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

    • http://batman-news.com 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.

    • http://www.corcommunity.com/ 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 ?

  • GiveMeABreak

    Is Ozzie a dinosaur? What about Colbert, Reese, Thompson, Loomis, Belichick, or Baalke? I just want to win and with Howie and Halaby doing the cooking in the kitchen, I don’t see that happening.

  • Capt. Undapants

    It is a well known fact that Reid demands all the power. See: firing of joe banner and the Kansas City actions so far (drafting Fisher over Joeckel etc). 2012 was the first non-Reid draft in ages. If you don’t believe that look at the picks. The picks were different and have netted playmakers. This is in contrast to previous drafts.

    But Internet debates rarely change minds.

  • wpnx20

    1. There are plenty of traditional scouts (read ‘knowledgeable football guys’) within the Eagles organization. I seem to remember them hiring one Tom Gamble this offseason?

    2. If you don’t think every other team in the NFL incorporates statistical analysis into the scouting process, you’re dreaming.

  • The_Rick

    Ozzie and the Ravens, like the Eagles and many other NFL/Professional Sports teams, do use analytics as a tool to help their decisions. Belichick actually just accepted an award at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where he said: “I certainly respect the mathematical and statistical ways of looking at the game, looking at football, and try to use those methods and those results to improve our product on the field.”

  • GiveMeABreak

    If you’re comfortable with our FO, then you should be happy with the results. Let’s hope your right.

  • GiveMeABreak

    Great. Too bad for us that Howie ain’t Ozzie or Belichick.

  • OregonEagle

    So, the biggest contributor to success or failure over the next 5-10 years will be Chip Kelly. Do you think the FO made a good choice there?

  • The_Rick

    No one ever said that he was…but you did basically imply that those two specific organizations (Baltimore and New England) don’t consider analytics when making football decisions, which is incorrect.

  • GiveMeABreak

    Not sure I agree with the premise as it gets at the “Xs vs. Os” against the “Tommys vs. Joes” divide. I tend to come down on the latter end. Look at Giants: is Coughlin that much better than Reid or were Eli, Strahan, JPP etc. just better than our guys? I think the latter is true. The FO shortcomings are a particular concern in light of the NFL failures of long-time great college coaches like Sabin and Spurrier with badly run organizations.
    Second, this choice was like Reid, an “in-vogue” selection except instead of the Holmgren tree being the flavor it was college coaches. Unlike Harbaugh or Carroll, however, Chip does not have prior pro experience. Still, he was very successful, albeit over a short time frame, and I hope he is here but his DC choice looks questionable.

  • GiveMeABreak

    If you reread the article and how it describes Howie using this information, I think you’ll see that you’re wrong.

  • philliesfan136

    Hey Rick , is your last name Halaby or Roseman ? Remember , Luries mom and his uncle gave him the money to buy the Eagles , after he couldn’t buy his hometown team …… the Patriots. Joe Banner gave Roseman a job , and promoted him when he didn’t deserve it , over others who did. # Ryan Grigson ……. 2012 NFL executive ( GM ) of the year. People who are handed their wealth or status invariably don’t appreciate other people’s hard work that toil under them. They can’t appreciate it , because they didn’t work their way up the ladder over years and years of hard work! Lurie didn’t work for that $ 195 million dollars to by the Eagles , it was handed to him. NFL teams share their revenue , are given stadium money. The Eagles are in a top 5 – 7 NFL market , with very loyal fans. How hard was it to quadruple his money. The owners of the Browns , Panthers , Jaguars , Seahawks , Buccaneers and Patriots , have all tripled or more their value in the last 10 years. If Mr. Lurie understood the comman man and how unbelievably hard you have to work to get ahead , he would have seen all the years Ryan Grigson worked for him , and not allowed Mr. Banner to fast track his boy Howie and promote him over Grigson. Not only does this not help your team by promoting inferior people to evaluate your potential draft prospects , but it also undermines the rest of your employees , by establishing the feeling that hard work and loyalty are not rewarded. Just what we fans need ……… another number cruncher evaluating players. If you don’t understand where i’m coming from , you haven’t worked hard or been passed over yet. 10 and 6 , 8 and 8 , 4 and 12 , last three years records. Ironically , Howie took over three years ago. That’s o.k. though Lurie hit the reset button and extended Howie a year early. Lurie will never understand the fans and people of this area. We are, blue collar , hard working and we are , Eagles / football fannatics. After 19 years, we deserve better. I’m o.k. with ups and downs , losing and rebuilding , i just can not accept a $1.1 billion dollar NFL franchise , not being run by FOOTBALL people. Thanks for reading.

  • The_Rick

    What exactly am I “wrong” about? My only point is that the Eagles, like many other NFL teams, use analytics as another tool when evaluating talent.

  • http://www.corcommunity.com/ theycallmerob

    Unless you’re Ozzie himself, who are you to know what information they do/do not use? Plenty of terrible teams in this league have “football guys” in the FO. On-field ability does not translate to the FO. You howie bashers are something else.

  • Phils Goodman

    Shameful display.

  • GiveMeABreak

    Is Fisher over Joeckel worse than using a #4 pick on a guy who was not even 1st team in his own conference at a point in the draft when not a single player had been drafted from the best college football conference in the country (the SEC)? I got tired of Reid too but I have never bought into him as the single source of all problems afflicting the Eagles these last several years.

  • B-West

    I agree that Reid had all the power, that’s why I’m willing to give Howie a pass on some of the early years of him as a GM. Between Banner and Reid, the front office was pretty well set. I think its actually the reason they gave a young guy like Howie a shot. Reid and Banner knew they could do the heavy lifting while Howie got on the job training.

    And to your other point… Yes, Howie USES the guy. He doesn’t hang on his every word. Why would you criticize our GM for gathering as much information from all angles as he possibly can? Analytics are very much a part of sports now, they have to be a part of the process.

    Edited… Disqus was errantly attributing all these comments to GiveMeABreak earlier.

  • http://batman-news.com KobraKai7474

    You might want to let the guy play a snap or two before declaring him a bust. Having said that, there is real value in having a first rate offensive tackle you can plug into the lineup every game for the next 12 to 15 years (for a few years on the left side and then the next 10+ on the right after Peters leaves). Except for QB, right tackle is the hardest and (arguably) the most important position for any rebuilding team to fill. If we later learn the guy can’t play, feel free to add it to the pantheon of botched Eagles’ draft picks but, until then (and there is certainly no indication yet such a thing will happen), it was actually not only a good pick but a low risk pick.

  • GiveMeABreak

    Never said he was a bust; said it was a worse pick because it carries more risk. Hope you are right but that is a low bar for a high 1st round pick. Ravens picked a guy in 2nd round last year (right after Curry) who started all games at tackle. LJ is a combine hero. I just hope he’s not the second coming of Mamula.

  • Alistair Middlemiss

    I think if you look at what this front office has achieved over the last 15 years and compare it to the rest of the league – the eagles look pretty good. where the 2010-2011 drafts horrible? yes thats why we where 4-12 last season, but imho that is not a sign of institutional stupidity – just 2 poor drafts where we picked in the 20′s and did not get lucky with the guys we drafted.

  • The_Rick

    I appreciate your long rant, but all I said was that other organizations use analytics (along with scouting reports done by “football people”) as a tool to help them make front office decisions. Not once did I mention Halaby, Roseman, or whether or not those two deserved to hold their current positions.