"Moneyball" opened a lot more eyes than just those of die-hard baseball fans. Michael Lewis' best-selling 2003 book about how the Oakland Athletics used off-the-radar stats to identify and exploit market inefficiencies in baseball player evaluations got Manny Diaz thinking, too.
"You can't read that and not try and find some ways that can relate back to our game," said the new Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator, who read the book seven years ago when he was with the North Carolina State Wolfpack. "It's tough because the thing that's so different in college football is that the level of competition changes so drastically. You can play against I-AA teams, where people pad their own stats; you play against out-of-conference opponents, against in-conference opponents. Who you play has so much to do with what happens."The last thing that really makes it different from baseball is that the sample size is so small. You're trying to make assessments off of 12 games. Everybody laughs around this time of year with baseball stats when they say, 'So-and-so is on pace to hit so many home runs.' Well, 12 games isn't a lot of data, either, but that's the world that we live in."
That world is one where coaches are always looking for any edge. Most football coaches' biggest hobby is, well, football. They unwind -- if they ever do -- by watching other football games, looking for scheme adjustments that someone else has implemented or, at the very least, to gain some inspiration to tweak something they already do. They all speak openly about trying to steal ideas from one another. However, I don't know that many football coaches who really like to crunch numbers or surf the Web looking for a cool new metric. Then again, Diaz's path to big-time college football coach is also far from typical.
Diaz, 37, attended Florida State but didn't play football there. After FSU, he interned at ESPN and became a production assistant working on "NFL Countdown." However, he dreamed of being a football coach. One night after work, he admitted to then-colleague Sterling Sharpe that he liked the TV business but really wanted to pursue coaching. The former NFL star receiver encouraged him, offering Diaz an "in" with the Noles' football staff. Sort of.
To read the rest of Bruce Feldman's discussion with Manny Diaz about advanced stats in college football, become an ESPN Insider today.