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.
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.
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.