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Bills front office and analytics dept. will be two-way street

Posted Mar 8, 2018

Bills GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have fully committed to building up an analytics department to seek competitive advantages while also improving their overall efficiency as a football department.

Analytics has been widespread in the NFL for years now, but the most successful professional sports league is still playing a bit of catch up with Major League Baseball and the NBA in effectively applying analytical data to their preparation, performance and review.

The process of using analytics isn’t some magical solution for a team that will instantly make them a perennial contender. But it is an additional layer of information that could prove helpful in the very specific situations that the game of football produces.

That’s why Bills GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott made a firm commitment to further developing the analytic side of their football operation this offseason.

Hiring Luis Guilamo, who was already working for the team as an outside consultant over the past year, was the first step. They will steadily build out a department that will not only compile the mountains of data, but compartmentalize and present it in a way for Beane, McDermott and the rest of the front office to easily digest and apply as they see fit.

“I’ve seen what analytics can do,” Beane told “There are a lot of data points, from GPS, to all the data you get from various statistical sites that track where every player is. Some of it is as simple as compiling the data. We know there are millions of numbers. Now we have someone weeding things out for us and we tell them what we want to see.”

As much as Beane, McDermott and Assistant GM Joe Schoen might go to Guilamo with requests, Buffalo’s general manager has made it clear that he wants Guilamo bringing suggestions to him as well.

“It’s going to be 50-50,” Beane said. “There will be things where we go to him 50 percent of the time and the other half he’ll be coming to us. As I told him, he may come to me with 15 things and I may only want one of them. But that one might be a game changer. So I’ve encouraged him to keep coming to me, Joe (Schoen) and coach (McDermott) with ideas, knowing that one out of 15 might be the difference.”

In an effort to develop effective analytical applications for Buffalo’s front office, Beane had Guilamo accompany the college scouting department to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine last week.

“We took Luis to the combine to see how we do things,” said Beane. “He built us an app so we could enter some live data which came right to my computer, Joe (Schoen’s). Just things like that which make our jobs easier is important. So, part of this thing will be getting to see how coaches do things and how we do things as scouts. We’re trying to find better ways to do things.”

Of course, there will also be analytical efforts taken with respect to game management and personnel.

“I believe building awareness is important, whether you use it or not,” said McDermott. “It’s one of the variables in the overall equation. If it helps people prevent injuries and player safety, I think that’s important. So there’s a lot of different angles within that. I think that’s important to our league.”

With respect to game management and the dozens of decisions coach McDermott makes on game days, Buffalo’s sideline boss won’t let the data be the end all, be all, but sounds open to using the data to improve his own performance as much as anyone else’s on the field or in the personnel department.

“It’s a component or variable in the equation,” McDermott said. “Analytics in my case doesn’t make the decision for me, but it’s part of the equation. It’s about us growing, evolving and becoming better. It’s a part of what we’ll do. It’ll be involved.

“It’s just about information gathering and building overall awareness on whatever it might be. I’m confident it’ll help us get to the next level in some areas.”

The same goes for Beane, who at least initially is interested in using analytics to help them streamline their own decision-making process.

“We created a scouting system that he helped us develop from scratch,” said Beane. “We started that as soon as we got here. He’ll do things to help us in every area. From personnel to coaching. We’ll look at everything.”

For Beane, his front office staff and McDermott this is the learning phase. As they work with Guilamo to uncover where they can gain an edge, they’ll equally discover what isn’t worth their time. That trial and error period alone will help their overall efficiency.

And as they steadily expand the department the hope is more difference-making discoveries will be made.

“I don’t know where it’s going to end, but I know we’re going to build it and probably do a lot of things that we find out aren’t necessary, but we’ll come across some things,” Beane said. “My experience with analytics is you’re going to run through a lot of data and a good deal of it won’t be useful, but there are going to be some nuggets in there. Some of those nuggets could give us a competitive advantage.”