Raw Data By P3 Adaptive
Everyone’s in the Middle, w/ Former NFL QB Hugh Millen
Former NFL Quarterback and Data NerdListen Now:
Hugh Millen is a former NFL quarterback and currently a television and radio sports analyst. He’s also a data aficionado, whose story is another great example of a unique path that a person with a keen interest in data has taken. He’s leveraged that data knowledge and used it to further his NFL career and he applies it daily in his analyst job.
Random References In This Episode:
Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena Speech
3:10 – The humble Hugh Millen
12:40 – Hugh’s data origin story heavily involves football and his data knowledge parlayed into big bucks
28:30 – The impact of data in sports and the parallels of Sports and Business analytics
57:20 – A discussion about the value of football in society yields some deep and philosophical tangents
Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello, friends. I'll be honest, what sorts of stereotypes come to mind when I say the words, professional athlete. We'll up the ante and say, what about professional NFL football player? You probably don't think data nerd when you hear those phrases do you? Yet 10 years ago, when I was in Seattle on business visiting Microsoft, I went on this cloak and dagger side mission one night, drove out into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It was a very small town, with one stoplight, I parked my car in what was essentially like a logging bar, like a bar where vloggers would hang out and drink at night and that's when I met this week's guest, Hugh Millen. He walked into this joint with a gigantic laptop under his arm, and sat down with his back against the wall, so no one could see what was on his screen.
Rob Collie (00:00:54): Then, he showed me what was the most amazing spreadsheet I have ever seen. I won't give away what was in that spreadsheet, but I will tell you, this was the first and last time that I've ever seen the arc tan, arctangent function used in the wild. He was the real deal. He was legitimately an NFL star in his day and he loves data and that's why we've been friends for more than a decade now. Whether you're into sports or not, whether you're into football or not, listening to the way his mind works and the conversation that we had about that domain, I think is still incredibly relevant to the things that we do in the business space, and so many times during this conversation, those parallels just kind of jumped off the page at me, I hope you get as much out of it as we did. Tom really enjoyed himself on this one in particular. So let's get into it.
Announcer (00:01:48): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please.
Announcer (00:01:52): This is the Raw Data by P3 podcast with your host, Rob Collie and your co host, Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 can do for your business. Go to powerpivotpro.com. Raw Data by P3 is data with the human element.
Rob Collie (00:02:10): Welcome to the show. Hugh Millen, how are you today?
Hugh Millen (00:02:14): I'm doing real well guys, how are you?
Rob Collie (00:02:17): Fantastic. This has been sort of a dream of ours for a while to get you on this show and it's an honor to have you here. Seriously, I'm really, really pleased.
Hugh Millen (00:02:24): Well, thank you. I'm flattered. You're obviously uneducated about my career because you wouldn't make those statements if you do, what a hack I have been through the bulk of my career but I'll take a nice compliment.
Rob Collie (00:02:38): Yeah, I hear you, so not many people in the world can say that they have competed in anything at the absolute highest levels that the planet has to offer and you have. I love the humility about your career, but one of my favorite sayings, I don't know if you know this, I have repeated a sentence that you said to me years ago. I have repeated it a million times since then to other people.
Hugh Millen (00:03:05): I didn't know that.
Rob Collie (00:03:06): I don't know if it's a regular line for you or if you just ... I suspect it's one of your go to lines, but you said to me one time like, "Hey, you know, I might not have the best NFL career or whatever," but then you turn, you looked at me and said, "But you got to beat out an All American for your chance to suck."
Hugh Millen (00:03:23): Yeah, right. Yeah, you got to beat out an All American in a first round draft pick to get the chance to suck and I've done all three.
Thomas LaRock (00:03:32): That's awesome.
Hugh Millen (00:03:33): Yeah, that's true.
Rob Collie (00:03:34): That's an important ... the reason why I repeat that line to people is because like, I do, I run into people all the time, including myself who are ... People who are executing at whatever it is they do at a relatively high level or sometimes an extremely high level, and you're still going to hit adversity. It's not going to be peaches and cream. So, a lot of people, especially like in our line of work suffer with imposter syndrome. When they hit that adversity, even though that they're actually doing very well, right, they hit something and they hit a failure, they take it very personally and it's like invalidating of their whole narrative, their whole life story. You shouldn't be that way. That's when I tell them the story. It's like, "Look, essentially they have, in our world, they've beaten out the All American or the first round draft pick or whatever and now they've had their chance to suck," right? Okay, fine, but what do we do now, right?
Hugh Millen (00:04:28): Sure. Right.
Rob Collie (00:04:28): You got to have perspective and that balance perspective about your background is something that I have immense respect for.
Hugh Millen (00:04:36): Well, thank you.
Rob Collie (00:04:37): Most people, they tend to err on one side or the other. Most people will either say, I'm the greatest and I got screwed over or something, right? They'll do everything that they can to rationalize their great self narrative or they will positively trash themselves. It's hard to be in the middle. It's hard to have that perspective. It's hard to balance the two and so, this is one of those little nuggets of wisdom that I like to think that I go around harvesting and I've used that line so many times.
Hugh Millen (00:05:08): Good. Good. Thank you.
Rob Collie (00:05:10): I'm enriched.
Hugh Millen (00:05:10): Yeah. Well, it's a little bit of wisdom. I think, I ... early on I had grown up in Seattle, the University of Washington was my favorite football team. They were the local team and they had played in Rose Bowls prior to me playing for them and in my junior year, we started off, we were eight and O. We beat some good teams. Michigan, for example, in the big house. If you're a college football fan, you kind of know that. They were ranked number two in the country. Anyways, we're ranked number one and then about a month later, I had a really bad first half, weather was a part of it but I just totally stunk and I got benched at halftime and I was getting booed in Husky Stadium, and it was so painful that driving home from the stadium, I pulled off into a Safeway parking lot, a grocery store parking lot and both my arms were folded over on my stomach, and I just was kind of like rocking back and forth.
Hugh Millen (00:06:01): The pain was in my gut and at that time, one of the inspirational quotes for me was the Teddy Roosevelt, the Man in the Arena.
Rob Collie (00:06:10): Yeah.
Hugh Millen (00:06:11): I think it would apply to people in tech world and in all works. It's worth a look, if you can Google it. I don't have the script in front of me, I'd butcher it, so I don't even want to try but the essence of it was, there's few people, who are aspiring to do really great things but there are many people who want to be critics and it's really easy to be a critic or unfortunately, the Bible tells us about the seven deadly sins, pride and envy, particularly envy, I think most people, all of us were afflicted by that a little bit. So a lot of times when you're trying to write this killer code and do something, in whatever profession that you're doing, if you're trying to be a high achiever and really soar, and fly with the Eagles, there's somebody who sees you on the ladder above them and that makes them uneasy, and they want to grab your ankles and pull you down to their miserable level. I wish I didn't have to learn that lesson when I was 20. I don't know how it shaped me.
Rob Collie (00:07:13): It's a hard thing at that young age in particular.
Hugh Millen (00:07:16): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:07:16): Like you've had the experience of 80,000 people cheering for you, but you've also had the experience of 80,000 people booing you.
Hugh Millen (00:07:23): Yeah, yeah.
Rob Collie (00:07:24): That is intense.
Hugh Millen (00:07:26): Yeah, it's tough. You got to be mentally strong and I think just through the adversity, I think for me, I walked on, I didn't get a scholarship until I earned it later, I had to go to a junior college, so it was a circuitous route, even to be a college football player, let alone to the NFL and I tell my kids now who are aspiring quarterbacks, I just said, "You know, looking back on it, I never got discouraged." Even through the elements that discouraged, I might say, "Okay, you tell me ..." and I'm not saying straight to the face but the evidence is that maybe I suck now but that's okay. I'm not going to suck tomorrow, metaphorically.
Thomas LaRock (00:08:01): Yeah.
Hugh Millen (00:08:01): I had this vision of, "Okay in 12 months or 18 months or whatever, I'm going to be a different player then and maybe you're right now." I had a coach in my high school, I was all league, led the league and everything, first team all league, kind of honorable mention in all state. So I was a decent high school player, far from any John Elway or aggressively recruited guy, but there was a school, Eastern Washington University, which is Big Sky division two. Not the Washington Huskies or Washington State Cougars that you may know who play in the Pac-12. I'm talking about Eastern Washington. The coach came out, spent the entire day at my high school watching the tape. When I met him after the afternoon, he'd been in there for six hours, he goes well ... he seemed to take glee, looking me right in the eye and say, "You're not the caliber of player we're looking for at Eastern Washington."
