Back in March there was a meeting of NFL decision-makers to discuss a potentially huge technological innovation that would aid players, coaches and talent-evaluators.
It was revealed that technology was available to track every movement of every player on the field, logging things like reaction time and speed – raw data on player performance. Not only that, it was possible to have this data available to coaches on the sideline during games.
But as was revealed in an article by Kevin Clark of The Ringer back in June, there was a huge divide among NFL people – those who favored innovation and the old-school crowd who liked things just fine the way they are.
“Where does it end?” Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said. “Can you get text messages or go out there with an iPhone and figure out where to go? What are we creating? I know there are millennial players, but this is still a game created 100 years ago.”
Because of resistance from people like Rivera, the proposal was never put before the teams for a vote, and so was mothballed, waiting and gathering dust.
Who would figure that baseball, the sport in love with its own traditions and history more than any other, would end up being more progressive than the NFL? Indeed, Major League Baseball already tracks on-field player performance data in every stadium, and the information is available more or less instantaneously. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Statcast.
But while baseball innovates, and its coaches, players and executives look for new ways to use the avalanche of new data, Rivera apparently is leading the resistance in the NFL. From the sound of things, Rivera would gladly go back to leather helmets as well as a much, much lower salary. Remember, it was the NFL’s innovation with television broadcasts that played such a huge role in the league’s popularity and consequently, a flood of revenue.
“I want to get beat on the field,” Rivera said. “I don’t want to get beat because someone used a tool or technology – that is not coaching at that point. I work all week, I’m preparing and kicking your ass. All of a sudden you see a piece of live video and you figure out, ‘Oh crap, that’s what he’s doing.’ And how fair is that?”
Well, Mr. Rivera, if everyone has the same access to the same tools, then it is perfectly fair. In fact, those who figure out how to use the latest technology best will soon be kicking your ass while you sit there yelling at the sky. That’s called innovation. That’s called adapting and seeking out an edge. That, in fact, is what coaching is all about.
Can you imagine Vince Lombardi complaining about being able to call up video almost instantaneously on the computer in the back room? Can you imagine him whining about advances in nutrition or training habits?
“In my day, we ate cheeseburgers and smoked cigarettes all day, and we had jobs in the offseason like real men! And we were strong as bulls and we loved it!”
Of course not, because that would be short-sighted and just plain stupid.
And that’s what Rivera, as great a coach as he is, is being. And if he wastes his breath shouting down an inevitable tidal wave of technology, he will soon be swept away by it.