For Bears fans, general manager Phil Emery's press conference on Tuesday was a breath of fresh air. Emery raised the fans' expectations for himself, as well as for the head coach he will hire in the coming weeks.
Fans and media alike were impressed by Emery, by his candor, his honesty, just his overall willingness to answer questions.
That last part was incredible to me. Jerry Angelo is the only Chicago Bears general manager I really knew. I didn't really become a fan until I was 13, in 2001. I didn't really, truly start becoming a 365 sports fan until 2004. So in my time truly following everything the Bears do, JA was the guy.
And I got used to him saying nothing. He would sit up there and do a thirty minute press conference and you would be lucky to get two thoughts of substance out of them.
For one thing, he always seemed to carry a clout of arrogance about him, where he'd talk down to the media and kind of question their intelligence. For example, when he answered a question about how Sam Hurd's arrest might impact his job he said "Whistle Dixie." He also used colorful expressions that didn't always make sense to us but he thought it passed for an answer.
Another example, from the Chicago Sun-Times:
SAYING THAT, DO YOU NEED TO GET HIM A WEAPON?
JA: It is if it's a weapon. I don't want to draft a receiver and get you off my back a couple of months and then find out he's just a vanilla cone. That's not the goal. We want to come out with something that has some sprinkles on it or has a little twist to it. Bring alittle playmaking ability to the position and that's what we're fixed on. If we don't feel we're going to get a little twist to this guy, then we don't want to take him. We want a guy who has a little juice to him, OK? So don't beat us up too badly if we don't do what you think we should do. We are trying to do that, OK?
That answer is the epitome of a Jerry Angelo press conference. "Do you need a weapon?" "It is if it's a weapon." What?!
Anyway, Angelo's gone now but I expected more of the same. Most general managers play it close to the chest and certainly don't admit mistakes or offer insight on what they were thinking.
Unless they're Emery.
Emery answered every question thrown at him and expounded in detail on many topics, including his 2,234 word answer on the offensive line. That's right. 2,234 words, even Kay can't write that much about Emery.
Emery's presser went further in signifying a changing of the guard at Halas Hall. This is the new era, the new regime. 2013 begins the George McCaskey and Phil Emery Era. While McCaskey has been in charge for a couple of this years, this is when his people and his decisions start bearing fruit.
Going even further, from the things that Emery said, he could be one of the new eras in all of the NFL landscape. Emery is by all means a football geek. Now I would never call him a geek to his face because I bet the dude could tear me in half, he was a strength coach after all. However, his geekiness goes beyond just normal stats and scouting.
From his press conference,
But let's look at this another way. I went to STATS Inc., went through all the numbers. Went to Pro Football Focus, did all the numbers. I'm familiar with STATS Inc. We're one of their contracted teams. Spent quite a bit of time with their people, not only their programmers but went to their offices, watched how they grade tape, how they triple check all their facts. So I trust all their data, that's it's unbiased, that it doesn't have my hands in it, that it doesn't have our coach's or scout's hands in it, or anybody else in the league. They are simply reporting fact. Some ways to look at it is in a very Money Ball way, crunching the numbers.
Money ball? In the NFL? Isn't that a baseball thing. While yes, it is primarily linked with baseball the so-called "money ball" concept of using sabermetrics to analysis the game and find "market inefficiencies" which can be exploited to save a team money, it is and can be used in football too, but for different reasons.
From the research I have done, it seems that the jury is still kind of out on sabermetrics in football. With the salary cap the way it is it's unnecessary to use the metrics in the way they are used in baseball. Furthermore, football is a game of 22 moving parts on any given play, moving in different directions and therefore cannot be boiled down to the one-on-one match up of pitcher vs. batter the way baseball can.
That said, though, the way Emery describes using sabermetrics it seems less likely he is using it to find answers but more so as a resource for finding evaluation.
Emery is old school, he goes way back as a scout and as a football guy. SB Nation explained this best;
Men of Emery's age and men that come from his background can be easily scared off by data; they're more likely to criticize "Moneyball" without reading it than to take something from its "market inefficiencies" ethos. But Emery isn't too conceited to write off anything. He values information. What more could any football fan ask from their GM?
Emery could easily go out and write off all this fancy "stat geek" stuff and be a meathead like some writers. Instead he goes out and sees these not as an end-all be-all answer to the problems but as another way to scout, gather information and make a decision.
While this cannot be applied directly to the coaching search it's great for the roster-building portion of Emery's GM duties. Emery is willing to go outside of the organization and look at stats from people who have no hand in it, as he said, but rather are just objectively reporting fact. That is huge for a GM. He can take what the number facts say and balance it out with what he sees and what his scouts see and tell him.
Sabermetrics has a long way to go in the NFL but it is picking up steam. I have seen more and more reports on yards after contact (YACo), yards per target (YPT) and catches percentage (CPT). ESPN box scores now carry the targets boxes and for all it's mocked for Total Quarterback Rating (Total QBR) is an interesting new metric for measuring a passer.
I am not naive enough to believe that Emery and his staff are going to blow our minds and find all sorts of steals and build a money ball roster, but I think it will be interesting to watch the moves he makes and see what he says and does about certain positions.
Emery is about as far from JA as you can get here are some quotes from Angelo when he was hired back in 2001;
"I think the hardest thing for an organization to do is evaluate itself. I found that to be true in every program, college or pro. It's very hard to do because when you're looking at it internally, there's more emotions involved. There are agendas. People sometimes don't want to be truthful. It's easier for me to clean up your back yard than it is mine. I mentioned this to Ted (Phillips). Yours looks like junk. Mine looks like art."
"I told Ted (Phillips) I'm a specialist in losing. I know what losing is, and I feel I can help you get out of losing. I've done it. You've just got to hang tough and stay the course. We'll do that."
Now for all that, would we say JA was very good at evaluating himself? That's what I like about Emery's willingness to use sabermetrics. It is a way for him to evaluate the organization from outside itself. It's more data and more facts. Bad decisions can still be made but the more input you have, the more facts, the more data, the better decision is likely to be made.