Hugh Millen (00:08:49): He seemed to really like relish saying that to a 17 year old and just kind of twisting the knife. I remember just being ... it stung but I just like, "Okay, maybe you're right now, but you won't be." Anyway, I think we all kind of go through some challenges like that, if we're trying to ... I don't want to say cheap greatness but if you're trying to do something that's competitive and a real challenge, and really be rare in the world, I think that you're going to encounter a lot of those type of setbacks.
Rob Collie (00:09:20): The Roosevelt thing, it starts off with, "It's not the critic who counts." It's not often that you get Hugh Millen and Brene Brown bingo, in the same conversation. I mean, that's a big theme of her work and it's something that I'm a big believer in, our whole family is a big believer in, like you're going to have naysayers, like our company's business model for instance, and I won't belabor the point. I've said it so many times on this show, but we're doing things right now that a number of people told us, respective people told us was impossible and we had to ignore that, to go do it but the criticism still weighed. I personally still carried those criticisms like I really ... it hurt in a way that people didn't believe, we've proven them wrong now.
Hugh Millen (00:10:10): Sure. Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:10:10): Okay, I'm not going to look back on this, with a different perspective than I had at the time, but you and I, we didn't cross paths because of the NFL. I didn't even make my flag football team in intramural college. I actually retired from intramural flag football in college, after a pick six.
Hugh Millen (00:10:31): You threw the pick six?
Rob Collie (00:10:32): I caught it.
Hugh Millen (00:10:34): You went out on glory. Okay.
Rob Collie (00:10:35): I caught it and I ran out and I just basically like kept running. It's like, leaving on a high note.
Hugh Millen (00:10:41): You are Bo Jackson and the kingdom, right?
Rob Collie (00:10:43): That's it, right? Up the tunnel and that was it. My teammates were, "You're just going to score pick six and retire?" I'm like, yeah. That's exactly what I'm going to do. Why would I spoil that?
Hugh Millen (00:10:54): That's it. Well, your blessings were in other areas.
Rob Collie (00:10:56): So we've known each other for about 10 years.
Hugh Millen (00:10:58): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:10:59): Another thing that I've always enjoyed about knowing you is that we can take like a year off or even more sometimes without ever talking to one another, and then when we do start talking again, it's like we resume mid sentence.
Hugh Millen (00:11:10): Yeah, good point. Yeah, and that's what happens with friends, right, is if you can do that, no, yeah, we made that connection, talking about data and you have a unique affinity to data and presentation of data and then also football, and you come out professionally from the data world and you have this interest in football. I come at it professionally from football who had an interest in data. So we kind of somehow met in the middle.
Rob Collie (00:11:38): So you know that saying that all rappers want to be athletes and all athletes want to be rappers?
Hugh Millen (00:11:44): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:11:44): I want you to be the beginning of a new trend, where all nerds want to be athletes and all athletes want to be nerds. Can we make that a thing?
Hugh Millen (00:11:53): I'm a self professed nerd and geek. I call myself that all the time on the sports radio that I do. I don't find it disparaging at all. I'm old enough, I can remember a world without Bill Gates. So nerds were thought to be just kind of interested in things that will never ... help the world or themselves and then all of a sudden, all the tech billionaires came around and nerds and geeks, they say, "Hang on a sec. That nerd might own his own submarine in about 10 years."
Rob Collie (00:12:21): With or without missiles.
Hugh Millen (00:12:22): Yeah, right.
Rob Collie (00:12:23): Yeah, nerds are having a little bit of a moment. I'll give you that. I don't really think that the star athlete has really lost too much luster.
Hugh Millen (00:12:32): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:12:32): I think still ... they both retain it. So this is a question I've never actually asked you. When was the first time you discovered your interest in data? What's your data origin story?
Hugh Millen (00:12:44): Well, I think there was a couple of inflection points probably in that regard. When I was going through a contract negotiation, this would have been 1992 and I was collecting data, I was doing some of the legwork for my agent, Marvin Demoff was my agent at the time who had Dan Marino and John Elway, and he had a lot of high profile athletes, far more accomplished than me but at the time, we were trying to extract the highest contract in the history of the Patriots. So we had to kind of compare all the quarterbacks, the starting quarterbacks and this was back in Lotus 1-2-3.
Rob Collie (00:13:21): That's okay. We had Mr. Excel on a few episodes back and even he started in Lotus 1-2-3.
Hugh Millen (00:13:22): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:13:27): It's okay, we're beginning.
Hugh Millen (00:13:28): Right, so it was lotus and ran a couple spreadsheets and a couple rudimentary formulas, and was a friend of mine and he was able to kind of manipulate this data and I kind of slotted myself at about the top of the fourth quadrant of quarterbacks. I mean, I wasn't trying to say, "Hey, look, give me Jim Kelly, Dan Marino money." I was down with the slap ease, but I thought it was pretty cool to be able to that on a home computer, right? I had a home computer, doing other things but I hadn't really got into data. So that would be one area where it kind of planted a seed like, "Hey, you need to acquaint yourself with the powers of a spreadsheet." Well, then once I got into Excel and started to discover its power, it was just so fascinating to me. I would say another point worth mentioning was, I had a job, it was really an avocation, discussing the University of Washington, the Huskies football team on the radio.
Hugh Millen (00:14:25): There was a point where there was some day where, for whatever reason, as I kind of log the plays by hand, each play, of course, would be a record, right? I was logging the formation and the type of play and the defense and I made a comment, I'm going to butcher the exact details but it's pretty close, I'm going to get it pretty close. For whatever reason, I said, "When the Huskies were on the left hash ..." and this is me on the radio, when the Huskies are on the left hash and they threw an in breaking route to the widest receiver and so, there may have been another variable, but let's just say for the discussion, there was at least three variables. I said those three variables had to be precedent. I said, then the Husky quarterback, his name was Cody Pickett, at the time. I said Pickett had some astronomical success rate. He was ... I said something like that. He was nine for 11 for 175 yards and what have you.
Hugh Millen (00:15:24): I said, but on all other passes, he was only 12 for 26 or something for 120. So I was able to, mentally just hit me that when those conditions were present, he have had this success, and then it might have been that day of practice or no later than next day. The quarterback coach from the Huskies, comes walking over to me and says, "Hey, tell me that stat you said on the radio about ..." I recited what ... so he was unaware of it and I had just kind of stumbled upon it by chance and I just realized that there's an interest there and at least some domains about the specificity of the data, that the data, it's laying out there before us and maybe to an observer ... maybe it would be like, staring at a chessboard, where you'd say, "Wait a minute, if you just make one move with your knight and another move with a bishop, you got checkmate." You could stare at that chessboard, and you don't see it.
Hugh Millen (00:16:22): So I think data could be like that, where there's something that's really telling and meaningful to people but unless you have a means of crunching the data and extracting the data, then you might be oblivious to it, like somebody staring at a chessboard unaware of how close you are to success.
Rob Collie (00:16:44): Yeah, there's two things in there that I want to call out. First of all, something that we say all the time in the business world, is that sooner or later, every individual is going to have a collision, a professional collision with the spreadsheet and at least 15 out of 16 people bounce off of that spreadsheet. You get the hell away from that thing but about one out of 16 at most, one out of 16 human beings, when they collide with the spreadsheet, they stick?
Hugh Millen (00:17:17): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:17:17): You never know. We call it the data gene. The data gene is what determines whether you stick or bounce.
Hugh Millen (00:17:22): Really.
Rob Collie (00:17:23): If you have the data gene, you stick. Data gene is rare. It's not super rare but it's 5% or less'ish of the population and it cuts across every single demographic.
Hugh Millen (00:17:35): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:17:35): I love that. I can't believe that I've never asked you when that collision happened for you, and it was in a 1992 contract negotiation. How fascinating.
Hugh Millen (00:17:45): Yeah, right and there's been other things. As I learned it, I had some people that started to rely on me at the station. I'm just like, "Hey, we're running a contest, and we want to have people be able to predict college football games," but they can only do it once per week and they can't use the same team. So now we're getting 10,000 people that are texting in and there's this poor guy that was doing everything manually.
Rob Collie (00:18:14): That sounds like Luke.
Hugh Millen (00:18:17): He was just manually sorting and he was spending six hours a week, I'm not kidding.
Rob Collie (00:18:22): At least.
Hugh Millen (00:18:23): Yeah, right and I just said, I could take an hour and a half and write you an Excel program or Excel worksheet. program.
Rob Collie (00:18:30): Yeah, a program. A program is a good word for it.
Hugh Millen (00:18:32): A workbook, I guess would be the technical because it had several worksheets that all referenced each other.
Rob Collie (00:18:38): Yeah.
