The Jack of all Trades

Former software developer Keith Riggs found his true love in coaching football. Then his data wizardry moved a legendary Oklahoma high school program ahead of the curve, from powerhouse into nationally-revered empire.

For Keith Riggs, jack of all trades, mas­ter of every­thing, busi­ness was going well. He ser­viced cor­po­rate clients with var­i­ous types of data analy­sis and sys­tem inte­gra­tions from his home out­side of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He answered to him­self. He set his own hours. Clients were gen­er­ous. But Riggs, a for­mer junior col­lege nation­al cham­pi­on line­backer, found that his pas­sion for the grid­iron was rekin­dling after coach­ing youth foot­ball with some churchmates. 

And the more he got involved with the game he loved so much, the more he felt like some­thing was miss­ing in his life.

Really what I noticed, after foot­ball was over and I ramped up on the busi­ness side, I missed the kids,” Riggs said. You spend so much time with young men build­ing rela­tion­ships, men­tor­ing them, I real­ly missed being around them in the offseason.” 

Then in 2003, an oppor­tu­ni­ty to join Allan Trimble’s staff at leg­endary Jenks High School came up. This wasn’t going to be a jump so much as a triple jump. Going from youth foot­ball to a nation­al­ly-ranked jug­ger­naut that had just won its sixth state title in sev­en sea­sons, and reg­u­lar­ly spewed out Division I-cal­iber tal­ent like a crop-duster, was under­stand­ably going to be quite the under­tak­ing. Heck, he didn’t even have a spe­cif­ic posi­tion group to coach — he was hired as a defen­sive assistant.

But he also had a niche, well-oiled from his soft­ware back­ground, that could bring some­thing unique to the table: data analytics.

In this age of hyper-saber­met­rics and advanced tech­nolo­gies so read­i­ly avail­able, it’s hard to remem­ber that it wasn’t read­i­ly avail­able a decade ago. Moneyball” was fresh on book­store shelves. Some scouts con­tin­ued to write up their reports by hand. Air Raid offense and RPOs were still con­sid­ered too gim­micky in some circles.

So how did Riggs know that dig­ging deep­er into the data would pro­vide a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage for Jenks? I real­ly don’t know that we did know,” he laughs. I think it was just almost tri­al and error.”

But the real­i­ty is, Riggs has earned the right to be supreme­ly con­fi­dent in the num­bers. And it didn’t take very long to see the payoff.

Headed into the 2003 Class 6A state final, Riggs had dis­cov­ered some­thing about the über-ver­sa­tile star receiv­er from Sante Fe High (Edmond, Okla.) When he lined up by him­self oppo­site the strength of a trips for­ma­tion, con­ven­tion would say to expect the ball going his way, and to tilt cov­er­age to his side accord­ing­ly, with the run­way like­ly cleared for a favor­able 1-on-1 matchup. 

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Instead, Riggs noticed that the play­er nev­er got the ball in that sit­u­a­tion, essen­tial­ly get­ting some rest while open­ing up the oth­er, less-defend­ed perime­ter. Jenks respond­ed by key­ing oth­er areas of the field, and hop­ing Santa Fe stuck to its ten­den­cies. They did, and Jenks went on to grind out a tough 17 – 10 win that deliv­ered their sev­enth state title in eight seasons.

There’s no deny­ing the effect of his fuel on the Jenks’ fire these last two decades. Since he joined the staff, the Trojans are an astound­ing 183 – 27, with sev­en state titles in Oklahoma’s high­est clas­si­fi­ca­tion and many of those sea­sons fin­ish­ing nation­al­ly ranked. That includes anoth­er high-water­mark year in 2018, Riggs’ first as head coach, going 12 – 2 and reach­ing the 6A final for the fifth time in sev­en seasons.

183
Wins
27
Losses
7
Oklahoma 6A State Titles

At a time when coach­es were still using pen-and-paper and exchang­ing VHS tapes in per­son, Riggs was an ear­ly adopter of dig­i­tized scout­ing meth­ods, imple­ment­ing video analy­sis soft­ware upon his arrival to crunch num­bers, cre­ate cutups, and locate any play instant­ly. Today, Jenks’ staff is hard-wired. 

