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Football Cities: Where the Stars are Bred

This is the final look at the metro, state, and regional breakdown of the 2012 NFL player class.

Having looked at where all players come from, this one looks at where the best ones are bred. Using Pro Bowl appearances, All-Pro team recognition, and Offensive/Defensive player and rookie of the year awards, I calculated a point total for each of the 254 active players who have earned any (or all) of the above recognitions. Here’s how metro areas perform. In total, 81 metro areas have produced at least one active player with one of the accolades. 10 have produced 4 or more.

Miami, second to Los Angeles in overall players, jumps ahead in both stars and points accumulated. Established players like Steve Hutchinson (OG, Tennessee), Andre Johnson (WR, Houston) and Devin Hester (WR/KR, Chicago) lead the way, while emerging stars like Patrick Peterson (CB/KR, Arizona) and Jason Pierre-Paul (DE, New York Giants) figure to keep the metro’s reputation for success alive. Los Angeles similarly boasts a combination of veteran stars like Tony Gonzales (TE, Atlanta), Troy Polamalu (S, Pittsburgh) and Steve Smith (WR, Carolina) to go along with ones in their prime like Clay Matthews (LB, Green Bay) and DeSean Jackson (WR, Philadelphia).

The New York City metro boasts New Jersey-bred stars like Brian Cushing (LB, Houston) and Ray Rice (RB, Baltimore). Houston has produced young stars like Brian Orakpo (LB, Washington) and Andy Dalton (QB, Cincinnati). It’s also the home of this year’s first overall pick, Andrew Luck, who figures to join the list of stars soon.

New Orleans is home of Peyton (QB, Denver) and Eli (QB, New York Giants) Manning, along with veteran (Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis) and young (Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh) star receivers. Atlanta’s stars figure to dominate this list for a long time, led by Calvin Johnson (WR, Detroit), Cam Newton (QB, Carolina), and Eric Berry (S, Kansas City), and Philly is home to two quarterbacks named Matt (Ryan of Atlanta and Schaub of Houston).

Beyond the top 10, 9 metros produced 3 stars, 19 produced 2, and 42 produced 1 each.

Metro vs. Small Town
75% of all players are from a Metropolitan Statistical Area, and the proportion of stars is slightly higher at 77%.

However, the number drops below that to 71% when we count the share of points earned.

Notable stars from outside metro areas include Ed Reed, Brian Urlacher, Charles Woodson, Julius Peppers, and Champ Bailey.

Yet, the large metros (and a handful of football hotbeds such as New Orleans) are leading the way in both quantity and quality.

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Football States and Mega Regions: Where the 2012 NFL Players Come From

On Wednesday, I looked at the metro areas that produced the most NFL players at the start of the 2012 season. This post looks at the states and mega-regions that have done so.

The Top 10 States Overall

Many of the most populous states dominate the top 10, with only one state (Louisiana) ranking below 12th overall in population. California and Florida, home of the top two NFL-producing metros (LA and Miami) finish 1st and 3rd. Both have several other metros that also produce many players. Sandwiched between them is Texas, home of Dallas and Houston – two of the top 5 metros.

New Jersey’s inclusion, while New York state doesn’t show up on the list, is a reflection of the fact that most of the New York City metro area’s players actually come from the New Jersey counties that are part of it.

Top 10 Per Capita

The southern states, like the colleges, dominate this list. 7 of 10 states are from the south and/or sun belt, with only Ohio (the best performing northern state by nearly every metric), midwest powerhouse Nebraska, and the island state of Hawaii cracking the top 10 from outside those areas. The deep south states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina) atop the list are home to only one NFL team (New Orleans Saints, though part of South Carolina is included in the Charlotte MSA – home to the Carolina Panthers); however, many college football powerhouses play in that region.

Mega Regions Overall

Going back to the 11 Mega Regions, the most populous regions, the Great Lakes, is first, followed by the Piedmont and Florida. Southern California does well on the strength of Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

Mega Regions Per Capita

The Piedmont, whose colleges lead the way in producing players, shows up atop this list, edging out Florida. Cascadia, whose colleges do well, is one of the two worst performing regions, a sign that it imports players at that level.

The final post will focus on the metros where star players are bred.

Football Cities: Where the 2012 NFL Players Come From

Pile Up
Miami, Florida, led by Baltimore Ravens defensive stars Ed Reed (pictured) and Ray Lewis, is one of the top producing regions for NFL players.

The National Football league regular season kicks off tonight, with two marquee teams – and markets in Dallas and New York – facing off. Last week, I looked at the states and regions whose colleges produce NFL players. This post looks at which cities and metro areas the 2012 NFL rosters come from, to see which ones produce the most players.

Using data available from this map, as well as player biographies on Wikipedia and their college and NFL team sites, I assembled a database of players along with their hometown and metro region (according to Metropolitan Statistical Area). The list is comprised of 1917 players who were on an NFL roster (active, injured reserve, or practice) as of late August/early September.