Hugh Millen (00:18:38): So there was about 10, 12 worksheets within the workbook. If you want to call it program, fine but I guess that would be the most technical way based on my own knowledge of the vernacular.
Rob Collie (00:18:49): You're correct. Worksheet is the official term. One of the things we always try to highlight on this show is that a spreadsheet itself is an application, we think of Excel as an application but when you create a workbook, a worksheet, whatever, a spreadsheet, you're programming. Even formulas are a form of programming and that thing that you produce, you basically ... you built this guy an app.
Hugh Millen (00:19:12): Yeah, well, whatever we call it, he was grateful to go from four hours, four to five hours a week down to about 10 minutes. They had to load the data. So I had set out a portion of a week worksheet that he could just dump the raw data and then all the other worksheets reference that. Actually, there was another one with golf. I did at least two or three applications for the radio station and I think Steve Balmer at one point even referenced that in one of his discussions. He was saying ... giving two or three examples of how Microsoft products help in all kinds of strange ways. He says, "Hey, this former NFL quarterback is writing spreadsheets to help a radio show execute their radio contests." I don't know, it's here I say I heard that he had said that.
Rob Collie (00:20:02): It sounds consistent with the Balmer I know of.
Hugh Millen (00:20:04): Basically, I've said it many times. I think Excel is the coolest spreadsheet on the planet.
Thomas LaRock (00:20:09): I was going to say a few things. Hugh, wonderful to meet you.
Hugh Millen (00:20:12): Yes, likewise. Thank you.
Thomas LaRock (00:20:13): So glad you and Rob cross paths, so now you and I can cross paths. Although one thing I want to say is, as Patriots fan for many years.
Hugh Millen (00:20:21): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:20:21): People always question that. They're like, "Oh, you just like in this ..." I go, "No, no. No, no." I remember Rod Rust. I remember Hugh Millen.
Hugh Millen (00:20:31): Okay. Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:20:31): When we logged in, you saw I had Tommy Hudson.
Hugh Millen (00:20:33): Yeah. Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:20:34): This is my youth, Okay?
Hugh Millen (00:20:36): Yeah. I got it. Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:20:36): Right?
Hugh Millen (00:20:37): Sure.
Thomas LaRock (00:20:38): So, it's an honor to be able to have this conversation with you.
Hugh Millen (00:20:41): Likewise. Thank you.
Thomas LaRock (00:20:41): Then, I do a little research and I find out you're a Husky and I'm like, "Well, everybody has to go school somewhere."
Hugh Millen (00:20:48): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:20:49): I did, my graduate school was Washington state.
Hugh Millen (00:20:53): Okay, you're a Coug. Okay and where was your undergrad?
Thomas LaRock (00:20:56): Merrimack College, north of Boston.
Hugh Millen (00:20:58): Okay.
Thomas LaRock (00:20:58): When you mentioned Eastern Washington. I'm like, "Oh, yeah, Cheney. I know where that is"
Hugh Millen (00:21:02): Cheney, yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:21:02): No, problem, right?
Hugh Millen (00:21:03): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:21:03): Even having this conversation, I'm kind of getting some nostalgia. I'm like, "Ah, I remember all these places and things, but here's the thing I want to get to, is the stats, the level of let's say data in the NFL at that time because you just said, "Hey, I knew I could do this thing in Lotus 1-2-3 in order to leverage it for a contract negotiation," and I have this picture of you walking up to Billy Sullivan, with a spreadsheet and you show it to him and he's probably looking at it and go, what the hell is this thing?
Hugh Millen (00:21:37): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:21:37): What does it mean? I'm just wondering, so my first question, did you get the contract, and my second question is what was their reaction when you were using data to make the case at that time?
Hugh Millen (00:21:50): I made the notebook and pass it on to the agent, because he was going to be doing the negotiation. So to me, I was obviously acting on my own behalf to try and help me. So, I don't know what their reaction was other than second hand and what my agent said is that we made a reasonable case out of it. So I ended up ... yeah, I get the highest contract in the history of the Patriots franchise and they had been around for 33 years. So I think on some level, we'll never know the variables, you can't isolate the variables. I don't know what contract I would have got without that, but presenting them some dat, and again, it wasn't like I was at the top of the league. I was, as I said, probably at about the 75th percentile, I was trying to clock in. So I was trying to be better. There's 28 teams, I was probably trying to be in the top ... barely the top 20. That's probably what I was trying to do. Yeah, it ended up working.
Thomas LaRock (00:22:48): So I often say this, I don't mean to be disparaging in any way, but I tried to tell people I've been a fan for the Patriots for a long time and when we talk about that era, I remember the season. You guys went six and 10. I call into Ordway Show and I'm like, "Hey, patriots, they could have won 10 games. They should have at least had nine. They should be in the playoffs in Ordway." He was polite, I guess back then but he was like, "No, they're not that good." So the following year, there's a bit of a dip.
Hugh Millen (00:23:18): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:23:19): I think you were hurt a little bit as well and of course, Dick MacPherson. That's always a factor. There's the Dick MacPherson factor, but I tell people, without Hugh there is no Drew. Because that one season you had where there was the glimmer of hope that we had the town and the ability to do something when the Sullivans then had to start thinking about selling and everything new and then Parcells comes in. We hit that low spot with Rod and Dick and Parcells comes in and the first thing we do is get a chance to draft somebody to be a potential to be a top level, somebody who's just going to sell tickets. It was a reboot of an entire franchise after 35 years, and it was a fabulous ride.
Hugh Millen (00:24:03): The 1990 team, that team had gone one and 15 and I was on the Falcons and played the last couple games, so I had some contract offers, I got nine contract offers, but every one of them, other than the Chargers where they said, hey, it's an open competition with three quarterbacks and the Patriots, it was an open competition with two, just me and Tommy Hodson. So they were giving me the best chance but they had been one and 15, the year before and in fact, the NFL Network, they do their top 10 best rivalries, top 10 rookie running backs. They do all these top 10 shows and they did the top 10 worst teams. So obviously, it's naturally the bottom 10 but the top 10 worst teams and the Patriots of 1990 were deemed by the NFL network to be the eighth worst team in the history of football.
Hugh Millen (00:24:51): I mean, like there's like the Canton Bulldogs and all this stuff. I mean, we're talking about 100 years, Bill Belichick had offered me more money to go to the Browns than the Patriots had and he was the head coach of the Browns at the time, but I wasn't given an opportunity to compete for the starting position. So at one point, I was thinking between the Chargers they had, as I said, a three way competition, Patriots two. Dick MacPherson, as you said and guys, he was a legendary college coach at Syracuse, so he was used to recruiting. I was in the College Hall of Fame at some point. So now he's talking to me. He's trying to recruit me to a one and 15 football team from the year before. He knows that I'm considering some other teams, including the chargers, and I remember him saying, "Okay, you tell me why the Chargers are better for you than the Patriots and don't say the beach."
Hugh Millen (00:25:46): He was right, that was my best chance. So for us to go six and 10 they were writing articles. Kevin Maddox for example, you know that name. I mean, he was writing ... That was the most exciting season in Foxborough history, just like all of our games were close. We beat the Bills, they were 11 and one and we lost some other games right down to the last minute. I think we had like four 4th quarter wins out of the six. So it was based on having been won in 15, the six and 10 was good and then the next year, yeah, I hurt myself in the first quarter of the first game. Seventh play of the season. Separated my shoulder. We went two and 14 and then everybody got it out of there. As you said, that was Parcells, he came in and as did Bledsoe and I was out.
Thomas LaRock (00:26:27): So, also, all the things that we shared, not just the Washington History and Patriots but Dick MacPherson. I just laughed. I'm like, "That's right. He played for Dick MacPherson." You mentioned him as a recruiter. Dick MacPherson came to my high school, I was playing a basketball game, he was there to recruit, a visiting player by the name of Mark Chimera and he sat in the bleachers next to my grandfather, who they chatted each other up for the entire game. I just kept looking at the stands like, what are they talking to each other about? Who do they possibly have in common? Yeah, Dick MacPherson in my gym and I always laugh about it to this day and I think he was ... obviously he was still with Syracuse, but he was on his way out the door. He was trying to get mark before he went to Boston College, but he was on his way out the door heading to the Patriots, I think already.
