Dirk Koetter and the intolerance of analytics

Get off Dirk Koetter’s lawn.

A reporter pushed one of the Buccaneers offensive coordinator’s buttons this week by asking about those new-fangled numbers that are all the rage in professional sports.

Like most NFL teams Tampa Bay has an analytics guy on staff but it looks like Koetter’s office isn’t one of his regular stops and after the Bucs failed to attack a New York Giants defense that has struggled with tight ends all season down the seam, some wanted to know why?

“No. I trust my eyes,” Koetter said when asked if he leaned on advanced metrics to prepare his game plan. “I watch the tape. I watch a lot of tape and I trust what my eyes tell me. So I don’t need a freaking piece of paper with a bunch of numbers on there to tell me something my eyes can see.

“I mean, not to get pissed off, but that whole thing of looking at a piece of paper and telling you how to call a football game is a freaking joke in my opinion. That’s why I watch tape. Half the stuff on that paper, you can sort those stats out any way you want to. But I’m sticking by eyes. It’s worked OK for me so far.”

No word if Koetter was holding a trident when spewing his inartful comments but that sure escalated quickly.

As a radio host I’ve had my share of clashes with those who worship at the altar of analytics and it’s a religion to most of them, pawned off as a science.

To be fair though, it’s just as obtuse to completely ignore something that could aid the task at hand by making it easier and more streamlined by rooting out a tendency or two that the naked might have a more difficult time uncovering.

My guess is that describes Koetter because football coaches have been using analytics for a long time whether they know it or not. It could be something as simple as checking out an opponent’s yards per push and glancing at how often the quarterback on this week’s docket throws it to the other team.

09 MAY 2015:     Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter talks to Jameis Winston (3) during the Buccaneers Rookie Camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Florida.

09 MAY 2015: Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter talks to Jameis Winston (3) during the Buccaneers Rookie Camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Florida.

The back only came up over people who believe the numbers alone can build a game plan and automatically excoriate those who try to put some context into a black and white world.

Those who don’t fall in line with the analytics crowd are often labeled as flat-earthers who don’t believe in evolution. And the intolerance of those pushing analytics like settled science (an oxymoron by the way) is far more simple-minded than the people they try to dismiss with their arrogance.

That game plan is as predictable as Koetter’s worst and taken directly from the book of the race-baiter. The average person is afraid of being called a racist or a bigot in the public square so when that’s threatened by the environment created, the non-racist who is far from bigoted but offers a different and more nuanced description of certain events acquiesces because it’s easier.

That’s also what’s going on in the world of analytics. Yeah, there are things that need to be to be explained like ESPN’s QBR saying Ryan Fitzpatrick is a better quarterback than Tom Brady or Pro Football Focus claiming that A.Q. Shipley was playing like one of the best centers in football in 2014 when Indianapolis was moving mountains to replace him.

But if you press, you’re attacked like this:

“The Buccaneers’ offense hasn’t played particularly well this year. But the 56-year-old Koetter is like a lot of coaches who came of age in the days before Moneyball. He doesn’t understand what all those numbers on that freaking piece of paper mean, and he doesn’t particularly care to find out,” Pro Football Talk wrote about Koetter’s impudence.

When you’re right, you never have to explain things, you just point out the perceived failings of those who disagree with that settled science.

Notice the reference to Koetter’s age, the now-trademarked ageism red herring, followed by the out of context, shot at the struggling Tampa Bay offense.

It wouldn’t be hard to add in the background that Koetter is attempting to develop a rookie QB and even if he was the biggest analytics champion in the NFL, hiccups would be expected.

But, brushing that under the rug fits the narrative if you’re an advocate, be it willfully or from the fact you are so indoctrinated you have no idea there are other worthy opinions that are not only relevant but helpful.

In the Bible, it says the meek will inherit the earth. It got it wrong by one letter — the geeks have inherited the earth (at least the sports part) and they’re not about to let a football coach stop them.

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen. Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for The Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.

Also check @JFMcMullen on Twitter for John’s upcoming appearances on YAHOO! Sports Radio, FOX Sports Radio, YAHOO! Sports Radio Indiana, Omaha’s The Zone, Mobile’s WNSP, Baltimore’s 105.7 The Fan, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, The Score 1260 in Syracuse, Sirius’ Mad Dog Sports Radio, ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati, TSN 1290 in Winnipeg, TSN 690 in Montreal and WNSR in Nashville.

To Top