Cleveland Browns: Perceived rift proves analytics works

Jun 7, 2016; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson yells to the team during minicamp at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 7, 2016; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson yells to the team during minicamp at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Browns are making analytics work, as the recent disagreement between Hue Jackson and the sports science staff proves.

Is there a “rift” between Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson and the analytics people? Depends on who one wants to believe.

Jackson told reporters on Tuesday that the team’s sports science staff asked him to re-evaluate the padded practice schedule. Jackson refused, citing a “very candid” conversation, as Mary Cay Cabot of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reports:

"“Honestly, they got kind of mad at me. I’ll be very honest with you. We had a very candid conversation where they said, ‘Hue, you might want to double-check your padded days schedule.’ I told them, ‘No.’ I know how to take care of a football team. I get a feel for when the guys, when we’re pushing them a little too far and we need to reel it in.”"

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With this, reports of a rift between Jackson and the sports science staff quickly emerged. Attempting to resurrect an “old school” versus new school “analytics”debate, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk posited that:

"The Browns have cobbled together a potentially mismatched mashup of football personnel, and a strong emphasis on analytics and sports science possibly conflicts with coach Hue Jackson’s more old-school, qualitative-over-quantitative approach. The first sign of a schism already has emerged, over the issue of padded practices in training camp."

Fortunately for the Browns, the “old-school” versus “analytics” debate that haunts baseball (to a lesser degree) does not exist in Berea. To date, the analytic department and the coaching staff have worked hand-in-hand to collaborate on scouting, the draft and sports science so far that we are aware. The work of collaboration between these “two different groups” has been the norm for the Browns.

Related: Analytics are not running the Browns

So, what is going on with this supposed “rift”?

One thing to remember is that analytics is a tool. It is used to answer specific questions or solve specific problems. Its role is to support the football staff in putting the best team on the field. It is estimated that half of NFL football teams use analytics as a part of their organization. The best kept secret in the NFL is how much analytics already impacts the game.

The question surrounding the Browns is not the use of analytics. The question is: How prominent of a role does analytics have in decision making?

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Teams who have successfully used analytics in MLB have found a balance between traditional baseball methods and newer analytical methods. Those who have gone too heavily one way or the other have been less successful in recent years.

Jackson’s ability to rebuff the sports science department demonstrates that there is an integration of analytics and traditional football methods at play. Both aspects of team building are working in collaboration. The sports science department made Jackson aware of what it saw as a potential problem and Jackson took it under advisement and made a decision he felt was best for the team. Working in collaboration does not mean people always agree. It means people work together for a common goal.

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There is no “rift” in the Browns organization over analytics versus traditional methods. Jackson merely pulled the curtain back on the inner workings of the Browns organization. As a result, fans got a small glimpse of how prominent a role analytics will play in decision making for the Cleveland Browns.