Hugh Millen (00:27:16): Well, I can say with sincerity, if you ask me, okay, the most beloved person I've ever known and it's okay, well, what does beloved mean. The highest number of people that could respond, that they view Dick MacPherson or anybody so affectionately, that they could describe it as they ... without knowing the person, they feel like they love the person, find some reasonable definition of beloved and it's quite possible that he's the most beloved person I've ever known. Now, Don James for whom I played in University of Washington, he's in the Hall of Fame as well and he was immensely respected, but he wasn't beloved like Dick MacPherson. I have great affection for the man, Dick MacPherson. I can't imagine anybody who was ever sideways with Dick MacPherson. Not much to do with data guys, but that's a trip down memory lane. Yeah,
Rob Collie (00:28:07): I did want to get this in relatively early. If people who are listening, they're like, "Ah, are they turning our data podcast into sports talk retrospective?" No, it's certainly spicy, right? It's very interesting and we're going to season the conversation appropriately. One of the things that I want to bring front and center very early is, why are we so fascinated, why does sports analysis ... when it comes to data, why does sports come up so often and why is it relevant to talk about sports data and sports analytics, to a business person? Not everyone that listens to this podcast is a sports fan, but everyone listens to this podcast as a data fan in some form or another, right, in a professional sense. Why is it and I believe that it is, I believe that talking about sports analytics is actually an incredibly powerful sort of learning tool. Even if you're never going to perform sports analytics, if all you're going to be doing is business analytics.
Rob Collie (00:29:10): First of all, the data is public. The data is public. The data is shared. There aren't many data sources that you can crunch on, that are both interesting and have relatively high stakes. There's a lot of money on the line, at least for the organizations involved. There's a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure to succeed, and data is public. Every last play of an NFL game or any football game for that matter is now recorded from 18 different camera angles is dissected every which way, like there's nothing ... on the surface anyway, there's nothing hidden. All the data is out there. It's like a freaking public domain. We don't have too many things like that. The number of COVID dashboards that have sprung up in our community over the last year. I mean, it's like there's almost more COVID dashboards than there are COVID cases.
Rob Collie (00:30:02): I think it's the same thing, right? It's a public dataset, relatively public anyway, with consequences. If you've ever been interested in the COVID dashboard, you might as well be interested in the sports dashboard, even if you're not into sports, like I'm not into catching viruses either.
Hugh Millen (00:30:16): Yeah. Imagine a sports world without statistics. Sports world without statistics, you never knew that Joe DiMaggio had a 56 game hitting spree. How do you even compare the completion percentage of the passer rating? What's Michael Jordan's scoring average? It's almost like you wouldn't even enjoy the entire world of sports. You referenced music earlier. Okay, I don't think you need statistics to enjoy music. If you like The Rolling Stones, now you might tabulate how many albums they have, or the Beatles or something or songs that made number one, but I don't think that that's central to the enjoyment of it, but I almost feel like, if you didn't have statistics, it would be far less interesting if you weren't aware of how the teams and how the players are doing and to that end, after an NFL game, for example, they have what's called an NFL game summary. They have very capable statisticians that are logging these plays.
Hugh Millen (00:31:19): Obviously, there's an application there that's sorting out the statistics, within 12 minutes of the game being over, they have a 17 page game summary of all statistics.
Rob Collie (00:31:32): Yeah. It's crazy.
Hugh Millen (00:31:33): Almost an on ... play by summary there, but of the 17 pages on average, there's 12 or 13 of them are stats. So yeah, you're right, it's difficult to conceive of sports without statistics.
Rob Collie (00:31:47): Well, when you think about it, and I only think about it now because of what you said, even who wins is a question of statistics. It's a number on a scoreboard.
Hugh Millen (00:31:57): Right.
Rob Collie (00:31:57): It determines who wins, right? Someone, somewhere decided that a field goal is worth three points and touchdowns is worth six and all of this, right? Those are coefficients. It's a it's a weighted average of your performance, right? If we decided that field goals were worth five, it changes the whole game.
Hugh Millen (00:32:12): Yeah, yeah. Excellent point. I just think that being able to comment for me to comment on the radio, to find reflection, for example, we're out here in Seattle where Russell Wilson is an all pro level quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. Most people think he's bound for the Hall of Fame. He had a really tough year in the second half of the year. So just yesterday, I was on the radio, so the end game is ... and this is kind of typical how I use data. I say, okay, I start with a question that can be asked in plain English, without any statistic. I want to know where the Seattle Seahawks is more aggressive in terms of their propensity to throw the football, were they more aggressive in the first half of the season, versus the second half of the season. Okay now, how do I determine a reasonable way to measure that?
Hugh Millen (00:33:07): Well, it's easy to just take the entire data of all plays and say, "Okay, this is the run percentages. This is their past percentage, right?" Because every play is either a run or a pass so we have that aspect, but a lot of times teams when they're ahead, the better teams, they're trying to kill the clock, they're more likely to run or teams at the end of the second quarter, if you happen to have a drive at the end of the second quarter, you might have nine straight pass plays. Well, that can skew things. So there's these elements, so it was pretty crude but what I said was okay, I'm going to go the first and third quarters, because that eliminates the second and fourth quarter, the second quarter can have those two minutes situations that I described. Fourth quarter, if you're behind, you're going to throw it all the time, if you're ahead, you're far more likely to run.
Hugh Millen (00:33:53): So I said, first and third quarter. Now, I also wanted to eliminate third down because third down is a down that, if it's third and long, you're more likely to throw it. If it's third in the yard, you're more likely to run it, whatever. So I want to eliminate third down. So really the neutral down, so I said let's go first and second down and then, let's go yards to gain between two and 10 because if I do that, I'm picking up all first and 10s and I'm picking up all second and two to 10s, so I'm eliminating second and 15s when you had a sack or penalty or something. So, it was a roughly crude way to do it. Well, as it turns out the Seahawks in the first half of the season, they were second in the NFL in terms of their pass propensity, pass-run ratio, Second only to the Kansas City Chiefs who were the world champions at the time. They're not the world champions now, but you get my point.
Rob Collie (00:34:45): Yup.
Hugh Millen (00:34:47): In the second half of this season, they fell to 18. So that's something that's meaningful enough that I can take that to the radio. It's just simple crunches. It's under three, four minutes. Three minutes, I can ascertain all this and then I can decide is that something that's compelling enough to present to a radio audience? Well, in my estimation, it was.
Rob Collie (00:35:10): It sounds good to me. Yeah.
Hugh Millen (00:35:11): Yeah, if you lay out a reasonable standard that would define what you're searching for, because when numbers interact, you get these rankings, right? You're going to be second place and 18th. Had it been ninth and 11th, I wouldn't have taken it to the radio but the numbers ... so you've got to think through, okay, feed these numbers that are binary in the equation and then try and glean some data that's meaningful.
Rob Collie (00:35:36): So if you're listening, and you're not into football, let me kind of break that down for you a little bit. You just heard a human being who used to get paid millions of dollars to play football, go through an analysis where he compensates for and filters out all the external variables that would confuse the hypothesis, right, and dial out the situations. So basically, like we could sort of talk about ... you got down to the situations, you filter down to the situations where the Seahawks faced neutral situations. Situations where the external variables don't indicate strongly that they should do one thing or another.
Hugh Millen (00:36:20): Correct.
Rob Collie (00:36:21): In order to find out what they did when they sort of had a choice.
Hugh Millen (00:36:24): Correct. That's exactly right. That's better stated, yup.
Rob Collie (00:36:27): We call this ... for lack of a better term, we call this fair metrics at our company. The top level metrics for a business or a sports team, they sort of like appear at the bottom line, are so conflated, they're so confused with so many other external variables, that you can't use them to make decisions most of the time, right? You've got to do something like what you just did. You've got to develop the more fair metric, right? There are versions of this running around, I'm sure but we could try to trademark one now and call it like neutral situation tendency rank, dropped from second to 18th in terms of their decision making.
Hugh Millen (00:37:04): Yeah. Now, if I'm going to confess and this is something that I'm assuming, if you're listening to this podcast, you have a keen interest in data. Now, I'm going to have to bring up a little topic that all of us who work in data have to confront, which is I also ran the data with all the variables I just described, and I ran it when the score was plus or minus eight points, meaning within a touchdown either way, because of touchdown two point conversion.
Rob Collie (00:37:35): Yup.
Hugh Millen (00:37:36): The data there was the Seahawks were number one in the first half of the season, but only fell to like, I don't have it in front of me, it's like number seven. So now, it doesn't sound like as drastic of a drop. Yeah, there's almost a moral dilemma to me because we all know that we can find ... if we're looking for a conclusion, we can scour the data enough and we can lock onto the one and say, "Aha, that's the one," now it's factual.
Rob Collie (00:38:11): It is.
Hugh Millen (00:38:12): I would never use false information, but is there an obligation we have morally to disclose the fact that hey ... and in fact, I will do that. I will say ... from time to time, I will just say, "Look, I thought I had this hypothesis, I ran the numbers and actually didn't pair out," and I will confess to that but there's other times where I kind of like, "Hey, I run the numbers. Yeah, it didn't really support my ..." and I'll rerun them in some other way that changes it. "Okay, I like that number. That's going to sound better on the radio." I would imagine that Rob, certainly, you've encountered that, where you ran the number, it didn't come up to the results you wanted and let me try and run it a different way, right?
