Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Best Practices of Desktop Strategists (4)

Another best practice is knowing how to assess almost anything regardless of its settings.

Regardless of the arena, one must know what are the standards and the ranking of valued data points.


Different Approach

The 49ers' approach in building the roster is far different than it used to be. No longer does the team adhere to the demands necessitated by the west coast offense and they are no longer run by the coaching staff. The team was once a coach-dominated organization, ultimately answering to the head coach and the man who invented their player acquisition system, Bill Walsh.

The 49ers have moved on from the Bill Walsh draft philosophy.

The late Bobb McKittrick, Walsh's long-time offensive line coach said the scouts did the ground work and brought all the information to the coaches. Then, they decided who to draft or sign in free agency. McKittrick also said that Walsh provided his coaches with broad leeway on whom they went after, because, ultimately, Walsh knew, for example, that McKittrick knew more about the offensive line than he did.

/// Even the genius knew that he does not know everything

Now, with a former scout in charge of the draft and free agency, the scouting department basically decides the roster and if the report from Sports Illustrated is to be believed, they don't necessarily tell the position coaches. S.I.'s Jim Trotter wrote that position coaches weren't consulted about the team's free-agent signings this year, specifically wide receiver Brandon Jones.

The coach dominated system keeps the staff more engaged, because if they're picking their own players, they are completely invested in seeing those players succeed and they feel more integral to the team's success.

Scouts, however, can provide a more subjective analysis of players.

Back in the Walsh era, the team looked for different types of players. The west coast offense wanted small, quick, intelligent offensive linemen, big wide receivers, dual-threat tight ends, and fullbacks who could catch.

The requirements often resulted in the 49ers competing by themselves for players. When Jerry Rice ran a slow 40-yard dash time, some teams dropped him on their draft boards. The 49ers didn't care. While teams increasingly looked for big, bruising linemen, the 49ers were content with the sub-300 pounder. That's why they were able to get Jesse Sapolu in the 11th round and Derrick Deese off the street. Rarely in the McKittrick era, did the 49ers expend a pick in the first three rounds on a lineman.

At quarterback, Walsh wanted accuracy, decision-making and intangibles. One former 49ers scout once said that if a passer could throw a ball 42 yards, that's all the arm strength needed for Walsh's offense (apparently Walsh's longest pass play went 35 yards, and then add in a seven step drop and you get 42 yards).

Ron Wolf knew how to build championships.

Ron Wolf knew how to build championships.

The current regime is much more from the Ron Wolf school, the former personnel man who won Super Bowls for the Raiders and Packers. Current general manager Scot McCloughan worked for Wolf in Green Bay.

Wolf wanted physical specimens for his teams. One former scout said he had an unbreakable rule that cornerbacks had to be over five-foot, 10-inches. If you measured five-feet, 9 and seven-eighths inches, Wolf wasn't interested.

In Oakland, Wolf was enamored with huge offensive lineman. The Raiders, in the 1970's, typically had the heaviest lines in the league. Wolf also liked strong-armed quarterbacks and fast receivers. In Green Bay, he modified his stance with the hiring of Walsh protege Mike Holmgren.

Nevertheless, Wolf wanted specimens at nearly every position. Big players don't get hurt as often as the undersized variety, and speed wins in the NFL, so Wolf was willing to look at measurables as much as production.

The late Tony Razzano, the 49ers long-time director of college scouting greatly favored college production over measurables.

The Wolf philosophy is definitely reflected in the 49ers' recent picks - consider tight end Vernon Davis (who ran a 4.38 40 at the combine but never caught more than 48 passes in one season at Maryland). Wide receiver Jason Hill was the fastest prospect at his combine and Joe Staley was the fastest offensive lineman at his.

Both Wolf and Walsh were outrageously successful at their crafts. But philosophies work as long as the people making decisions turn prospects into Pro Bowlers.


One should always remember that it is the implementers that make their strategic assessment process works.

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