ENGLEWOOD, CO--It’s safe to say that Charles Barkley won’t be rooting for the Denver Broncos anytime soon. This morning, General Manager John Elway announced that they’ve hired Mitch Tanney to become their new “Director of Football Analytics.” Tanney, a former college quarterback who held a similar position the past two seasons in Chicago, becomes the first Analytics Director in Broncos history.
According to a team statement released on Friday, Tanney will be responsible for “developing methods to analyze data that supports evaluations and situational decisions made by personnel staff and coaches.” Tanney’s hiring adds the Broncos to a growing list of professional sports franchises that employee a senior staff member to study advanced metrics and statistics.
The hiring comes at a time when the usefulness of analytics is one of the most hotly debated topics in sports. Late last month, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley railed against advanced statistics in an extended monologue on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” Barkley questioned the use of advanced metrics and argued, “Analytics don’t work at all. It’s just some crap that people who are really smart made up to try to get in the fame because they had no talent.”
The number of people in NFL locker rooms who share Barkley’s opinion is shrinking rapidly. Over the past two years, Analytics departments in NFL front offices have popped up like weeds. In a 2013 interview with USA Today, St. Louis Ram’s Vice President Kevin Demoff explained the desire to use information to help teams on the field. “There’s so much more data out there than ever,” Demoff said. “So, there’s this hunger to evaluate it. Somewhere, there are a lot of secrets in the data.”
Adding an Analytics Director is just one of several changes to the team’s structure fans have seen over the last several months. Whether it’s the firing of head coach John Fox, the hiring of Gary Kubiak, or the renegotiation of Peyton Manning’s contract, it’s become clear that John Elway is interested in doing whatever it takes to change the culture of his organization. That includes the hiring of Mitch Tanney as Analytics Director. Perhaps Elway’s “kicking and screaming” mentality should be emended to “kicking, screaming and calculating.”