Rob Collie (00:38:59): Back in the day, we've even been fired for giving the conclusion to the client that they didn't want. It's like, we don't really have those kinds of clients anymore but nearly going, we did have a couple it, apparently hired us just to help support their original hypothesis but never told us that.
Hugh Millen (00:39:17): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:39:17): Let's keep going on that exact example you talked about, I think this is both very interesting and also it reflects the integrity and the curiosity that I think you really need to bring to anything like this. So when you become more specific, and you're dialing out ... so what you're saying is like, in one analysis, I removed ... I controlled for essentially, some number of external factors and in that analysis, they dropped from second to 18th. Okay, but then I added an additional external factor that I controlled for, so I became even more specific and the Delta isn't as large in terms of their ranking drop there. Now, of course, at the same time, you've also reduced your sample size by filtering down further, you're now looking get fewer and fewer plays and I think it's in the book Fooled By Randomness that talks about this college professor in statistics, who starts every semester by challenging the entire class to like a duel.
Rob Collie (00:40:13): It says okay, "We're going to randomly ..." and I won't know which 50% is which 50%, "We're going to randomly assign half the class to flip a coin 30 times and record the results factually," and the other half of the class gets to or has to fake it. They've got to write down 30 coin flips, as if it was fake.
Hugh Millen (00:40:39): I know how you differentiate. Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:40:41): Yeah and the class knows, obviously, who was who but he doesn't. Then, they all turn them in and he just very confidently goes through them, and puts them in the, "You were real, you were fake. You were real, you were fake," and just nails it overwhelmingly. The reason he can do this is because in reality, there's always going to be some really improbable sequence of consecutive heads or tails. It's going to happen, you're going to get five in a row, and a human being would never believe that, right? So when they're doing it, if they've got three or four in a row, if they've got even three in a row, they pretty quickly flip back to the other one, right?
Hugh Millen (00:41:19): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:41:20): The point there is, is that as you get to smaller and smaller sample sizes, there's going to be something compelling. That jumps off the page or potentially anyway. You can't trust the small numbers, right? So, it might be that your theory ... I agree that like falling from second to 18th, that's a compelling narrative. First to seventh isn't so much, but at the same time ...
Hugh Millen (00:41:45): If there's 32 teams, yeah.
Rob Collie (00:41:47): It might be, that's a good point, right? People don't really necessarily know how many teams are there.
Hugh Millen (00:41:49): Yeah, if there's like 500 teams then.
Rob Collie (00:41:52): Yeah, it's definitely not. It might be that what you're discovering was still holding up really well. It's just that with a smaller sample size, you got the Fooled by Randomness thing sort of compensated the other way. Furthermore, there might be a huge difference between first and seventh. What if teams seven through 32 are all clustered like together in one clump of tendencies?
Hugh Millen (00:42:15): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:42:15): And there's a really sharp slope from one to six. It could still be a huge difference, right?
Hugh Millen (00:42:22): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:42:23): Look at this, even this one thing you're talking about is so fascinating, like you can just like really just dive into it.
Hugh Millen (00:42:31): Yeah, but then you got to be knowledgeable of your audience.
Rob Collie (00:42:34): Yeah.
Hugh Millen (00:42:35): And know that they can handle some statistics but you can't get too dry. It's got to be something that, for me to start citing statistics, it's got to be comprehensible and it's got to tell a real meaningful story. I've got to feel like I've accomplished something by presenting data.
Rob Collie (00:42:57): Yeah.
Hugh Millen (00:42:58): It's usually you're buttressing your argument, you mentioned that you ... the ever present availability of the statistics, if you take some quarterback, let's say whether it's Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Allen or Deshaun, Watson and I've just mentioned a guy who's close to average, and then two guys that are pretty damn good but not at the almost at the top of the NFL. I'm pretty confident that if I wanted to pick one of those quarterbacks, and I really wanted to steer it towards a narrative, I could come up with enough data and really compelling sounding data that would make those guys either ... for example, Josh Allen, quarterback of the Bills, I could probably come up and say, make an argument, he's as good as anybody in the NFL or I could probably find data, if I wanted to push the narrative that he's just average. He's dead middle. I could probably find data. Now, most people, would just say, "Hey, look, I've watched the guy play."
Hugh Millen (00:44:02): "He's ... for this most recent years, he's in the top five," but you'd be surprised how compelling you could present a statistical encapsulation of guys and so data can be really powerful.
Rob Collie (00:44:16): Yeah, I think NFL GMs are wise to that today, whether they're data savvy or not, they know that the data can be used to paint one story or the other, so they know that it's sort discounted if it comes from a slanted source, a potentially biased source, but in 1992 they were defenseless.
Hugh Millen (00:44:33): Yes. It's like, what is this? What?
Rob Collie (00:44:40): Give them the money.
Hugh Millen (00:44:42): You know what's funny on the front page ... so the team never supposed to know that I did it, right? I took some clip art. Remember the clip art? Remember clip art? Remember now, this is 1992. So we got some clip art of like a referee holding his hands up like touchdown, like some subliminal message like, "Hey, as a sign of humility, you're going to get more touchdowns," which the statistics actually didn't bear that out but maybe the clip art would, right? I remember the agent kind of like ... he goes, "I don't know about the clip art," and he goes, "Ah, we'll just leave it in." It's like he had bigger fish to fry than me and he had bigger fish to fry than trying to take out the referee in his raised arms but 27 years old and you're new to computers or ... computer is in evolving stage, you do silly stuff like that, right?
Rob Collie (00:45:26): They were defenseless. We're known some circles as the stick figure people of data. We use a lot of clip art. Tasteful, tasteful clip art
Hugh Millen (00:45:36): Yeah, right. Good action. Well, yeah, we've come a long way.
Rob Collie (00:45:42): When you're talking about, you've got to be careful to still be compelling to your audience, there's a parallel there in the business world as well. Think of it this way, you're one of the 5% of sports people, fans or industry figures, whatever 5% of people who are interested in sports, who have the data gene. So when you get on the air, you've got to be cognizant of that 95% that only have a certain amount of attention span for it, they're not as interested in it as you are and you can't make the mistake of thinking that everyone else is as interested in this stuff and is willing to kind of like Rainman it with you.
Hugh Millen (00:46:20): Sure.
Rob Collie (00:46:20): That you will and that's true in business. The 5%, people who are running around in business with the data gene, aren't typically running things. So not only are they outnumbered like 19 to one in their organizations, the people who outrank them tend to be in the 19. Even more than statistics would indicate.
Hugh Millen (00:46:42): Sure.
Rob Collie (00:46:43): So, we have to be relevant. We have to be digestible. We have to be actionable. All those things you talk about, that you go into when you're performing your analysis before you slide up to the microphone, that is 100% true in the business world as well and like, there are many, many, many stories of heck, even my own personal experience with this stuff, where I kind of overestimated how interested the audience was, and ended up kind of alienating them accidentally in the process, and therefore losing our opportunity to find something meaningful because like, they kind of became less interested in data as a result of me being a little tone deaf. I've learned a lot over the years, I don't think I'm nearly as likely to repeat that mistake, as I was like in the earliest days of this, but it's a road all of us have to walk.
Hugh Millen (00:47:35): So what we don't want to do is try and impress the audience, by the fact, "Hey, look, I know how to manipulate data and I can write a spreadsheet with formulas that are three lines long." Well, we want to say what's the end game? The end game is the data should be illuminating and it should be like, the numbers supporting an argument that you can speak with words. Does that make sense? It's like, think of the SAT. You've got the verbal portion and the math portion, right? So in that analogy, we're making arguments that can be structured merely in words and then we bring in the math, and we try and make it as simple as possible to then augment the argument that we're making with the words only. Does that make sense? So, I could talk real fast on the radio and I could start seeing data and use some of the vernacular within Excel and confuse the hell out of people, right?
Hugh Millen (00:48:37): Some people say, "Oh, boy, he sounds really smart. He lost me." That's not the end game. I am willing to have people say that I'm hard to understand in terms of the schemes that I'm presenting but I try all the time to really dumb it down. For example, in football, there's a defense called cover three. It's a three deep zone, that may or may not mean much to you. Then, what I'll do is say, think of it like this, think if you got four defensive lineman and rushing the quarterback. Okay, now we're down to seven guys. Now, think of like a baseball outfield, you've got the infielders, you got the third baseman, the shortstop, the second baseman the first baseman, because I know people in their minds eye. If they're listening to sports radio, they can do that. You can imagine okay, you're hovering over home plate and you're looking out at the baseball defense and then you've got the left field or the center field and right field.
