Analytics will be a priority for Michael (Pinball) Clemons in his new role as general manager of the Toronto Argonauts.
Clemons plans to connect with the Raptors and Maple Leafs — both are owned by Argos owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment — to explore options on the data and analysis front. He also plans to work with analytics specialist Jarel Cockburn from the Athlete Institute in Orangeville, Ont.
“We don’t want to miss a beat,” Clemons said Tuesday after his introductory news conference at BMO Field. “We want to try every angle we can to be successful.”
Cockburn played high school football in Toronto and studied computer science at Columbia University in New York. He was drafted by the Argonauts in 2002 but decided to work financial jobs in New York instead of playing pro football.
After returning to Toronto, he became vice-president of strategy at the Athlete Institute and has focused recently on basketball and soccer program development. The facility lists NBA players Jamal Murray and Thon Maker as two of its more famous alumni.
Cockburn’s role with the CFL team has not been finalized but he said he’d be happy to help and support Clemons as a part-time strategic adviser.
“We’ve got so many great people to be able to pull on,” Clemons said. “When we look at the Raptors and what (president) Masai Ujiri has done and the way they’ve used analytics and done some forward thinking. We also look at (Leafs GM) Kyle Dubas and the way he’s looking forward.
“I’m hoping Jarel will be able to bring a little bit of that aspect to us. We want to grow, we want to learn and we want to produce something here that has a lasting quality.”
John Murphy, who was named Argos vice-president of player personnel, said analytics can help with a game-plan, play-calling, and providing a deeper knowledge of potential on-field scenarios.
“How do teams manage things when they get into the red zone? How do teams manage second and short or second and long?” he said.
Cockburn said data and knowledge would also help assist decision making and playing within certain coaching systems. He added the team could change current player evaluation techniques with video, statistics and data analysis.
“We’re going to strip it to the studs and take a fresh approach,” he said.
The Argos won the Grey Cup in 2017 but have struggled mightily since. Toronto (2-12) is in the CFL basement and has won just six of 26 games over the last two seasons.
Clemons preached the importance of building bridges rather than fences as he talked about the team’s future on Tuesday. Analytics will be a part of his plan.
“I don’t know how important it’s going to be, but I don’t want to be the last man in,” he said. “If I have the chance, I want to be first. We want to take every edge and every opportunity to be successful.
“Inherent in the process is doing all of the little things and trying to gain every edge that we can.”