Bears hire Tanney to ramp up player, scouting analytics

Bears hire Tanney to ramp up player, scouting analytics
June 20, 2013, 1:15 pm
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As the Bears headed into their true “off” season in the run-up to Bourbonnais now about five weeks distant, they are anything but “off” in preparing for accelerating their use of football information.

The Bears hired Mitchell Tanney this week as Director of Analytics, tasked with developing additional techniques to identify, extract and analyze data to support decisions throughout the football operations department. Tanney’s two primary research areas to enhance the Bears analytical capacities will be in player evaluation concepts and game situation principles. 

“We needed somebody with an expertise in filtering through subsets of data to make sense of them in terms of which pieces are important and which pieces can be put together to give a clearer picture of projecting performance,” general manager Phil Emery told the team’s website, “whether it’s on the field in situational football or in scouting projecting players moving forward.”

While most NFL teams have coaches, staff members or IT specialists working on analytics, fewer than 10 clubs have someone whose job is exclusively in that realm, the organization reported.

But the Bears are not alone in the increasingly sophisticated pursuit of data to augment their existing scouting and game-preparation procedures. The Cubs under Theo Epstein have ramped up their analytic efforts in the form of “Carmine 2.0,” part of player-evaluation work under a leading practitioner of the analytics of “Moneyball”.

How it works

Per, one example of situational football Tanney likely will study is short-yardage plays broken down by down-and-distance, location on the field, time remaining and score of the game. That information will help them decide whether to go for a first down or kick a field goal, for instance, on fourth-and-two at their opponent’s 14-yard-line with less than two minutes left in the first half.

“What you’re trying to do is figure out the probability of success of taking the chance or not taking the chance in terms of a successful outcome not only in that given situation but what it could mean in terms of the overall game,” Emery said.

As far as scouting, Tanney will add to the Bears’ existing scouting process by creating a composite evaluation from a player’s physical, psychological, intellectual and medical data, helping to determine where he is now and projecting where he’s going to be.

Numbers guys

Emery is a professed student of the numbers that are the grist for analytics. He has mentioned specifically STATS LLC and in reference to sources of information on player performance.

Not surprisingly then, Tanney has been manager of football products and manager of sports analytics for STATS LLC for the past two years, helping create and manage many of the company’s advanced football statistics for NFL and collegiate football analysis. He was the product manager of STATS’ ICE platform, a system that aligns a team’s analytical data to player records to scouting video.

Tanney also analyzed 30-plus years of historical data to identify key statistical categories that influence game outcomes to create winning formulas for NFL franchises. 

From 2006-09, Tanney was both a quarterback (playing for the AFL, AF2, IFL and Swedish SuperSeries) and assistant coach for his alma mater Monmouth College. As a quarterback at Monmouth, Tanney was a team captain, was named conference player of the year and was a Division III National Player of the Year runner-up. He graduated from Monmouth Summa Cum Laude in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and Spanish. He received his MBA from the University of Iowa in 2011.