Hugh Millen (00:49:31): I said, a 3D zone defense is really similar to that. You got four guys underneath. They're like your infielder, they're the guys closest to the line scrimmage and then the three guys that are in the deep layer, they're like the outfield. Where's the vulnerability in baseball? Where do you get the big hits? Well, you hit him in the gap between the left fielder and the centerfielder and we have past routes that can kind of hit that area. We call them skinny post and deep in routes. Then there's also, you can hit it double down the line, okay, to the outside of the outfielders. We call those corner routes and comebacks and what have and those are the sidelines. So I'll take the time to stop and I'll describe something I'd figure that most people don't know about.
Rob Collie (00:50:13): I love that.
Hugh Millen (00:50:14): I'll try and describe it in a way where it's a cover too. Imagine if you were a soccer goalie, you're going to do what? You're going to just stand in the middle of the goalpost, right? Now imagine just for a second that the rules of soccer allowed us to have two goalies? Let's say Thomas, you and I are allowed to be the goalies. All right.
Rob Collie (00:50:35): Can I jump in for a moment?
Hugh Millen (00:50:36): Yeah, please.
Rob Collie (00:50:37): If I come up on a soccer goal, I'm supposed to score and I see Hugh Millen and Tom standing there, I'm going to kick it at Tom every time.
Hugh Millen (00:50:43): Yeah, go for Tom. Yeah, go for Tom. What's up with that Tom? You didn't deserve that. Okay, I'll say imagine in soccer, if they said for, let's say half of a game, that they're going to allow two goalies. Well, how would you and, Tom would stand. Well, logic would dictate that we'd stand in a way, we kind of dissect each half, right? So that if Rob had some killer thunder foot shot, right down the middle, right between us, he could beat us that way, or a killer thunder foot shot right next to the goal post. That's how we're going to space ourselves so that's where our vulnerability is going to be. Well, that's like a cover two defense. You got a safety on each half of the field and there is a vulnerability right down the middle and there's a vulnerability all the way deep on the sidelines.
Hugh Millen (00:51:34): So, I'll constantly try and think of ways to describe things and then, use the data with ... in my mind, a lot of discernment whether it's comprehensible because I also have to think of this, I'm talking to people who are driving to their meeting or driving home and they're thinking about their day. They're not sitting in earnest, listening at the desk with nothing else going on, perhaps. So I got to take all of that into account, but getting back to the data portion of it, there's kind of a barometer that I run through on whether I'm going to present the data. Is it comprehensible and does it fulfill some objective of I'm trying to get from point A to point B. I'm trying to be persuasive. Usually, I'm trying to be persuasive. I'm giving you my take, and I'm trying to get you to agree with my take and I'm trying to give a strong take. So, if I'm introducing data, it's in an effort to have a stronger take, it's really what it is
Rob Collie (00:52:35): That thing were used to sort of dumb down, what cover three is.
Hugh Millen (00:52:39): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:52:40): I think that's it's just like, "Ah, that's doing God's work, in my opinion." Dumbing things down and getting through all the jargon is so valuable in any domain. I was just sitting here, I was listening to you, going like, "Oh my God, we should do a podcast called like football dumb down" or something like that.
Hugh Millen (00:52:59): Yeah, yeah.
Rob Collie (00:53:00): If you heard the story, it's actually an interview, where he's speaking at a dinner or something. Brett Favre talk about the Nickel Defense with Holmgren
Hugh Millen (00:53:08): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:53:09): Have you heard that?
Hugh Millen (00:53:10): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:53:10): He, Brett Favre was like three years into his NFL career and didn't know what a nickel defense was. I mean, it doesn't matter whether you know what a nickel defense is or not, it doesn't matter. Brett Favre didn't know, right? When he finally got, what was it like Ty Detmer to explain it to him.
Hugh Millen (00:53:28): Yeah. Yeah, you got it.
Rob Collie (00:53:29): Ty Detmer said the nickel defense is when like they take out a linebacker and put in another defensive back. Favre goes, "That's it? Who gives a shit?"
Hugh Millen (00:53:38): Yeah, that's it. You got it exactly right. Yeah, so he make ... so they set the standards for DBs, you bring in one more guy defensive back that is and it makes the fifth, hence nickel, five, right?
Rob Collie (00:53:51): It's like the old Chris Rock joke when he's saying like, "You can't even tell your kids anymore, not to smoke crack because the mayor of DC has smoked crack." He's like, "You can't smoke crack. What do you want to be when you grew up?" I could be mayor. How do you expect to succeed in football if you don't know the difference between a nickel defense and a standard defense? Well, I could be Brett Favre.
Hugh Millen (00:54:17): Yeah. Well, Favre was an outlier in that regard, right? Let's underscore that point. He had so much talent that they could have put 15 guys out there and he still would have found a way to figure it out, that's a good option.
Rob Collie (00:54:37): It's so awesome. Well, here's the thing, NFL, whether you're interested in it or not, it is a multi, multi, multi billion dollar industry. It's huge money. I think I'd rather live in a world where the NFL was less important. Even though I love the NFL, I love football and everything. I think I'd prefer a world whose priorities were a little bit more aligned with overall human thriving.
Hugh Millen (00:55:03): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:55:03): I don't get to decide. So in the meantime, it is huge business. You can't really even think of a place where better decision making in terms of like team construction or team strategy, you can't really think of a place where there's more money at stake for success. It's not just for our entertainment, successful teams are really good business.
Hugh Millen (00:55:27): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:55:28): This is something you and I have been ... you've been fascinated by this longer than I have, but that same industry that we just talked about that has tremendous resources and everything in the world possibly at stake, we just watched Tom Brady at age of like, is he like 60 yet. We just watched him win yet another Super Bowl with yet another team.
Thomas LaRock (00:55:47): He is 43.
Rob Collie (00:55:48): He's 43. Okay. I was just rounding him up to 60, and we're like one Drew Bledsoe injury away from having potentially never even known that he existed.
Hugh Millen (00:56:01): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:56:01): This really highlights, despite all of the resources, despite the rise of analytics, and its popularity and how front and center it is now, I still don't think they've even begun to figure it out.
Hugh Millen (00:56:13): No, they haven't, and that's borne out by how much they fail in assessing quarterbacks. As you mentioned, Brady, we all know he was a sixth round pick, 199th overall pick in the draft. So everybody failed on him, including the Patriots because if they had any idea how good he was, they certainly wouldn't have waited to the sixth round, and that's a part of where I'm fascinated, and Rob, where you and I have been talking and I've had to put this project on hiatus, because I've been coaching my kids, but my youngest is now a senior in high school. So I'm going to divert my attention to a project that you and I have been discussing for a long time, like the challenge, "Hey, is there a way to scout either college quarterbacks or even NFL quarterbacks, possibly high school quarterbacks?
Hugh Millen (00:56:58): Is there a way to crunch enough data that we can have any kind of predictive value as to their success," because if that can happen, then you can literally write your own check because as you mentioned, it's such a billion dollar industry and quarterback is the hub of the wheel for any football team. We'll see how that plays out. I did want to respond to what you said about football and the value that it has, and I agree with everything you said, but the way I kind of view it is this and my favorite movie of all time is, "It's A Wonderful Life."
Rob Collie (00:57:34): I was going to guess Pulp Fiction, but very close.
Hugh Millen (00:57:37): Not close and there's so many great scenes and themes in that. Remember, George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart's character. There's a point where he's complaining to his father and I'm going to butcher this but hopefully I get enough of the details, right? His father runs a mom and pop hardware store at some point, George Bailey sitting down at the dining room table, and he's saying, "Hey, I want to do big things. I want to go build skyscrapers. I want to travel the world, what have you. I don't want to sit back in little old Beaver Falls, this little town and see if we can make an extra two cents on a length of pipe," I think is one of the lines, right? Just the routine mundane aspects of running a hardware store. So, his father just kind of very poignantly just says, "All the people here, they do the living and dying in this community and is it too much to ask that they could have their own fireplace and their own roof as they go about their mundane lives?"
Hugh Millen (00:58:31): I put myself in that, by the way. Most of us aren't going to make a huge impact in the world and you know, how I can prove that, tell me the first names of your eight great grandparents?
Rob Collie (00:58:45): Yeah, no chance. Hold on. Tom might have it.
Thomas LaRock (00:58:49): I did a lot of genealogy. You had me stumped now, but I'll tell you what, you gave me 10 or 15 minutes?
