- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- The essence of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is hearing some of the top businesspeople and football personnel discuss ideas, concepts and innovations.
Along these lines, a question was posed to Patriots president Jonathan Kraft toward the end of his panel discussion on "Building a Dynasty" about the value of trading a first-round draft choice for a head coach. This possibility recently came to light with the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Jim Harbaugh, and this is how Kraft answered:
“In the context of football, an exceptional coach, at the end of the day, is probably more valuable to a team long-term than any individual player. If you are going to make that trade, you probably have more data on the coach than you ever could on that No. 1 draft pick. It worked out well for us. I would say, yes, certainly in football.”
The Patriots. of course, traded their 2000 first-round pick to the Jets as part of the compensation package to land Bill Belichick.
Earlier on the panel, Kraft touched on why the Patriots were so intent on hiring Belichick at the time, with his understanding of the salary cap (implemented in 1994) the key.
"The salary cap, in a league that shared virtually all of its revenue, now had leveled the playing field competitively. So you were going to compete not by how rich you were, but by how good you were at evaluating talent for your system, signing it up under the rules of the salary cap, and then coaching it. Literally, unlike any other sport, money was coming out of the equation because of our revenue sharing and because of the cap. It was going to rely on the analytics and the intellect. Coming from other businesses, we stepped into that and we were surprised that traditional football people didn't get that concept. It shows you that 20 years ago in the NFL, there literally was nothing analytical brought to the table," Kraft said.
"What we did over the first six years we owned the team, we went to one Super Bowl -- it was the year Belichick was with us with [Bill] Parcells -- we were searching hard for somebody who had the intellectual capacity to understand the analytics but who also had grown up in coaching and had the instincts of a great coach. We were lucky that Bill was somebody we got exposure to [in 1996] because I really believe our competitive advantage as an organization, and what we hoped to find when we bought the team at the time we did, was somebody in Bill; because maybe people, on the outside, view him as a little bit not warm and fuzzy and wouldn't want them working for them, he actually has not only an amazing ability to coach players, but an intellectual capacity and understanding of the salary cap and the analytics that go into it that he can do the whole thing and tie it together. I really believe that's what has been our competitive advantage."