The Pittsburgh Steelers, not known for their commitment to analytics, have lost one-half of their analytics front office department. According to a recently updated listing of staff on the team’s website, Jay Whitmire, labeled as a team Football Analyst, is no longer part of the organization.
But Whitmire hasn’t left the NFL. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is now a member of the New York Jets as a member of their analytics department.
According to his profile, he began the job in July. The Jets’ team website has yet to list his name and official title though team sites are notoriously slow for updating this kind of information. Whitmire’s recent hire is reflected in his profile picture, still wearing his Steelers’ shirt (not to mention a pretty sweet mustache).
Whitmire was hired by the Steelers in December of 2018. An offensive lineman for the University of Virginia, he spent rookie minicamp with the Chicago Bears but wasn’t signed and quickly moved on from his on-field NFL dreams. He served as a digital analytics consultant for Datacamp.com before joining the Steelers. At Virginia, he received a Masters in Business Analytics. He was shown earlier in the offseason on a Zoom call with Steelers’ scouts during the team’s pre-draft process.
His profile described his job with Pittsburgh as: “Use data science and analytics to inform football strategy and personnel decisions.”
Whitmire became the organization’s top-ranking analytical figure after Karim Kassam left the Steelers in the summer of 2019. Kassam told me directly that Whitmire was “a talented analyst and will continue the work I was doing with the Steelers.” Kassam, by the way, recently left Jacksonville after a short stint on Urban Meyer’s staff. It’s unclear what his future plans are; his LinkedIn profile says he’s “currently on sabbatical.”
So who, if anyone, will head the Steelers’ analytics department? It’s possible they’ve made or will make another hire but their website has yet to list any new names. The page was recently updated, too, with Whitmire’s departure and other hires/departures, like Communications Intern Thomas Chapman no longer with the team. The Steelers hired MacKayla Cherry and Kylie Wang to replace him.
Of personnel we know are part of the organization, the only person with Analyst in their title is Tosin Kazeem, tabbed as the team’s (now lone) Football Analyst. Hired in 2019, he has a background on the scouting side, serving as a scouting coordinator with the Tennessee Titans before moving on as a Football Administration Intern for the New York Jets. Kazeem studied Mechanical Engineering at Union College.
Since Kassam’s departure, and really even during it, the Steelers have been considered one of the least-interested teams in analytics. Publicly, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert say they continue to embrace its value in the scouting and evaluating process. But last year, in an ESPN poll of 26 current or former NFL analytic staffers, the Steelers received two votes for being the least “analytically advanced” team in the league. Two AFC North rivals, Baltimore and Cleveland, received the top two votes as the most analytically advanced teams.
To date, they have among the league’s smallest departments, especially with Whitmire gone, and there’s a troubling pattern of analytics people coming and leaving the team for other jobs. Kassam left the Steelers to join Duolingo and got back in sports with the Minnesota Twins and then Jacksonville Jaguars. Now Whitmire has left for another NFL squad, potentially signaling he didn’t feel like his work was valued in Pittsburgh.
Colbert and Tomlin are famously old-school evaluators who rely on their gut more than a set of numbers. Most of the league, and especially this division, is full steam ahead in the world of analytics. From our outsider view, the Steelers seem to keep lagging behind.