All 13 coach­es have their own lap­top to oper­ate out of des­ig­nat­ed offen­sive and defen­sive offices, each of them hav­ing a dif­fer­ent hand in the data analy­sis. Practices are filmed from mul­ti­ple angles, with the footage imme­di­ate­ly uploaded to Hudl and eval­u­at­ed, and adjust­ments are entered into scripts for the next day’s prac­tice. Riggs mar­vels at how seam­less­ly the staff is able to work togeth­er when it comes to this process.

That remark­able effi­cien­cy has played itself out again and again. Dating all the way back to his first year as defen­sive coor­di­na­tor in 2010, Jenks keeps any­where from 35 to 50 columns of data on every sin­gle play of their opponents. 

But the new nor­mal has been raised. Teams are much bet­ter at self-scout­ing and hid­ing their own dis­po­si­tions. What used to be a sim­ple down-and-dis­tance ten­den­cy, a foun­da­tion of any scout­ing report, now has to be done in com­bi­na­tion with oth­er pieces of data. Rarely in this day and age is a sin­gle data point going to give you the answers you need. 

Riggs has found these prac­ti­cal data points the most help­ful over the years:

Tight End Location

Not all per­son­nel group­ings adhere to the same phi­los­o­phy. For instance, would you ever think a pack­age with a tight end lined up in a four-receiv­er set would have the same set of ten­den­cies as the team’s true four-receiv­er set? The com­mon plays found run­ning out of spe­cial pack­ages can reveal a lot.


Receiver Depth

It may have only hap­pened once or twice a game, but for an oppo­nent sev­er­al sea­sons ago, Riggs dis­cov­ered when a par­tic­u­lar receiv­er lined up at a cer­tain depth from the line of scrim­mage, the play was going to be a reverse to him. He grilled this into his play­ers dur­ing the week and sure enough, the play was instant­ly snuffed out dur­ing the game. The play­ers didn’t bite on the play fake, and came up with a huge defen­sive stop that com­plete­ly changed momentum.


Running Back Positioning

Riggs recalled an oppo­nent sev­er­al years ago that favored run­ning jet sweeps with its ath­let­ic receivers. One option play involv­ing both jet motion and an inside hand­off to a tail­back worked espe­cial­ly well for them. But a deep dive into the data revealed that run­ning backs’ depth out of a par­tic­u­lar for­ma­tion tipped off which back they were going to hand off to. It proved cru­cial, as the defense was able to con­sis­tent­ly sell out and stuff the play.


Data and ana­lyt­ics are not a replace­ment for coach­ing, but it cer­tain­ly allows you to make deci­sions quick­er,” Riggs said. That’s where we’re able to uti­lize it.”

The Riggs era of Jenks foot­ball is lit­tered with hun­dreds of these game-chang­ing dis­cov­er­ies mined from hard data. One of these moments from 2018 came ear­ly on, when he dis­cov­ered that any time a par­tic­u­lar oppo­nent came out in trips, the receiv­er lined up on the line of scrim­mage from that trio was going to run a cor­ner route. 

That ten­den­cy held up in the game, and the Trojans used it to turn in an impres­sive 49 – 14 stifling.

Of course, hav­ing an ingrained com­mu­ni­ty cul­ture that takes immense pride in its foot­ball doesn’t hurt. Jenks is a true foot­ball town from the youth lev­els on up, and the play­ers that come to Riggs are often already trained to grasp the dif­fer­ent nuances. Year after year, there are Trojans grad­u­ates who are ready to con­tribute imme­di­ate­ly at the next lev­el, from the elite pro­grams of Division I FBS on down.

Fusing his two pas­sions is nev­er more reward­ing than it on Friday nights in the fall. Reflecting on the career piv­ot he made near­ly two decades ago, Riggs can only smile. It’s not easy to walk away when busi­ness is good. But Riggs had the fore­sight to jump on the sports data train while it was still at the sta­tion, and his impact on this proud foot­ball town can be felt with every click of a key­board on those cool autumn evenings. 

I real­ly have no regrets at all,” he said. Coaches don’t get into coach­ing for the mon­ey, cer­tain­ly. There’s some­thing to be said for job sat­is­fac­tion, enjoy­ing your job. It’s real­ly hard to describe, the joy and reward you get out of being able to work with kids.”

You can’t put a price on that.