Without a doubt, the National Football League (NFL) is the star of professional athletic leagues. Its television ratings are unmatched; the NFL presented 24 of the top 25 most-watched shows last fall. Right or wrong, the off-season conflicts – player v. commissioner spats, PED suspensions, and a massive concussion lawsuit – are muted when September rolls around and pigskins start flying. Football is a game of passion, an emotionally exciting and financially rewarding business to be a part of. Football jobs and jobs in the NFL are out there to be had, and there are several key entry points worth exploring.
Widely considered the primary entry point onto a professional football team’s coaching staff, a quality control assistant is sometimes more generically referred to as an offensive or defensive assistant. This intern-like role is the only coaching staff position that spends more time alone in front of a computer screen than on the field with players. QC assistants, usually designated to one side of the ball, work weeks ahead on the schedule whereas most coaches focus on the upcoming opponent. They’re responsible for packaging statistical data for coaches and players and also break down immense amounts of game tape. Someone must chart how upcoming opponents handle third-and-short on the goal line and what their substitution pattern tendencies are. And tracking the number of times another team uses certain personnel groupings will allow the coaching staff to prepare a well strategized game plan. These responsibilities and more – QC assistants do get on the practice field at times – are tasked to a quality control assistant, giving them a taste of what coaching is all about and helping validate their commitment to the details. A similar role is worth considering for future coaches that are currently in school. In the college ranks, a football team’s graduate assistant does the grunt work, packaging stats and video to arm coaches with everything needed to win on game day.
Statistical analysis is all the rage but spreadsheets can only supplement, not replace scouting in football. Often times, data feeding into the formulas are gathered by organizational scouts. People looking for jobs in the NFL should consider the role of team scout as a way into the league. The thankless position is all about gathering information, subjective and objective, that a team’s personnel department utilizes to grade players. Timing 40 yard dashes and vertical leaps are just the start. Analysis on a lineman’s hand positioning during a run block or receiver’s ability to avoid “body catches” on a slant route are just as valuable. Some NFL scouts evaluate college players for draft consideration while others study soon-to-be NFL free agents. For the former, much time is spent on roads few travel and at half empty stadiums most will never frequent. While general managers make their money selecting first rounders with Pro Bowl potential, scouts establish themselves by recommending mid-to-late round selections that become stars. In the end, football is all about team building. And that comes from organizations evaluating players’ potential and placing a value on it, precisely a scout’s responsibility. Gain experience scouting for colleges or universities to build your resume and then make an aggressive push into the NFL.
In decades past, former football players had a major advantage when attempting to enter front office departments. League connections and a wealth of football knowledge bring obvious value to personnel departments. Recent years have layered heavy statistical analysis on top of scouting information to minimize risk on big money decisions. NFL teams need mathematicians and statistical analysis gurus to compile, slice and splice data points, tell a story and guide decision makers. Numerically inclined, sports fanatics can study projection, regression analysis and more to make sense of data as their pathway into the NFL. More-and-more teams are building out entire statistical analysis departments instead of contracting someone to look at the information and make likely-ignored suggestions. And, instead of purely relying on companies like STATS INC for information, professional organizations now develop their own measurements and build their own databases. The ratio of ex-athletes to “stat heads” that help run football operations is slowly headed the way of Major League Baseball. Front offices, once heavily staffed with former college and professional athletes, are more diverse than ever before. Creative statisticians with a strong depth of football knowledge finally have a respected place in the game. And, now more than ever, breaking down the numbers and presenting it in a way that helps drive decisions is one of few entry points into the business of football operations.