curve on something that will likely be widespread in years to come.
"Moneyball" as most people refer to it, it is not. The common misconception with using analytics in football is "Moneyball doesn't work in football!" While that statement unto itself is true, Moneyball doesn't work in football, it mis-characterizes what young Khan and the Jaguars are doing with statistics.
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"The difference between football and baseball is that pretty much every possible situation in baseball has probably happened by now, maybe thousands of times over the years," Tony Khan told Sports Illustrated. "There are down-and-distance situations with certain score differentials that haven't happened yet, so we're still trying to piece the data together."
The analytics with football isn't about discovering a player's WAR (wins above replacement) like in Sabermetrics, Moneyball, etc., it's about finding optimal situations and probability of things you can do in said situations and overall game strategy.
There are a couple of teams who embrace the analytical revolution, such as the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, and most recently the Baltimore Ravens. They're not letting computers and math geeks pick their football players for them, they're using it as a tool to further evaluate what they're doing in their analysis.
"For a change to happen," Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders told SI, "it's going to take an owner publicly saying, 'This is what I want the coach to do. He is not in danger of losing his job. I understand the process is more important than the outcome.'"
It's quite possible the Jaguars become the first team to take that big leap in their rebuilding process. What better a time then when everything is going to be cleaned out? Not only will a team need a coach who's receptive to trusting the data, they'll also need a general manager who's receptive to the data and willing to utilize it as a tool for building a roster.
"I'd be lying if I told you this was totally unexpected," Tony Khan told Sports Illustrated back in November about the Jaguars current struggles. "It's not like we projected to be a 12-win team. Part of what I'm doing is taking an objective look at things through numbers."
The argument is being made that most NFL teams now are operating at a suboptimal level, because they're stuck in the old "trial and error" fashion of coaching. The thought that because something didn't work in the past, so it won't work now, has got to pass. It seems with the Jaguars, head coach Mike Mularkey has been more receptive as the season goes on to trust the data, which has been a big reason for his decisions to go for it on fourth down.