Looking at the 51 metro areas of over 1,000,000 residents, here are the top 10, with overall rankings on the left side and per capita on the right.

The Miami area shows best, coming in a close second in both overall and per capita numbers. Los Angeles edges out Miami in overall numbers. Both metros have produced many notable NFLers, in particular local players who went to prominent local colleges (USC and the University of Miami, respectively). Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Andre Johnson are three Miami locals who starred at The U before launching successful NFL careers. The Los Angeles area has seen quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez go from local high schools to USC to the pros, and is also the home of defensive stars like Clay Matthews.

New Orleans, home of the Manning brothers, leads the way per capita. The overall top 10 track fairly closely to overall population. While the Northeast (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington) lacks colleges that produce top players, the region itself is sending many local players from high schools to the pros, with the exception of Boston (and most of New England). Texas and Georgia are known football hotbeds, so it’s no surprise to see their teams show up here. On the per capita side, the south leads the way, with only Cincinnati (on the border) cracking the top 10 from outside the region.

In the overall top 10, Los Angeles is the only metro without an NFL team, while 3 in the top 10 per capita (Birmingham, Oklahoma City, Virginia Beach – Norfolk – Newport News) are without one.

Here is how the 30 metros with NFL teams rank (New York City and San Francisco-Oakland both have two). The top 10 mirrors the overall top 10, with Detroit taking LA’s place.

Pittsburgh and the two Ohio teams show up here, amongst another grouping of predominantly southern and Californian metros.

The midwest, often thought of as a player-rich area, occupies most of the bottom 10 spots, with none boasting notable per capita scores either. Green Bay is an outlier due to its small size, but Milwaukee (the biggest city in Wisconsin) would be 25th if it was included.

We also see many metros without NFL teams producing players. Here they are grouped by metro size:

California shows its might here. In addition to overall leader Los Angeles, the neighboring Inland Empire (Riverside – San Bernardino – Ontario) produces a large number of players, as does the state capitol region of Sacramento in the north. This is another list where the south dominates, with the recognized football hotbeds of Austin, Birmingham, Oklahoma City, Orlando, and the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas of Virginia making the top 10. The only city from the north to crack the top 10 is Columbus, home of the Ohio State University.

Of the metros between 500,000 and 999,000 (below), we see that its once again only Ohio cities – Akron and Dayton – cracking the top 10, in addition to Honolulu, Hawaii.

Finally, the handful of metros below 500,000 produced 5 or more NFLers are again all from the Sun Belt and South.

Conclusions
Football’s Base Has Shifted South and West.
The major metros, both in raw numbers and per capita, are primarily from California, Florida, and the south. A handful of Ohio cities perform well per capita, and the large metros of NYC, Chicago, Philly, and DC produce their share, but if the day existed when the Rust Belt of Ohio and Western Pennsylvania was an NFL pipeline, it’s by and large passed.

Football’s Base is Slightly Less Urban than the Country.
Most calculations list the percentage of Americans living in an urban/metro area as being between 80-85%. Of the 1892 American players on this list, 1412 are from a metro area, which works out to 75%.

The next post will look at the player breakdown by state and mega region.

I plan to do this for the rest of the big four North American leagues (plus the American and Canadian professional soccer pools) to see what trends emerge regarding the metros, states, and regions that produce the most professional players.

(Update: somehow I missed Richard Florida’s post on this topic from April 2012, which used 2010 numbers, and birth place instead of high school location/hometown).

What It Takes to Win: Management Lessons from the NFL’s Final Four

While I enjoy watching sports for the competitions themselves, I also believe there lessons we can learn from them. In particular, as I’ve progressed in my career, and have had the opportunity to take leadership roles in various initiatives, I’ve paid more and more attention to how successful teams and individuals operate off the field. There are some excellent books that cover the management styles of teams or individuals (I recommend starting with Moneyball, The Extra 2%, The Education of a Coach, and the Soccernomics chapter on Olympique Lyon’s approach to the transfer market).

Like many people, I’m looking forward to the NFL’s Championship Sunday tomorrow. There are four strong, interesting teams competing for spots in the Super Bowl. They’ve all taken different roads to success, but they all have things they can teach us. Here are some of the key lessons I think we can take away from each team:

New England Patriots
Strong, Stable Leadership is Key
Head Coach Bill Belichick joined the club in 1999, and Quarterback Tom Brady took over as the starter midway through 2001. Since then, neither has relinquished his spot, and their stability has led the Patriots to 3 Super Bowls, another appearance in the final. In that time, they’ve only missed the playoffs twice (one of those years, Brady was knocked out for the season in the first game).

The Belichick-Brady partnership has transcended turnover on and off the field, and allowed the team to persevere through some bad drafts in the middle of the 2000s, and loss of other key personnel. For any organization, strong leadership is key to success in an ever-changing environment.

