(EDITOR'S NOTE: During this offseason we frequently ask guest columnists to contribute. Today, NFL historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal, a familiar contributor to this site, tells us why Mike Giddings should be on the Watch List for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame's contributor committee).
A lot of people, even knowledgeable football people, have never heard of Mike Giddings. Yet his impact on the game has been so profound that he’s a worthy candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
How? As a contributor. But that presupposes that the Hall’s voters have heard of him. And, given Giddings’ low public profile, that’s no guarantee. Which raises the question: Can a virtual unknown by a Hall-of-Fame contributor?
In this case, I hope so. Because Mike Giddings was the father of NFL analytics.
Giddings first was given national publicity in 1982 when Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman did a feature on him and his company, Proscout, Inc. (PSI), an operation that rated all players in the NFL and whose clients were NFL teams looking to fill the “bottom of their rosters.”
At the time, unrestricted free agency was 11 seasons away, and Plan B free agency five years away. So Mike Giddings was at the right place at the right time. He knew who was out there, whom to target and which players were superior for teams looking to upgrade their special teams and which could be considered developmental players.
Since then, Giddings and PSI have received little publicity, but that’s by design. Giddings and his son, Mike Jr. keep information for their clients only – one reason why, when you search for PSI or Giddings’ name on the internet, you find very little.
But while that’s good for business, it doesn’t help Giddings’ name recognition. Basically, it hides his work from many otherwise well-informed writers, including Hall-of-Fame voters.
Granted, some know him. If a player has been out of the NFL, for instance, Giddings will opine on that player’s skill-set to a voter, but only if he’s contacted by the voter first. Otherwise, he sticks to evaluating players, something he’s been doing for over 45 years.
A linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers in 1968-73, Giddings went on to coach the Hawaiians of the short-lived World Football League (1974-75) before moving on to become the NFL’s first pro player personnel director with Denver in 1976. One year later, he started PSI.
Today the company is run by his son. Nevertheless, at 88, the elder Giddings is still active evaluating linemen, and PSI continues to make an impact on the NFL landscape.
One example: Proscout invented (and copyrighted) the color code system (Blue-Red-Purple-etc.) that many NFL teams now use and that made such a difference within pro football circles that once, at a league meeting, NFL analyst Charles Davis told a small group of scouts that “this man created the language we all use.”
Davis is right. Found in the books of PSI, one will find the terms “shutdown corner,” “nickel rusher,” “off-the-ball linebacker,” and “defensive interior” (a term for 30 ends, 4-3 tackles and nose tackles).
There are many more.
Essentially, what all this boils down to is this: Mike Giddings is the pioneer of NFL analytics— or, if you will, NFL "moneyball". In the early years of his business, he tried to save a team $45-50,000 a year on a bad signing of a player, maybe $200,000 on the total value of the deal. But by the early 1990s salaries had skyrocketed so dramatically that you might be talking a savings of $1.5 million (perhaps $4.5 million on the total deal) on, say, the wrong left tackle.
And now? Now it’s more like $15 million -- or $60-70 million on a four-year deal -- when a team might get a better player for $8-10 million a year on a three-year deal.
There is so much more about Giddings and PSI’s impact that cannot be detailed. But what is known is that in the early years the likes of Jim Finks, Paul Brown and Bud Grant relied on PSI‘s services, and that, later, so many others joined them that, according to PSI’s LinkedIn page, 33 Super Bowl teams and 12 Hall of Fame coaches, owners and general managers were clients.
Mike Giddings was a pioneer of pro personnel, independent scouting and NFL analytics/moneyball. Yet he was virtually anonymous. So does that mean he should be ignored when the time comes for recognition from Canton?
That is up to Hall-of-Fame voters.
My only suggestion is that the Hall’s contributor committee take a closer look at Giddings’ contributions to the NFL game. Because while they were under the radar, they were enormously significant … and worthy of making Mike Giddings a contributor candidate.