Hugh Millen (00:58:56): Did you get it?
Thomas LaRock (00:58:56): I think I could?
Hugh Millen (00:58:57): Well, then you're in the minority?
Thomas LaRock (00:58:58): Yeah, only because I spent a lot of time on genealogy, a lot of that.
Hugh Millen (00:59:01): Okay. So even if you're one of the few that could hit your eight great grandparents, okay, now tell me your 16 great, great grandparents. My point is just a couple generations down the line, your descendants aren't even going to know your name. That's right, for over 99% ... They're not even going to know your name and guess what you might leave pictures to them, and they're going to throw them out, because they're going to look at your picture and they're not going to know who you are and even if you wrote, "Hey, Rob 2017," that's not going to mean anything and your descendants are going to throw your photos out and they're not going to remember your name, and that's true for well over 99% of us. We're just going to live in and breathe and die and not make an impact. Was it too much to ask that people could be excited about a Sunday afternoon game, once a week?
Rob Collie (00:59:53): Yeah.
Hugh Millen (00:59:54): So that entertainment, right, wrong or indifferent, whether or not the NFL has captivated America, the fact is, depending on how you want to find it, for a substantial percentage of people it does and it's something that as they're going to work, whether it's a white collar job or a blue collar job, they're looking forward to Sunday at 1:00 and for those people, and not everybody, there's a good portion of the population that couldn't care less but ... and maybe have other interests. Maybe they can't wait for the opera and if they can't wait for the opera, God bless them and then I hope the opera fulfills, but there's got to be something, why do we have taxes for parks? We can do something other with that money but we should be able to go to the park and throw a Frisbee and let our kid slide down a slide, right?
Hugh Millen (01:00:38): I mean, a park should be nearby and we're going to live and die and breathe and have our great grandkids forget our first name at least we could have a park to go to and have the Steelers to root for on Sunday.
Rob Collie (01:00:53): I mean, count me amongst the people, that an NFL red zone seven hours of commercial free football coverage, the countdown music. I actually am like, viscerally excited, watching that thing count down like the last five or six seconds before it kicks off.
Hugh Millen (01:01:09): Got it. Bless you. Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:01:10): I mean, it's like Christmas morning, in a way. I'm in.
Hugh Millen (01:01:14): Well, I saw this newscast, there's some lobster fest in Marysville or something, whatever. Slow summer day, so they actually had a camera out there, and this old gal, she must have been in her 90s. She got this big smile, they asked him how the lobster is. She goes ... they're always talking about how food that's good for your body, what's the nutrients, what's good for your body? She goes, "Sometimes you just have to have food for your soul and lobster is my soul food." I thought, "Wow, that's just great wisdom." So you should have a soul activity. Hey, you look forward to that. It's good for your soul. It makes you feel like you're living a more honest, I won't say energized or fulfilled or whatever, but it's a more interesting life. It's a more appealing life because you have that. So if that's football or whatever it is for you, painting, piano. I just think that there's endeavors like that. Most professions aren't North Korea nuclear politics.
Rob Collie (01:02:14): That's true. That's true.
Hugh Millen (01:02:16): Or most diversions, I should say. The people that are providing that for us. Maddie Damon, when he makes a movie. Thomas, right? People in Boston call him Maddie, right? Is he changing the world? Now, his great grandkids may remember his first name.
Rob Collie (01:02:30): Yeah. He's the one.
Hugh Millen (01:02:31): He's the one.
Rob Collie (01:02:32): Generations later everyone claims to be related to him, whether they were or not.
Hugh Millen (01:02:36): Right.
Rob Collie (01:02:36): So I have a personal story that underlines in business, data is used to test or displace hunches. Decisions that have been made because of historical tradition and even those sports, at the highest levels have access to everything. They're still I think, heavily, heavily, heavily influenced, especially football. Especially American football is heavily influenced by traditional thinking, gut instinct. So I have a cousin who, unlike me, is incredibly athletic. He can stand with his weight evenly placed on both feet, with his chest facing me and throw a football farther than I can with a running start, turning sideways. Yet, whenever we talk, he'll constantly like ... he's so humble about all of this, right? He's like, "No, no, no. You're like, almost as good at all of these things as I am and I am not." He has access to all of the same information I have and he knows better.
Rob Collie (01:03:39): He knows that we're not really the same species, but he's still really humble about it. He's always like that. Then one day, I asked him because he'd been a walk on receiver for some Urban Meyer's teams at Florida, and I asked one day. I'm like, "Hey, what is it that really separates you, Brandon, who was sixth string, seventh string, never really saw the field, from someone like Riley Cooper, who was out there as a starter?" I was expecting to get some sort of like, reasonable answer about like, "Well, he's just a hair quicker on a turn or he's a hair quicker in a decision that he has to make," or something like that, right? I was literally looking for that differentiator and he said, the only difference between me and someone like Riley Cooper is opportunity. That's it. It was such a surprise to hear this answer from him because again, he's so humble about this all the time, right?
Rob Collie (01:04:30): So it really stood out at me. Riley Cooper was a highly touted recruit. The coaching staff was invested. They felt pot committed and you see this everywhere. This is why Brady can sit the bench behind Bledsoe. An ex NFL player recently ... I very rarely see these sorts of things but this one happened to come by, a tweet from Martellus Bennett. He went on this actual like series, it was a thread of tweets. One of them was like, "You know those coaches that you admire, half of them are idiots."
Hugh Millen (01:05:02): Yeah. That's true.
Rob Collie (01:05:05): You got all this analytics and all this horsepower and all this incentive on one hand. All this pressure to break these bad habits and yet at the center of everything, are these human beings with these bad habits, who are in charge? I still think that some of the biggest mysteries ... and this is just fascinating, right? Some of the big Just mysteries about talent evaluation or about strategy or whatever, have yet to actually happen. Some of these biggest revolutions in it have yet to happen, because it's still ... Again, it's that human element, right?
Hugh Millen (01:05:40): Yeah. Well, I think that the example you cite, you could also talk about Kurt Warner, who was the fourth quarterback in the Packers training camp, where they had Brett Favre as we aforementioned. Mark Brunell was the second. You have Ty Detmer was the third and Kurt Warner. Think about Ted Bevvy and Holmgren this is a common story. They're at a scrimmage and Kurt Warner, he had been a box boy at a supermarket. His crew is floundering while he gets in this camp, there's a scrimmage. At the end of the scrimmage, they're playing another team in a scrimmage, not a preseason game but a scrimmage and said, "All right, Kurt, your turn to get the reps," and he turned it down. He said, "I'm not ready." Holmgren is like, "You don't understand this. You got to get in there, and you're going to get four or five plays here. This is ..." and he didn't go in and of course, he got cut and now, he's in the Hall of Fame
Rob Collie (01:06:34): In a subsequent year when Trent Green got hurt in the preseason. Dick Vermeil, the coach is on TV crying about their season being ruined, at the beginning of the year before it even gets started. He's like so disappointed for his team and all of that.
Hugh Millen (01:06:51): You could argue that he was crying because he felt bad for Trent Green
Rob Collie (01:06:55): For Trent Green. Okay. All right.
Hugh Millen (01:06:57): Because he's a crier.
Thomas LaRock (01:06:58): That's why he was crying.
Rob Collie (01:06:58): Come on, Hugh. Don't let the facts get in the way of the story. Just to bring that story home for people who aren't football fans, right? That happened, and the aforementioned Kurt Warner, they have to turn to Kurt, the unknown Kurt. They've got to settle for the unknown Kurt Warner and they go on, like a historic tear and win the Super Bowl.
Hugh Millen (01:07:17): Yeah, that very year. Yeah. I mean, it's ... if there's ever two guys worthy of making a movie that had played in the NFL, one would be Pat Tillman, who was an Arizona Cardinals safety and he chose to go into the Special Forces and he was killed, walked away from $35 million to go be Army Ranger or whatever he was.
Rob Collie (01:07:36): I know, just amazing.
Hugh Millen (01:07:37): Right, and then the other would be Kurt Warner, because it's the most extraordinary rags to riches story of all time, even for me, I get nightmares about once every two months. I played 11 years and my last conversation I had, Jim Fassel was the head coach of the Giants and he called me and he was on his cell phone. He's driving. He had been the quarterback coach and office coordinator at the Denver Broncos when I had been with Denver. So he knew me and he says, "Hey, you want to come out and be Kerry Collins' back up?" I was like, "I'm tired of bouncing around or whatever." So, in a technical sense, I said no, the last conversation I had, I said no. Now, I'm haunted. I wish I would have played a few more years. Like I said, every couple months, I have a dream that I ... I had this opportunity to get 12 or 13 or 14, which if I had to live my career again, I would do that because I got the rest of my life to not play football, right?
