Transcendent athletes like Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson had the combination of passion, moxie, strength and speed to run down fly balls in the summer and then smother receivers and run over linebackers, respectively, in the fall. But Sanders hasn’t played professionally in a decade and Jackson hung up his spikes over twenty years ago. Can you name today’s dual sport stars? I sure can’t.
The amount of money in present day professional sports coupled with regimented off season programs makes it’s nearly impossible to find athletes that are willing to take the risks that come with playing more than one sport. In the world of professional coaching it’s just as hard to find examples of crossover success. Deep, deep knowledge gives tenured coaches a competitive advantage over their colleagues creating a stark disadvantage for someone who spends 20 years playing and coaching basketball before swapping a suit and clipboard to manage a baseball club or football team. Coaches are as unlikely as athletes to league hop.
There are some among us that simply aren’t satisfied by the experiences of a singular sport. Working in a front office—player personnel, team operations or management—gives you the kinds of experience that can allow the leap between leagues. Paul DePodesta spent nearly 15 years in baseball front offices from Cleveland, Oakland and Los Angeles to San Diego and New York. DePodesta rose through the ranks quickly—an advance scout, assistant general manager, a special assistant, a general manager and a vice president of player development and scouting. And now at the age of 43, the Harvard graduate and sabermetrician, returns to Cleveland. Instead of coming home to the Indians club that got his career started DePodesta is charged with bringing respect to a down-and-out Cleveland Browns football franchise. The baseball team builder turned football strategist has his work cut out for him.
I don’t tell you about Paul DePodesta’s foray into the National Football League to suggest that job-hopping between sports leagues is a simple step. I share it to say that, with enough gumption and thirst for knowledge, you can leverage your career successes in one league to earn a position of power in another one.
Paul DePodesta epitomizes the word gumption. DePodesta was a two sport college athlete, playing both football and baseball. He did that while earning an economics degree. At Harvard. A spirited initiative and resourcefulness separates the new Browns’ Chief Strategy Officer from his peers. That initiative, along with a major role in the sabermetrics-driven Athletics, allowed DePodesta, to become the fifth youngest GM in baseball history at the age of 31. Paul spent his first three seasons in MLB with the Indians working alongside nine other current or former general managers. DePodesta, even way back then, understood the value in future thinking, pairing up with Indians’ front office colleague Josh Byrnes to harness the power of video advance scouting systems. DePodesta can step into the football arena so confidently because he demands to be challenged. A Mets’ colleague, who wasn’t surprised by Paul’s jump to football, describes him as someone “always looking for a challenge,” who was “not just a baseball guy.” That willingness to blaze a new trail rather than settle into a comfortable baseball corner office makes him the perfect dual sport threat.
Paul DePodesta has an incredible thirst for knowledge. A story on MMQB describes this perfectly. DePodesta finished reading a book on technological impacts of the healthcare industry. Instead of closing it, updating his Goodreads account and picking up another book he squeezed more from the experience. Paul emailed the physician who wrote the book, met the author for lunch, accepted a speaking role at the “Transforming Medicine” conference and then accepted a part-time position as an “assistant professor of bioinformatics.” His initiative and hard work creates opportunities that most of us can’t envision—he sees three or four steps ahead of the crowd because he recognizes that even a simple email can lead to something bigger. Paul DePodesta knows that data transcendence leagues. Over the last two decades analytics has taken over the game of baseball. Scouting, drafting, free agency as well as on-field decision-making has been consumed by the numbers. DePodesta recognized the trends early applying the teachings he learned at Harvard and principles of sabermetrics. He fine-tuned those statistical tools with the Indians and Athletics and shared that knowledge in his trail through Major League Baseball with the Dodgers, Padres and Mets. Instead of furthering the use of analytics in baseball DePodesta sees the untapped potential of data in football—a market inefficiency ready to be exploited. It’s an accepted fact: “The information revolution in football is underway, but it lags behind the one in baseball, which is fully populated with types like DePodesta who have long entered the next stage: synthesizing the information with on-field knowledge and observation.” Paul DePodesta can take what he learned from his time in Major League Baseball, study how analytics are already being applied in the NFL and mix together solutions that give the Browns a much needed edge.