Plays or Players?

During his trip to the Jacksonsville Jags’ camp,’s Don Banks elicited a couple of interesting quotes:

From [QB Byron]Leftwich: “You can’t describe Carl’s system. It’s a little bit of everything. He came in and we made plays to fit our type of players. It’s about doing what our players are best at doing. He’s going to make sure we’re allowed to do our things.”

From [Head Coach Jack] Del Rio: “I don’t know how to characterize it. How does Charlie Weis characterize his offense? Ever hear him describe it as a West Coast offense or try to give it a nickname? I think what you do is you attack the people you’re playing against with the people you have and get the matchups you’re hoping to create.

The idea seems simple — if productivity depends on combining labor with technology (schemes, plays, …), and labor is relatively fixed in the short run, then adjust the technology to fit the personnel. As I discuss in Chapter 7 of my From the Ballfield to the Boardroom, coaches in the NFL and other places love to make players fit into a given technology. Matt Millen and Marty Mornhinwheg are my poster children for this kind of mindless devotion to a single “system.”

In trying to make sense of why coaches are so frequently fond of treating their given “technology” as fixed and trying to make diverse types of players fit into it rather than vice versa, I’m reminded of ideas expressed by Roy Radner in his 1992 Journal of Economic Literature piece on “Hierarchy: The Economics of Managing.” The bottom line is that decision makers have limited processing power. While the idea of fitting the “technology” to the players sounds easy enough, in practice, it’s a complicated problem to work out. Most coaches have very limited processing power (no disrespect intended — well, I guess there is some disrespect intended), so that fixing the “technology” and trying to bend players to fit it radically reduces the complexity of the problem.

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Author: Brian Goff

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