Meet Alec Halaby, Roseman’s Analytics ‘Safeguard’

The new, evolving structure of NFL front offices was on display Wednesday morning in the cafeteria of the NovaCare Complex.

Members of the Eagles’ scouting and football operations staffs were in attendance to meet with reporters. In the back left corner sat Tom Donahoe, a veteran scouting man who now serves as the team’s senior football advisor.

At the table next to Donahoe sat 26-year-old Alec Halaby. When Donahoe began his NFL career as a regional scout with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late ’80s, Halaby was in diapers. But now, the two men are part of Howie Roseman’s staff, both tasked with helping the Eagles make wise personnel decisions as they begin a new era under Chip Kelly.

Halaby’s title, special assistant to the general manager, is as vague as Donahoe’s. The question he answered time and again Wednesday was simple: What exactly do you do?

“I’d say my core function is player evaluation,” Halaby said. “So that’s a mix of traditional, whether you’re watching tape, interviewing, that sort of thing, and analytics, the more data-driven end. A secondary function, working on roster management, resource allocation, general football operations issues, working with Howie on those. And then third I would say working with coaches week to week preparing for opponents or improving your processes in season or out of season.”

The buzz word in that description, of course, is analytics. It’s how Halaby got his foot in the door of an NFL organization as a sophomore in college. The Harvard grad – he majored in English and minored in economics – went online, dug up some e-mail addresses and started contacting NFL teams.

An internship in 2007 led to a second one in 2009. And then a full-time personnel analyst role that led to his current position last season.

Halaby grew up in Madison, Wisc., played quarterback in high school and figured out at a relatively early age what he wanted to do. In college, he would attend coaching clinics, conduct original research and spend time on Web sites like Football Outsiders.

The old “scouting vs. analytics” debate has grown stale. Halaby, like all smart analytics people, realizes this isn’t an either/or scenario. It’s about gathering as much information as possible before making critical decisions.

“I would say the approach is really a full-information approach, see the player from multiple angles,” Halaby said, adding that both Andy Reid and Kelly were open to incorporating analytics. “Traditional methods where you’re watching tape, you’re interviewing, your off the field issues. And then part of that is the analytical method. So that’s the more data-driven part, focuses on trying to understand the player in a systematic way usually within a quantitative framework. And so you try to bring both of those together and see it from the different angles and put a value on them and project them for the future.

“I think there’s not a holy grail or a magic bullet or a single play or a single number that’s gonna answer the question. It’s more of trying to get a 360-degree idea, get all the angles.”

Like most NFL teams, the Eagles are reluctant to cite specific examples of how they use analytics. But Roseman referred to Halaby as a “safeguard” of sorts. If Roseman sees a player he likes on tape and is giving serious consideration to drafting or signing him, he’ll often call on Halaby for a different method of evaluation.

And Halaby will sometimes come back with answers Roseman doesn’t want to hear.

“It’s hard for me,” Roseman said.

“He’ll come back with the research and I’ll be disappointed. I’ll go, ‘I really like this guy.’ I’ll try to convince him, and he’ll say, ‘You can do whatever you want obviously, but the chances are we’re playing very highly against the odds.’ I’ll take 24 hours and I’ll realize that’s the right decision and that’s what we’ve got to do.”

Added Halaby: “If there’s data to bear on a question, we’re gonna usually want to look at it. There are questions where maybe all the answers are on the tape. There are other questions where maybe the answers are all in the data. So it’s a part of our process on all the decisions we make.”

It’s clear Roseman believes Halaby has a bright future in the organization. When Halaby expressed a desire to be involved in more than analytics, Roseman listened and essentially created a new position for him.

“Alec’s taken on a bigger role here in the last couple years and become a bigger voice,” Roseman said. “Part of that is because [we’re] going back and looking at his track record.

“I remember telling him, even if you’re the quickest rise in the history of GMs, it’s gonna take you a decade to go through that process. And the money that he can make outside this isn’t going to be the same. So how much does he really want to do it? How much is he really willing to sacrifice? And it didn’t take long to see his passion for this.”

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  • Philip Soloninka

    what a sweet job

    • KobraKai7474

      Give the guy credit, those two internships that eventually led to his hire were unpaid. In other words, he spent a long time working his butt off for no pay to get here. Former Eagles personnel guy (and former Jet assistant GM now with Tampa Bay), Scott Cohen took a similar path. Point being, any of us who are willing to starve while working excruciatingly long hours, could do the same thing… or at least attempt it (I presume these guys also demonstrated real skill before getting to move up from starving intern).

    • Phils Goodman

      Man I am jealous.

  • GiveMeABreak

    More fodder for why our personnel decisions are so bad. Howie and Halaby making decisions? That’s just not reassuring at all. The best teams hire experienced knowledgeable football guys, and we get this dynamic duo of inexperience and arrogance. It’s actually more like a bad B grade movie. Oh wait, maybe this is Jeffie’s latest production …

    • wpnx20

      Says the dinosaur.

    • B-West

      I like how you have turned a young intern crunching numbers into the second most influential decision maker in our front office.

      Secondly, what is the time frame for these bad personnel decisions? By all accounts, Howie took the reigns around the time of the 2012 draft. With the talk surrounding Cox, Kendricks, Boykin and Brown, it looks like that draft class could be a gem.

