Dean Pees has thoughts on young coaches, analytics

Atlanta Falcons v San Francisco 49ers
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The analytics mafia is about to go to the mattresses.

Long-time NFL assistant coach Dean Pees had some thoughts on Thursday about young football coaches. His comments veered into observations regarding the impact of computers and analytics on modern-day football.

“I think the younger generation of coaches feel a little entitled,” Pees said. “I think they’re spoiled. . . . Go work in a high school, go work in a Division III school where you’ve got to mow the grass, you’ve got to line the field. You’ve got to do all those things, then you’ll appreciate what you have when you have it. Instead of being 25 years old and wondering why I’m not a coordinator already in the NFL. I went to the NFL at 55 years old. . . . I felt like I paid my dues. And I feel like it made me a better coach, made me a better teacher. I was a school teacher. Learned how to teach. . . . I look at guys now, they can’t stand up in front of the room and talk to people.”

That’s when Pees began talking to people about computers and, inevitably, analytics.

“The computer told you that,” Pees said of decisions made during games. “When did the computer know what the weather was? Whether it was raining, whether the wind was blowing. Whether you were playing good on defense. OK, they say, ‘Well, it’s a two-point game. Should you go for it on fourth down?’ Well, I don’t know. Is the score 42-40 or 6-3? It makes a difference. . . . If they’re playing great defense, don’t. If they’re playing lousy defense, yes. The computer doesn’t tell you that.”

The analytics crowd typically reacts to such arguments by insisting that all potential factors are taken into account (even if they aren’t), and then by suggesting that anyone who would dare to dispute anything related to analytics in any way is stupid or old or whatever other disparaging comment can be made in an effort to shout down dissent.

The stupidity comes from having hard and fast rules as to any approach to football. Analytics definitely have a place in the game. But formulas should never fully supplant other factors that smart coaches are able to discern in the heat of the moment, thanks to decades (in some cases) of experience. The chart may say that it’s time to call a timeout, for example. But in the final moments of Super Bowl XLIX, when Patriots coach Bill Belichick sensed from across the field that the Seahawks seemed to be a little discombobulated (based on his decades of experience), he decided to let it ride — and to hope that they’d stumble into a play call and formation that perhaps would be just a little too predictable.

They did. And it was. And Belichick has an extra Super Bowl ring not because Belichick did what an objective, data-driven analysis of the situation would have required, but what a subjective, instinctive, wisdom-based assessment of the situation coaxed him to do.

It all has a place. The best coaches know that. And the best coaches will never ultimately let analytics be the determining factor in any coaching decisions. Sometimes, there’s a reason to know the numbers, and to consciously choose to not follow them. Every time, a smart coach will ask whether this is one of those occasions.

11 responses to “Dean Pees has thoughts on young coaches, analytics

  1. coach binder doesnt often win football games. the worst case of analytics is the example of from the cowboys-cards game. the cowboys just scored to pull within within 9 points. they chose to go for 2 before a penalty caused them to kick the extra point. in what world is potentially staying 2 scores behind when you can pull within one score a smarter more calculated move?

  2. Hard to justify the “paying your dues” argument when you’ve hired your son, Matt Pees, in both Tennessee and Atlanta, with very little experience. Apparently young coaches need to pay their dues…unless they’re related to the guy doing the hiring.

  3. A lot of coaches are married to analytics simply because it provides cover. Teams are so quick on the firing trigger that coaches without a lot of tenure are afraid to go against what the analytics bible says. At least if things don’t work out, they can point to what the bible says. Yeah, Belichick made a smart decision in that Super Bowl game, based on all aspects of the situation, but if it hadn’t worked out, a coach without Belichick’s stature might not have survived.

  4. This article brought joy to this ancient heart. As you get older, you learn there are more than “one” right way to do things.

  5. Or just watch the game and let the results show us who’s coaching philosophy is better.

  6. The computer would probably tell you a 6-3 game is a three point game not a two point game. So, maybe they’re onto something.

  7. The anti-analytic crowd is virtually always against the more aggressive play. They view being conservative as safe, which is really what they are railing against. They hate that the computers are telling them that its smart to take risks that they don’t want to.

  8. “I think the younger generation of coaches feel a little entitled,” Pees said. “I think they’re spoiled. . . . Go work in a high school, go work in a Division III school where you’ve got to mow the grass, you’ve got to line the field. You’ve got to do all those things, then you’ll appreciate what you have when you have it. Instead of being 25 years old and wondering why I’m not a coordinator already in the NFL”.
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    Pees is 100% correct, these kids today(and I’m in my 60’s so YES I can call them kids) expect to be handed everything and they think they deserve it, they don’t want to put in the long hours and work their way up to the top for 20-30yrs like the generations before them had to do!

    And what’s up with all the teams that are going for it on 4th & 3, 4 or 5yds when they’re out close to or just inside the 50yd line especially when there’s still plenty of time left in the game, this is totally asinine and when that team should be playing the field position game, punt and try to trap the other team inside of their 10 or 20yd line and let your D do their job. I’ve never seen more “turnover on downs” in my life as I have in the last 6wks or so and most of them are totally the wrong call under the circumstances. The only thing I can think of that’s making these HC go for it is analytics.

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