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Don’t look now, but the Cowboys seem to have built the analytics staff Mike McCarthy promised

Promises made, promises (apparently) kept by the Cowboys.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2019 NFL season was winding down in December of that year, and many Cowboys fans were fantasizing about Lincoln Riley or Matt Rhule leaving their respective colleges for America’s Team, Peter King of NBC Sports dropped a longform column about Mike McCarthy and all the ways he had spent his year out of coaching to reinvent himself after his 13-year career in Green Bay came to an abrupt end. The part that caught everyone’s attention was McCarthy’s sudden embrace of analytics, including his pledge to install an analytics staff wherever he ends up coaching next:

There’s a flow chart for his proposed 14-person Football Technology Department, including a six-person video unit and an eight-person analytics team. The Chief of Football Technology tops the department, which will run both video and analytics. The top analytics lieutenants will be a Coordinator of Database Management, Coordinator of Football Analytics and Coordinator of Mathematical Innovation. Below them: Football Technology Engineer and two Football Technology Analysts. And finally, a Football Technology Intern. McCarthy spent a day last summer at Pro Football Focus offices in Cincinnati, discovering how much more data is available than he realized. PFF data will be a key component of his analytics tree, as will GPS tracking of players and Next Gen Stats.

Well, McCarthy got the Cowboys job and then immediately got thrust into an unprecedented offseason that was impacted by a global pandemic. McCarthy was able to build out his coaching staff, but nothing was heard of this Football Technology Department again, much less the eight-person analytics team.

Was it all a lie, designed to entice teams into hiring McCarthy? Did the Cowboys simply reassign certain people in their building into those roles instead of hiring new people? Or perhaps the pandemic - the impact of which first started to be felt shortly after McCarthy had completed his coaching staff - prevented the team from making any hires for the time being.

One thing is for sure: McCarthy was a different coach in Dallas than he was in Green Bay. There’s a snide joke to be made here about his win/loss totals, but the biggest difference is that McCarthy’s decision-making in Dallas was largely in line with what the analytics tend to suggest. Sure, he wasn’t always perfect, but it was a big improvement over his Packers days when he openly derided the practice, as well as a big improvement over his predecessor in Dallas.

Either way, it seems that McCarthy may have delivered on his promise of an analytics team ahead of the 2021 season. There are now four different individuals listed on the coaching staff on the team’s website that are dedicated to analytics. Those four are Kyle Valero, Ryan Feder, Eric Simonelli, and Justin Rudd. Valero, Feder, and Simonelli are all listed as quality control/analytics, while Rudd is listed as video/analytics. Not exactly the most descriptive titles, but enough to catch the eye.

Valero may be a familiar name to some, as he’s been with the Cowboys since 2014. We actually profiled him ahead of the 2018 season, when Valero was listed as the assistant wide receivers coach. He joined the team the same year Scott Linehan did, having worked as a quality control coach in Detroit under Linehan for two years. Prior to that, Valero had been a student assistant at Florida State under Jimbo Fisher.

When Linehan left the team after the 2018 season, Valero remained but shifted duties from assisting with the receivers to assisting with the tight ends. Valero once again remained on staff when McCarthy was hired, although he was reassigned to an offensive quality control position. Now, he’s had the analytics title added to that. Given his background and ties to both Kellen Moore and Doug Nussmeier (whom he worked with closely in 2019, when Nussmeier coached tight ends), it could be that Valero is the gameday analytics foreman for the offense, although that’s not confirmed.

The other three names are a bit unknown, but some excellent super sleuthing (read: perusing LinkedIn profiles) offers some clues as to who these analytics gurus are.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Feder actually joined the Cowboys in January of 2020, meaning he was an early addition under McCarthy. Obviously, this hire flew under the radar. His title on LinkedIn is defensive quality control coach/football analytics, which would seem to suggest he’s the defense’s counterpart to Valero. Prior to joining the Cowboys, Feder was a graduate assistant with the Nebraska Cornhuskers for the 2019 season. And before that, Feder was the football technology analyst for the Packers for nearly five years, creating an obvious connection to McCarthy.

However, it’s what Feder did before all of this that is possibly more intriguing. From 2013 to 2015, Feder was a contributor to both Over the Cap and Pro Football Focus; McCarthy, of course, spent time at the PFF headquarters during his year away from coaching, although Feder didn’t work there at such time. Before those two jobs, Feder worked as a data analyst assistant for Metis Sports Management LLC, and before that as a marketing associate with Prudential Financial. He worked that job as a student at Florida State, where he earned a degree in business, management, and marketing. Coincidentally, Feder was at Florida State the same time Valero was there, although it’s impossible to know if the two ever knew each other.

Simonelli doesn’t have quite the rap sheet that Feder does, but he does interestingly predate McCarthy’s hiring. Simonelli joined the Cowboys in the summer of 2019 as a football research assistant. Shortly after McCarthy took the job, Simonelli was reassigned to the title of special teams quality control coach/football analytics, but has since been changed to offensive quality control coach/football analytics. Before joining Dallas, Simonelli was a student assistant coach at Wesleyan University - notable for being Bill Belichick’s alma mater - for two seasons, in addition to a football research internship with the 49ers during the 2018 season.

Rudd is the most intriguing of these four, as he seemingly has very little experience in football. He majored in sports management at UMass-Amherst before spending three years as the video coordinator for the Rutgers football team under head coach Greg Schiano (during his first stint there). After that, Rudd became an account manager at DVSport Inc before being promoted to vice president of sales and marketing, a role he held for nearly seven years before the Cowboys hired him. That job was located in McCarthy’s hometown of Pittsburgh, and may have played a part in his selection, as Rudd became the football video analytics coach shortly after McCarthy was hired.

As of right now, these are the only four analytics staff members listed on the team website, but that’s because the front office tab only lists members of the Jones family; not even Will McClay is on there! So it would seem plausible that these four make up half of McCarthy’s aforementioned eight-person analytics team, although Rudd may be considered part of the video team instead. Either way, it looks as if McCarthy did indeed install the lofty Football Technology Department he had wanted to, or at least some modified version of it. Here’s hoping that the analytical support combines with better injury luck to deliver a better result in 2021.