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Data science leads to director of analytics post in NFL, Super Bowl ring for Mitch Tanney '06

Barry McNamara
11/11/2019
Mitch Tanney '06 is pictured at October's M Club Hall of Fame induction ceremony with his wife, Ashley Yeast Tanney '08, who was also inducted.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Students interested in pursuing data science at Monmouth College have a role model in the National Football League.

That’s where they’ll find 2006 Monmouth graduate Mitch Tanney. The summa cum laude mathematics and Spanish major is director of football analytics for the Denver Broncos and is the proud owner of a Super Bowl ring, which he earned when the Broncos won the NFL title.

As is the case with his brother and fellow Monmouth alumnus Alex Tanney ’11 – a quarterback for the New York Giants – Tanney is proof that the route to the highest level of professional success does not need to go through a university with thousands of students.

“My experiences here with a liberal arts education are extremely beneficial on a daily basis,” said Tanney, who was on campus in October to accept two honors – induction into Monmouth’s M Club Hall of Fame and recognition as part of the College’s Family of the Year, along with his Hall of Fame father Don Tanney ’79, his wife Ashley Yeast Tanney ’08 and his brother.

The required skillset

“Data science has exploded the past several years,” said Tanney. “To be successful in this field, technical competency is required, but the communication skills to interact with different departments are equally as important. The communication piece is huge. You have to be able to present technical information and sell it to upper management and convince them why it’s important.”

As is the case with most professions, there is no shortage of data to mine with the Broncos. Tanney couldn’t get into the specifics of that data, but he said some of it relates to “strength and conditioning or to efficiency components with internal processes.” Of course, it can also relate to the type of statistics that football fans might see at home, such as an opponent’s play-calling tendencies on short-yardage situations.

“Predictive modeling and player-tracking research are also areas of growth for our department,” said Tanney. “If there are football questions that need to be answered with data and analysis, that’s what our group helps with.”

He said the NFL is certainly not unique in mining data for predictive modeling and other important uses, and it’s also not unique in the type of candidate it seeks to perform that analysis.

“You have to be able to frame a problem and to think critically,” he said. “When we’re hiring, we want intellectually curious individuals – people who are intellectually curious across several disciplines. They’re lifelong learners.”

Desired skills, he said, include a background in statistics and computer science, as well as that knack for communication.

“Coding in various programming languages is a required skill in order to solve difficult questions,” he said.

Growing into his role

At Monmouth, Tanney appreciated mathematics courses that were more practical than theoretical.

“I’m much more pragmatic in my approach,” he said, citing the upper-level “Mathematical Modeling” as a particular favorite. “I like to use my analytical skills to solve problems.”

Following graduation, Tanney played three years of professional football, then pursued a master’s degree at the University of Iowa. It was there where he got his first taste of what his future career might hold. One of his professors conducted part of his research in sports analytics.

After completing his master’s degree in marketing in 2011, Tanney went to work in Chicago for STATS, the world's leading sports data and technology company. One of its clients was the Chicago Bears. Through that connection he met Chris Ballard, who is now the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts.

“He advocated for me in a new position with the Bears,” said Tanney, who began that post in 2013. Two years later, Tanney moved on to the Broncos, who won the Super Bowl that season.

Relentless pursuit

Asked about his five- or 10-year plan, Tanney had a ready answer.

“Win.”

Already the owner of one Super Bowl ring, Tanney seeks even more of the tokens, which his father called “the highest achievement of the highest level of football” when introducing him at his M Club Hall of Fame induction.

“It’s unbelievable to be recognized,” said Tanney. “There’s such a small number of athletes who make into the Hall of Fame, and for me and Ashley to be inducted today, and to join my father and my brother Alex one day, we feel very fortunate.”

During his acceptance speech, Tanney offered advice to the students present.

“Find whatever it is you’re passionate about and pursue it relentlessly,” he said. “And, secondly, find someone who will provide you with unwavering love and support in your pursuit,” which he said he has in Ashley.

“I fulfilled both of those objectives while at Monmouth College.”