Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown want to make certain the uncertain

Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta have found the best way to help those seeking to understand the concept of analytics in football.

BEREA— There are many ways in which to verbalize the concept of analytics in football. 

None of those ways may be better than the way in which Browns Chief Strategy Officer, Paul DePodesta, voiced said concept on Thursday afternoon. 

Simply, analytics help those such as DePodesta and Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Sashi Brown, to make more certain the uncertain. 

“The underlying, fundamental principle of these industries really is uncertainty,” DePodesta said. “We’re doing everything we can to get our arms around that uncertainty.”

For instance, rather than to watch a player run from sideline to sideline and guess his or her speed, DePodesta and Brown want to measure that speed using a stopwatch and use that information to make a decision— whatever decision that may be— about said player. 

Taking something uncertain— the speed of a player through the lens of the naked eye— making it certain— measuring the speed of a player through a more accurate tool of measurement. 

While that’s the main premise of “analytics” it certainly isn’t an exact science. 

Though the Browns will take extra time to make certain the uncertain— maybe measuring more so than other teams— DePodesta admitted that the extra information and efforts to get said information won’t always mean that things work out in their favor. 

“Even with the best process in place, the best ideas, the best intentions, we’re still going to be wrong,” DePodesta said. “We’re still going to try some things that don’t work out. That’s the reality of it. This isn’t about having some system that’s a crystal ball that tells us exactly what’s going to happen.”

Sure, they’re not always going to be right, but the hope is that using analytics will make them right more so than not. 

“Hopefully we have processes in place, and not just with numbers, but processes in general that, if we do them time and time again, we’re going to start being right more often than we’re wrong,” DePodesta said. “Or maybe just right more often when it matters -- or maybe limiting the size of the mistakes that we make.”

While it’s not always about numbers, it’s not always about measuring either. 

“We want to turn over and create every competitive advantage we can, so Jimmy talks about turn over every rock, certainly we want every piece of information we can as we make our decisions moving forward,” Brown said. “Whether it’s personnel or, as Paul said, in other areas of the organization, and so we view it as very additive to what we do. It won’t be dictating our personnel decisions but hopefully inform them.”

One of the ways in which analytics will be used by the Browns, in which pure numbers aren’t involved, is in the introduction of a new training staff. 

Last season, the Browns suffered a rash of soft-tissue injuries that kept players out of Training Camp and put them behind the ball to start the season. 

For that reason, DePodesta and Brown are bringing in a new strength and conditioning staff to explore the reason as to why this was the case and to prevent it from happening again. 

While it may not seem like it, that is analytics, as the Browns are using a process in which to analyze and fix a certain situation. 

That’s what the new duo atop the organization is seeking to do, just as do many organizations around the world. 

“I think when you look at great organizations, whether they’re sports franchises or anything else, they do something that separates them from the competition— usually that something is a process or set of systems that differentiates them,” DePodesta said. “For Apple that might be their design function. For Amazon, it might be how easy they make shopping. For UCLA, under John Wooden, the process, it started on the first practice of every day when he told them how to put on their socks and lace up their shoes. It’s a little different everywhere. My job here is really to help us create and implement those processes that we think are going to give us a sustainable advantage over time."


Those processes, be they as simple as a stopwatch or as complex as a different nutrition and training program, are what the Browns will seek to use to separate themselves from the pack. 

Those processes too are what helps DePodesta to believe that the transition from baseball to football won't be as difficult as advertised.

He did admit, however, that he's still not perfect and he still needs to make certain certain things about football that, to him, are currently uncertain.  

“Has my approach sort of changed or will it change from sport to sport? In that sense, no, because that’s kind of what I’ve always done is try to create those systems or those processes that create a sustainable advantage," DePodesta said. "Are there nuances to this game and this sport that I’m going to have to learn? Absolutely." 

For all of your Browns news and updates from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.


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