      • GiveMeABreak

        The article explained how Howie uses the guy, not my posting. I guess you are willing to forget all of the decisions made while he was the GM (FA signings, Jarrett, Watkins, Teo, Matthews, Clayton, Lindley, Curry, to name just a few) on the theory that they were Reid’s picks. I think if you are the GM, you get a significant portion of the blame for the kinds of disappointments. If he really didn’t have anything to do with them, then why would we take a flyer on giving such an unknown player evaluation responsibility? Either way you slice what has happened on his watch, it looks bad for Howie and us.

    • theycallmerob

      Where’s Matt Millen when you need him????

      • philliesfan136

        Reply from Jim Rome – Hill – lair – e – us.

  • philliesfan136

    Howie and the Boy Wonder…………. another 10 years with no Super Bowl! Teams that will win Super Bowl before the Eagles : Chiefs, Dolphins, Rams, Redskins, Bengals ! Chiefs GM has been scouting players since 1991 ( over 20 yrs. ) Dolphins GM since 1994 ( 19 yrs. ) Redskins GM since 1995 ( 18 yrs. ) Rams GM since 1995 ( 18 yrs. ) Eagles GM ” Howie Roseman ” , since 2008 ( 5 yrs. – his first player scouting / player evaluations input were for the 2009 draft ) . He was ( ” given ” the VP of Player Personnel job in 2008 ) – over scouts ( with experience ) , that had been with the team for many years. At the time of his promotion, Roseman had 0 ( zero) years of player personnel experience , other than salary cap and player contracts. At the time of Howies promotion to the VP of Player Personnel job in 2008 , Grigson had a total of 9 years of experience in player personnel and scouting , and 5 of those years were with the Eagles. Howie was promoted, again , 3 years later. This time Howie had a TOTAL of 3 years of NFL scouting and player personnel experience. Grigson started as a regional scout with the Eagles and put in 6 years , working his way up ( he had a total of 11 years experience ~ 5 yrs. as scout w/Rams before the Eagles ) when Roseman was promoted to GM in 2010. To be 100 % clear….. Grigson had 11 years experience……Howie had 3 years experience. Job goes to Howie ……. GOLD STANDARD ? Ryan Grigson left ( in obvious disgust ) at the end of the 2011 season , due to his being unfairly jumped over by someone with a fraction of his experience. Understandably , he probably did not feel appreciated for his dedication and loyalty to the team for seven years. Not surprisingly , ( ironically ) , Grigson won the 2012 NFL executive of the year award , after joining the Colts as their GM that year. The football gods are alive and well ( Mr. Lurie ) , it’s called KARMA ! Hint to Mr. Lurie….. cronyism is not good for company morale. Howie was Joe Banners crony / protege…..he was promoted for that reason , and that reason alone. Now ( Mr. Lurie ) he’s yours ….. the time ( as fans ) unfortunately……. is ours.

    • Alistair Middlemiss

      It is easy to win GM of the year when you have the first pick and draft andrew luck – which is a move anyone would have done and have the easiest schedule in football. The rest of his draft and free agents have been pretty shaky and i doubt they will have a better than 8-8 record.

      To be a great GM the most important skill has NOTHING TO DO WITH FOOTBALL. It is a management role, recruiting the right people, managing the team and contracts, being able to listen and identify good advice from bad advice. Great scouts wont necessarily have those skills.

      • philliesfan136

        You obviously don’t follow football close enough. Yes he did have the # 1 pick , but he also drafted, two stud tight ends, wr T Y Hilton and rb Vick Ballard. He also hired a new head coach, released 15 players and signed 17 new players. Nothing is ” Easy ” in the NFL Alistair, but it must be ” Easier ” , when football teams are run by ……. football people. I don’t know about you, but i don’t want my accountant running my business. I don’t care how great he is with numbers ….. if he doesn’t have experience with my product / service and employees, he can not be effective. Just my feelings ….. for what it’s worth. Thanks.

    • ray clark

      There are moments in every industry when experience becomes a serious liability. That moment is now in the NFL. Cronyism and nepotism, not merit, has ruled the NFL for decades, which means that the industry has been less than it could have been. Roseman and Halaby are the new wave, judged on merit and ability rather their football pedigree or experience. This kind of thing can only improve the quality of the product. As for Grigson, the man is intellectually limited, to put it kindly. This will become clear the longer he is on the job.

      • philliesfan136

        Merit and ability……….? Where’s Roseman’s and Halaby’s proof of that ? Roseman got his job by being connected to the right man ( Joe Banner ). Halaby , is a thorn in the side and a insult to the real ” football ” people on the staff ! As for your comment on Grigson , obviously you , or someone within the Eagles has a axe to grind with him , and you ( or them – by proxy ) are here to dismiss what happened to him as …….” his own fault. ” Regardless of your defamation of his intellect , Mr. Grigson is at the( top ) of his profession ( # NFL Executive of the year ). When Mr. Rosemen ranks in the top ten , on that list , then we’ll start to talk. Until then , you can keep your ” nose ” firmly pressed to ” somebody’s ass “. # 10 and 6 , 8 and 8 , 4 and 12 . Who looks limited now ?