NFL coaches make right call with XOS

By Ken Kerschbaumer

With video analysis software and hardware in 28 of 32 NFL franchises XOS Technologies is already a winner. The question now is how it can keep its clients doing the same on the field today while helping them lay a proper groundwork for winning tomorrow.

“The coaches approach to technology doesn’t change a ton,” says Bob White, NFL account manager for XOS Technologies. “They want efficiency. And the biggest hurdle facing the industry is moving beyond a tape-based environment. But I believe that will be solved in two or three years and there will be true connectivity between college and NFL teams.”

The goal, says White, is to have the NFL move to servers as a means of not only game film storage but also game film exchange. But while colleges take advantage of Internet 2 and its advanced bandwidth capabilities NFL teams, which find themselves needing to move massive files over the Internet, still rely on tape as a means of game exchange for scouting and game prep.

Old-school reliance on tape isn’t holding XOS back. This season XOS is doing its part to move coaches along the technology curve with the Coaches Command Center, a touch-screen system designed to give coaches greater control over replay playback during team meetings. And White believes the winning edge XOS provides has more to do with support and less to do with technology.

White points to the way XOS Technologies came to the rescue of the New Orleans Saints last September as an embodying that philosophy (the four teams that don’t use XOS are Dallas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Carolina). Prior to Hurricane Katrina making landfall the decision was made to pull the team’s system, which took up more than 10 palettes to ship, and send it out to San Francisco in time for the team’s next game. Once Katrina wrecked havoc on the Ninth Ward and, in turn, the Superdome, the gear was then shipped to San Antonio, Texas, where it hopscotched from a hotel to the convention center to the Alamodome and, finally, to the old Waterworks department building.

“It had 36 clients and workstations plus four editing systems and 12 TB of storage on three video servers and two database servers,” says White. “The biggest challenge wasn’t physically moving the gear but finding the right people in the convention center and hotel to ensure the right connections were available.”

White says it currently requires 4TB of disk space to store one game at DV25 quality. Storage demands of HD are one of the reasons HD has not been a priority. Another, and more important one, is that coaches are still not convinced of the benefits.

“The jury is still out on how critical HD will be in coaching,” says White. “But the consumer push is causing some coaches to have HD at home and now they’re wondering why they can’t watch HD in the office.”

HD, however, could solve one problem facing all coaches: getting through to players. “Every week the biggest challenge is reaching the players and teaching them new information,” says White. The sharp, high-quality images of HD are one way to peak interest. The other are tools like the Coaches Command Station.

The touch panel has an articulating arm that allows the coach to telestrate over the video being projected in the screen. Or the players can huddle around the desk and watch the video over the shoulder of the coach.

“Today it’s not just about presenting the video asset,” says White. “It’s about the entire physical presentation: where the coach is standing and whether or not they can see the eyeballs of the players.”

Also helping in those efforts are display technologies. Today’s coaches rely on VGA projection systems while coaches typically have 42-inch plasma screens in their offices.

Plasma screens, VGA projectors, and telestrators are all great but the real benefits of technology will be enabled when the NFL embraces digital server storage across the board. Today about half of the teams keep about three seasons of games available online, allowing coaches and players to gain efficiencies in traditional scouting and coaching as well as free agency and player evaluation.

“In the past two years we’ve really taken technology to another level, allowing exchange of content digitally using SAT field packs,” says White. “And when there’s bandwidth available there’s a clear opportunity [for digital exchange].”

For now coaches are taking advantage of digital technologies like those enabled by the use of SAT drives for acquisition to download video right to a laptop for a busride or planeride home. “More importantly they’re able to tie into a conjoined database where they can grade their players,” says White. “Coaches can write comments related to plays and players and the seamlessly become part of the database.”

For coaches who have been customers of XOS Technologies for the past six or seven years such capabilities have begun the norm. “We have a proven track record of success and we’ve been there in emergency situations with tried-and-true technology,” says White. “When we demoed the new Coach system in February there was one championship coach who had the system installed while he was on the practice field. And at the end of practice he was able to walk into a meeting and start using the system.”

Whether that coach will be able to use the system to once again lead to a championship drive remains to be seen. But until then XOS promises to be there for every problem: from system glitches to replacing a broken remote control. For White such challenges aren’t an annoyance. Instead they’re part of building a championship level system.

“Every company has one button that does something cool or cooler than another company’s system,” he says. “But when you buy a technology today you’re really buying the company, not the technology. Ten years ago it would have been the technology. But today the difference is about being able to provide the level of support the NFL teams really need.”