The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tony Kornheiser says advanced metrics could save the Redskins

(By Darron Cummings / AP)
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As a state of lassitude again descends upon the people who follow the Redskins — and also upon those who talk about the Redskins for a living — one giant question looms: what’s next?

Previous answers have included the hot college coach (Steve Spurrier), the experienced NFL hand (Mike Shanahan, Marty Schottenheimer), the up-and-coming coordinator (Jay Gruden) and the random dude with funny stories (Jim Zorn). They have included nods to the franchise’s past (Joe Gibbs, Bruce Allen) and guillotines for the franchise’s present (Vinny Cerrato). They have included drafting a franchise quarterback (RGIII, Patrick Ramsey, Jason Campbell), trading for a franchise quarterback (Donovan McNabb) and attempting to conjure a franchise quarterback out of Lincoln Logs and inspirational quote books (John Beck). They have tried to build around an exciting new wide receiver (DeSean Jackson), an exciting new running back (Clinton Portis), an exciting new left tackle (Trent Williams, Chris Samuels), an exciting new linebacker (Brian Orakpo, LaVar Arrington), an exciting new safety (too many to count), an exciting group of players lured en masse from elsewhere (the Jetskins!) and an exciting new defensive lineman who enjoys long naps (Albert Haynesworth).

Through it all has run a river of mediocrity.

And so here’s Tony Kornheiser to suggest one of the few things the Redskins haven’t tried (other than hiring the best scouts, stockpiling draft picks, building around the offensive and defensive lines, and acquiring a premier general manager): embracing Moneyball!

“The problem with the team, to me — lots of problems with the team — but you’ve now gone through a series of coaches here,” Kornheiser said on ESPN 980 Monday morning. “And no appreciable bounce since Joe Gibbs, who you’re not gonna get for a third time. No appreciable bounce. You had Spurrier, you had Zorn, you had Shanahan, now you have Jay Gruden, whose lifetime career as a head coach is 3-9.

“And if he were to be released at the end of the year, that’s probably defensible,” Kornheiser said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t recommend it. But it’s probably defensible, if an owner says you know what, I can’t live with this. Coach after coach after coach I hire, for whatever reason I hire them, and they don’t work out. I think they’re gonna work out; they don’t work out.

“The players are terrible. The people picking the players have picked the wrong players, time and time and time again, for whatever reason. And…I would follow the pattern that was started by Billy Beane in Major League Baseball. I would look at the kind of mathematical equation that was never before used in baseball and now is all the rage in baseball. And I’m not saying you don’t look at players physically, but you use analytics, you use metrics, whatever these words are. You try a new system to acquire players and to acquire coaches who will buy into that system.

“Remember in Moneyball, the conflict between Art Howe and Billy Beane, which led to Art Howe having to leave at some point,” Kornheiser went on. “You see this taking over in baseball. I’m not saying it’s all for the good, but you also see it in basketball, where it was hard for me to even imagine that shots from a certain spot on the court would be rewarded mathematically….

“I understand it appears to be much harder in football, because we’ve never heard of it before,” Kornheiser said. “I’d find that kid at Yale, or Harvard, or Maryland, or Virginia, or University of San Diego — the kid who has devoted his life, maybe he’s 24, 25 right now — not a fantasy football geek, but somebody who’s devoted his life to the study of the game through analytics and metrics, through mathematical combinations that have not been seen  before. I’d hire that guy. I’d say we can’t get much worse, is what I would say. We can’t get much worse.

“I’m saying that there’s somebody out there who has taken all of this stuff into account and has a formula….I’ll bet you there’s somebody out there that could convince you on 50 percent of an evaluation that this is what you look for, this type of player, and that the given is heart, that they have heart and they want the conflict. The Redskins could be the first team to do anything like this, because how much worse could it get?

“Who is hiring the defensive backs? Who’s hiring them? Who’s hiring them? They’re awful. There were three drives — drives, I can’t even use the word drive — three play, two play, three play. What is that? They are terrible. I mean any discussion about quarterback, it’s pointless. It’s pointless if that is the defense. It is simply pointless. You see the backs of their jerseys 15 yards behind some guy who’s running to the end zone. Awful. As a defensive secondary, they are awful.”

I mean, this is true. It’s also true the Redskins have tried many things, but have yet to try Moneyball. And yet this sounds kind of like your friend who has tried the South Beach Diet, the Cauliflower and Kale Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Green Juice Diet, the Three-Fingered Wizard Meatball Diet, and the Alien Adventure Diet, and who has now decided to embark on the Red Rover Red Rover Metric Analytic Diet, but who will not try the Eat Less and Exercise Diet.

Eat Less and Exercise, in this case, meaning hiring the best scouts, stockpiling draft picks, building around the offensive and defensive lines, and acquiring a premier general manager.

Anyhow, Kornheiser ended the segment by predicting that the Redskins would find a way to draft Jameis Winston.