NFL Nation: Schwartz 0109
Back when I covered the Titans and the NFL for The Tennessean I found myself in a conversation with Jim Schwartz -- then Tennessee's coordinator, now Detroit's new coach -- about the concepts of Michael Lewis' best-selling "Moneyball." That started me on a path to this piece about how Schwartz views statistics as a tool, which may offer a lot of hints as to how he'll approach some of his new work. It ran on Sept. 12, 2003 in The Tennessean.
The game analyzer
Schwartz is using his background in economics to help prepare his defensive game plan
By Paul Kuharsky
September 12, 2003
Throw an economics major into the world of pro football and chances are he's a front office salary-cap guru or a smart player who knows how to manage his money.
But Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been putting his economic degree from Georgetown to use in a different way.
Inspired by Moneyball, a book by Michael Lewis detailing the unique management and personnel decision style of Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane, Schwartz farmed out some analytical work to statistic-minded friends.
The yet-to-be-completed results of those studies will have a direct bearing on some of his decision-making this season and help him prepare his defense each game week.
"Does it change tackling, rushing, pass coverage? No. But it gives you the best idea of how to manage a game, and of where the game is now. That's the whole idea," Schwartz said.
"I asked, 'What are the highest correlating factors to points allowed, rather than wins.' I came up with an equation that tells me the determining factors."
What those factors are remains a secret.
"I don't want anybody to poach my stuff for free," he said.
Schwartz's boss, Coach Jeff Fisher, said preparation and feel dictate calling a game above all else. But he said Schwartz's use and understanding of detailed stats "may carry over into the way he manages a game from a play-calling standpoint."
Schwartz said he's looking to challenge conventional wisdom about what's most important in a football game, the way the A's have with baseball.
In scouting and signing talent, Oakland has strayed from traditional presumptions about statistics, de-emphasizing certain categories (like batting average) and looking at others (like on-base percentage) with much wider eyes.
"You want to stay ahead of where football is going," Schwartz said. "Everyone says it's important to run the football. How important? The saying is that pitching and fielding is 90% of baseball. The A's said, 'Says who?' They did their reasoning to find out what percentage."
Schwartz is also examining regressions, the same sort of predictive formulas used in economic and weather forecasting.
Meteorologists predict today's chance of rain by plugging factors into a regression equation. Looking at temperature and wind, humidity and barometric pressure, the equation reveals the percentage of time it's rained when those factors came together.
Schwartz looks at similar equations as they relate to scoring defense, since his primary mission is to limit points.
He takes his unit's third-down percentage, red-zone percentage, run average and pass average and gets an answer as to "how many points you're expected to give up over the course of a season based on what's happened in the past" around the league.
"If we improve our third-down percentage five percent, it should translate into this many less points," he said. "If we can increase our red zone effectiveness by 10 percent, it translates to X points."
To reduce some of his research to a friendlier scale, Schwartz decided to break games into smaller pieces. Trends are clearer when he looks at approximately 192 defensive series over a season as opposed to 16 games.
He's also assigned a value to each yard on the field. If an opponent has the ball on its own 25, or the "minus-25" as the Titans would call it, Schwartz knows the expected point total of a drive starting there.
"I can look on a chart and add up the expected value. I can say in an average NFL drive over the last few years they gave up this many points," Schwartz said. "Did we do better or worse than that?"
Schwartz doesn't overload his players with statistical information. Free safety Lance Schulters, a former 49er, said San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora referred to stats the same way Schwartz does in meetings. Cornerback Andre Dyson, who's played for no other NFL coordinator, said he is sometimes surprised by Schwartz.
"He does like his stats," Dyson said. "He comes up with some crazy stuff, like how fast the ball will come out [of the quarterback's hand] when they run a certain play, some stuff you wouldn't think a coach would pay attention to."
Schwartz does not cast himself as an innovator, however. Plenty of coaches around the league will arrive at similar conclusions, he said, though some will probably use alternate roads to get there.
Nevertheless, he is confident plotting all the curves will help the Titans stay ahead of the curve.
"We need to know what's making the difference," he said. "It's planning, management of a game, how best to use our resources, when to be aggressive rather than, 'What's the best way to beat an opponent?' "
It might not stop there. Schwartz may be willing to offer statistical evidence that could aid General Manager Floyd Reese in decisions about which players to sign.
"It's a monster process, but you can quantify how important a corner is compared to a defensive tackle," Schwartz said. "And that can give you direction not only coaching-wise, but maybe personnel-wise."
Good luck, Jim Schwartz. You're going to need it.