It’s Important to Adapt
In the early 2000s, New England built their teams around defense, focusing on ball control (running, short passes) while on offense. Later, as Brady matured, they shifted to a more aggressive passing style – still throwing short but adding a greater focus on the deep ball. Whatever the impetus, the Patriots were not content to assume what had worked in the past would work again in the future. Lots of organizations, after periods of success, are content to rest on their laurels, and that’s where they usually fall behind.

(Football-specific digression: because they won 3 Super Bowls from 2001-04, and have won none – and only appeared in one since – it’s easy to write off the past several years as a less successful approach. This is where luck and the law of averages come in. The Patriots won those 3 Super Bowls by 3 points each, 2 of them on the last play of the game. They made the first one by getting a controversial – albeit correct – call on the famous Tuck Rule play to go their way. Since then, the Super Bowl they lost was by 3 points in a game that could have gone either way. No Helmet Catch (which I refuse to look up and link to because of the bad memories), or if Brady’s bomb to Moss a few plays after NYG went ahead is a few inches closer to his target, and they might win). Also, they lost a close AFC Championship game to Indianapolis – after holding a huge halftime lead – the previous season, and had they moved on, would have been heavily favoured to beat Chicago. Point is, they probably should have about 3 Super Bowl wins in this era, but a few breaks or lucky/unlucky bounces is the reason they all came early on, not later).

Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Chance on Talented People with Problems…
Through the years, Belichick has taken on talented players with off-field issues. Some, like Rodney Harrison and Corey Dillon, contributed to championship teams. Others, like Randy Moss, had good runs of success before becoming headaches. And some, like OchoCinco and Albert Haynesworth, haven’t contributed much.

…But Have a Short Leash, and Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Ties
While Harrison enjoyed a long tenure, Moss had a great first year, but less than 2 years later, the Pats cut ties in the middle of a season once he became a distraction. And OchoCinco and Haynesworth rarely played this past season. It’s one thing to take a chance, but it’s critical to know when to let go, and to not feel compelled to keep giving them more chances.

Baltimore Ravens
Create an Identity, and Keep it Strong
Gang Tackle

The talent on offense has come and gone, but the D has been the Ravens’ identity for 15 years. Think of the team, and you think of charismatic, ferocious leader Ray Lewis, hard-hitting, ball-hawk free safety Ed Reed, or any number of big, bruising lineman and linebackers that have suited up in purple over the years.

The Ravens play defense, they hit, and they’ll make you hurt. Can you sum up your organization (and it’s identity) that succinctly?

Also, does your organization have a leader who dances to ‘Hot in Herre’ by Nelly to finish the pre-game intros?

Always Recruit New Talent, and Don’t Be Afraid to Let People Go
Every team in the NFL, due to the salary cap, sees a lot of turnover, the key is how they respond. Baltimore has turned over its roster several times (except for their core leaders), and rarely misses a beat due to the excellent work they do uncovering talent in the draft. This is particularly relevant for non-profits or small organizations on fixed budgets (like salary cap-limited NFL teams), who will likely lose talent to higher-paying competitors. Strong work identifying young, up and coming replacements can ensure continued success.

San Francisco Giants 49ers
Talent Needs an Environment Where it Can Succeed
After being drafted first overall, Alex Smith has struggled for much of his career. Many, including myself, wrote him off. But can you place the blame entirely on a quarterback who went through 3 head coaches, and 7 offensive coordinators in his first 7 seasons? Young talent needs to be nurtured, and under head coach (and former QB) Jim Harbaugh, San Fran is finally starting to see the fruits of Smith’s potential.

A Leadership Change Can Bring Quick Results
The aforementioned Harbaugh took over as head coach this season, and with few major moves, doubled the team’s win total from 2010. A successful leader like Harbaugh can rally people and get a lot more out of them with few other changes.

New York Giants
Build On Your Strengths
For the past number of years, the Giants’ strong point has been their ferocious pass rush, and they keep building on it. Justin Tuck was drafted when Osi Umenyora and Michael Strahan were well-entrenched as the starting defensive ends. When Strahan retired, Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Canty were brought in not long afterwards, despite the line not appearing to be a major need. This talented, deep group of pass rush continues to fuel much of the team’s success, giving it a competitive advantage in almost every game.

If You Want Talent, Go the Extra Mile to Get It
Drafting 4th overall in 2004, the Giants had no chance at consensus first overall choice Eli Manning. But when he expressed refusal to play in San Diego (who drafted him), the Giants swooped in, trading that pick, an additional one, and next year’s first rounder to get Eli. A steep price, considering they took a QB for San Diego (Phillip Rivers) in that spot (also, Ben Roethlisberger went 7 picks later), but the Giants targeted Eli, and did what they had to in order to acquire him.

Don’t Panic in Times of Trouble
The Giants are one of the most mercurial teams I’ve ever followed, in any sport. In any given week, it looks like they could either quit on their coach, Tom Coughlin, or beat any team they face. Despite this, management has stuck with the coach despite conflicts, and some collapses on the field. With one Super Bowl win to his record, and a team playing like a favourite to win a second this year, it appears to be the right choice.