Hugh Millen (01:08:30): So I'm always like, I could have had 14 years but I also look back and I piecemeal my career through and I like wait a minute, my career might have only lasted three years because if I didn't do this at that time, I would have been out and then there's another point a year or two almost every single year, my career is bouncing on the blade of the knife, so I guess the perspective is that, I should be grateful for what I have and I am. It's human nature, right? I always say this, Unless you were the single most privileged person in the world which to me would be like the son of some oil Sheik and his dad is worth 60 billion and he's got 120 foot boats and Bentley cars and helicopters and-
Rob Collie (01:09:18): 747s with pools in them.
Hugh Millen (01:09:20): Yeah, yeah, exactly. If you somehow, somebody, you were tasked to say, "Find me the most privileged person in the entire world out of eight billion population," or you're the single most oppressed person. Think of like the most oppressed ... I don't know, if he's in a North Korea prison camp. Maybe it's some kid in India living in a landfill. Those are the two extremes. Everybody else is in the middle so that you can either look ahead of you and say, "Man, why can't I be like him," or you can look below you and be grateful that you have it better than them. It's all just, what group of people do you want to look at? So there's only two unique people in that discussion and we ain't one of them.
Thomas LaRock (01:10:05): Briefly that I was going to mention ... I don't know why, but earlier today I was thinking to myself, about how NFL drafts, everybody gets it wrong, right? So you would think in the first round 32 teams pick, that's their number one choice. That should be the best player in the team in the next year or two. They should be all pros. How many of those first rounders become all pros? They're just so wrong about so many people. You guys, you want to talk about predicting quarterback and I started thinking about it, and you touched upon this right? So why do we have Tom Brady because of one incidence, right? Mo Lewis, Marvin Lewis almost kills Drew Bledsoe and for that we have Tom Brady and it comes back to where ... when people talk about you just get lucky, you got lucky here? No, no luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
Thomas LaRock (01:10:53): So whatever you guys pulled together, and I'd love to help you and be a part of it, I've been trying to do a lot more machine learning, predictive analytics and that's the thing that you have to factor. It's not just the talent they have. It's their ability to prepare, and will they be ready for the opportunity. So that's why you have situations where a guy like Eli says, "I ain't going to San Diego, I need to go somewhere else. San Diego is not the right opportunity for me." Unless you have that factored in somehow ... I mean, right now on Kaggle, there's a competition they do every year. It's called March Machine Learning Madness. So you're supposed to build a model based upon all the previous NCAA years to factor and come up with who rightfully should win and then apply that model to the upcoming tournament.
Thomas LaRock (01:11:40): I'm like, "Yeah, but what about time zones. You got a team that travels East and has to play at noon, which is really 9 AM for them on a Thursday. That's a huge disadvantage. I don't care what their seat is." That's why you have a thing where Holy Cross almost be ... I forget who it was Kansas or something, right? There's so many factors to this equation, a simple equation. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
Hugh Millen (01:12:03): Yeah, but for those of us who are interested in data, in college football, there was a period where the computers were part of the discernment of who was winning national championships, right? When people say that computers as if computers are just orbiting around Mars, just kicking out data, right? It's obviously ... it's whatever we feed that in, a sign is important. So what you're saying is that that needs to be factored in the algorithms, right? That you're playing off the ... but at some point, I think those of us who have any interest in data, we have to feel like there's something to get back to the Tom Brady. At the very moment of draft day, let's just use it, May 15th, 2000, all you had is what Tom Brady had done in his life. We can agree with that, right? Everything that we could apply about ... relevant about Tom Brady had to have occurred up to that date.
Hugh Millen (01:13:02): So what had he done in any way, is there anything that he had done ... For example, if you could input every conceivable data point, "Okay, this is a guy that ... he ate oatmeal, all through childhood instead of Froot Loops." I mean, if you could have every conceivable variable, is there anything we were interested in data, that we could have put into an application that could have predicted that? I have a very fuzzy vision of the following. They say, what would be the obvious thing that people missed about Brady? Well, he had this penchant for making comebacks in college when he was at Michigan, and he had a bowl game against Alabama, where he had four touchdown pass and he brought them back from two touchdowns back on two different occasions in that bowl game against Alabama.
Hugh Millen (01:13:58): They said, "Well, that's exactly like Joe Montana." Joe Montana was a third round pick and he had this comeback against Texas, in the Cotton Bowl. The chicken soup game if you're a big fan, because he had the flu. So maybe you start to crystallize on that, where you say, "Okay, those who have a pension for having those type of comebacks, do they have a higher likelihood of being a star quarterback?" Well, regrettably, I'm sure that what we'd find is that there was a lot of guys who had a comeback or two, and then you drafted them and then they didn't do anything. So what is it? Is there something that we could have identified, that would have said, "Hey, this thing is really spiking. Our application is spiking. Our application is telling us that while you would think that Tom Brady, the future six round pick that he's got like a 2% chance of ever doing anything, this computer is actually just going haywire and saying that's actually more like an 82% chance, that he's going to do something.
Hugh Millen (01:15:04): I just use pretty extreme numbers but what if it went from 2% to 32%. Now, he's not a sixth round pick, maybe and some people ... maybe he's a third round pick. There's one thing data can tell us after the fact but that whole realm of can you ... you guys are in the business, you use the right term but just a predictive component of that if we can get into that, now, all of a sudden we're the nerds with the submarines.
Thomas LaRock (01:15:32): I want to suck right now. My God.
Hugh Millen (01:15:35): Yeah, you want a submarine. If you want a submarine, how about this, you go tell Bob Kraft who's the next Tom Brady. He'll buy you a submarine?
Thomas LaRock (01:15:42): Actually, if I know Bob, I think he buys everything in pairs, right? He's got the two jets. I think you'll get two submarines, yeah.
Hugh Millen (01:15:49): Yeah. Well, he'll give you one.
Thomas LaRock (01:15:51): Before we sign off, I just wanted to show this the genealogy sheet. So I knew four of the names.
Hugh Millen (01:15:56): You knew four, four of the eight.
Thomas LaRock (01:15:59): So here's what's funny, right, is I've got all eight because I spoke with my grandparents while they were still alive and so I recorded their names and then I was trying to do research. I only have six of the 16 after that. I can't trace my history, like you say, it's forgotten. I can't even find it. It's completely lost.
Hugh Millen (01:16:17): Or, you never knew it. Yeah, but the point in saying that is pretty humbling like you guys know the blue dot, the Hubble telescope ... that wouldn't have been the Hubble.
Thomas LaRock (01:16:27): Pale blue dot.
Hugh Millen (01:16:27): The pale blue dot, right? That wouldn't have been the Hobble. There was some photo of Earth taken from halfway across the universe and it's this little ... and you think of everything that's ever transpired. It's all taken place on that dot.
Thomas LaRock (01:16:39): Everybody who lived, everybody who's died.
Hugh Millen (01:16:41): So it's humbling and I think that thinking about all the things we worry about or whatever, to think that in two generations or no more than three, our descendants aren't even going to know our name.
Rob Collie (01:16:54): Those are our descendants.
Hugh Millen (01:16:55): Those are our descendants. Yeah, they have our blood in ... Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:17:00): Yeah.
Hugh Millen (01:17:00): Yeah, our descendants.
Rob Collie (01:17:01): Not to mention everyone else.
Hugh Millen (01:17:03): Yeah, not to-
Rob Collie (01:17:03): Really doesn't give a shit.
Hugh Millen (01:17:04): Yeah, yeah. Yeah. People who owe their existence to us aren't even going to know our names within a couple generations. It's astounding.
Thomas LaRock (01:17:13): What I just read, I read a quote this week that basically said, "Just remember, no one here gets out alive."
Rob Collie (01:17:19): Yeah. Existentialism with Hugh Millen.
Hugh Millen (01:17:23): Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Well, we've just kind of circumnavigated and barely touched on data.
Rob Collie (01:17:29): This is pretty typical. I think we probably got more into data on this conversation than on average.
Thomas LaRock (01:17:35): Look, if we have to refund listeners' money, we will.
Rob Collie (01:17:38): We'll give them back 10X what they paid.
Thomas LaRock (01:17:40): Yeah, 10X
Hugh Millen (01:17:41): At least, right?
Rob Collie (01:17:42): Yeah, this was great. I really, really, really enjoyed this.
Hugh Millen (01:17:46): Likewise.
Announcer (01:17:47): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 podcast. Find out what the experts at P3 can do for your business. Go to powerpivotpro.com. Interested in becoming a guest on the show? Email [email protected] Have a data day.
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