I've heard versions of that sentiment many times this week as Schwartz emerged as the front-runner for Detroit's head-coaching job. The Tennessee defensive coordinator, who accepted the Lions' offer Thursday and will be introduced Friday at Ford Field, is stepping into one of the biggest messes in the NFL.
The Lions offer a better situation than Oakland, but that might be about it. Some of the issues Schwartz no doubt wrangled with this week include:
- A roster that even he noted, in a polite way, "has some holes." Realistically, the Lions are two good drafts away from replenishing their lineup.
- A disconcerting situation in the coaching office, where the team retained 14 of the 18 coaches who finished 2008 under former coach Rod Marinelli. Will Schwartz even be able to hire his own staff? No one in the NFL is certain about that.
- A front office comprised of two longtime Lions employees who have the ear of owner William Clay Ford. President Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew have new titles but did not have to order moving vans when they were hired into their current jobs.
- A worn-down fan base that offers no home-field advantage.
To be clear, I think Schwartz was the best-suited of the Lions' candidates for this job. He is smart, tough-minded and has a superior coaching pedigree.
But to be fair, Schwartz also didn't have a lot of options. Of the nine teams that are making or have made coaching changes this offseason, only the Lions interviewed him. (He spoke with Washington and Atlanta about their openings last offseason.) The Titans were one of the NFL's top teams in 2008, but that success didn't make Schwartz one of the league's hot assistants this offseason.
Which, frankly, makes him ideal for the Lions. Deep down, Detroit officials had to know they were not going to be able to compete for the likes of New York defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo or New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Their job is far from ideal and they knew it would require a certain level of concession from the man who eventually took the job.
If Schwartz wanted to be a head coach in the near future, it was the Lions or nothing. So from this early vantage point, the marriage appears to be a good pairing. The Lions got someone who was willing to take on some unique ballast in order to be their head coach. And Schwartz got a job that no other NFL team was willing to consider him for, at least this year.
Jim Schwartz is taking over in Detroit. Jeff Fisher is in the market for a defensive coordinator. Gregg Williams just joined the Saints.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|Jim Schwartz spent eight seasons as defensive coordinator in Nashville.|
I expect Fisher to promote secondary coach Chuck Cecil or linebackers coach Dave McGinnis, then hire a new position coach. If Cecil gets promoted, Fisher could promote assistant secondary coach Marcus Robertson to Cecil's old spot and then have room to hire an extra assistant in the defensive backfield, or where he sees fit.
It will be difficult for Schwartz to take many friends from Fisher's staff with him. Young defensive assistant Matt Burke could have a good opportunity. Robertson could get an offer. But like the rest of the staff, those guys have a lot of loyalty to Fisher and a lot of security as part of his staff.
He's got an economics degree from Georgetown and is good with stats and trends. I wrote a piece about his ties to "Moneyball" thinking for football back when I was at The Tennessean. (No archive link to be found, sorry.) But it's a mistake to cast him as strictly a stat guy, or as someone who's more about numbers than people.
Schwartz is a bright guy who can do well. With the big office comes more scrutiny. I think he'll need to work to make sure people don't think he thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, even though he might be. I think he will have to shrug off criticisms and not take things personally. I think he needs to hire a couple of assistants who are fiery guys, because while he's intense, he's probably not a motivator in that sense.
He will put people in position to succeed and he will explain why that's the right spot to be. I don't think he takes the job if he doesn't feel like he's been given enough leeway and power to turn things around.
One Detroit writer said recently that smart is a good direction for the Lions, as they've been anything but for a long time.
They got their guy.
I join the Titans in wishing him well
[Updated 6:04 p.m.]
Jeff Fisher's statement:
"It is rare in this league to get to spend 10 years with an assistant coach as we have with Jim. In his eight years as our defensive coordinator, Jim has clearly put his stamp on that side of the ball. He is competitive, a tremendous communicator and motivator and in our opinion he has been ready for this next step for several years. I want to congratulate the Lions for hiring the right guy and he will be missed here in Tennessee.
As for our next defensive coordinator, we will take our time as far as replacing Jim, but that process has already begun."
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
That's the word from ESPN's Chris Mortensen, who reports the Lions have an agreement with Tennessee's defensive coordinator to become their next head coach. We'll have analysis throughout the day but wanted to make sure you saw the news.
Update: The Lions have confirmed the hire and will hold a news conference Friday at Ford Field.
Here is a statement released by team president Tom Lewand:
"After an extensive search that included several highly-qualified coaches, we are thrilled that Jim Schwartz will become our team's head coach. Martin (Mayhew) and I believe that Jim's qualifications and vision will lead this organization on the field toward our goal of becoming a championship football team."
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