So, once upon a time (1964, to be exact), a professor of animal husbandry persuaded the University of Georgia to buy a supercomputer, an IBM model that was the most expensive in existence at the time. (It turned out the school recouped the cost of purchase in short order by leasing out time on it to folks like NASA.)
Why am I mentioning this at a college football blog? Well, I’m glad you asked. It turned out the school had another customer for the computer’s services.
There was also another customer for the school’s new computing capacity. Football coach Vince Dooley, hired in 1964, began using the 7094 to assemble information on other SEC teams.
Dooley and his assistant coach — probably Frank Inman — would compile statistics on how that week’s opponent called plays from every field position and from each down and yardage, “whether it was third-and-goal or fourth-and-10,” said Dooley.
“The fellow who helped us, he knew what to put in it,” said Dooley this week, just back from a summer visit to Lake Burton. “We brought the information to him and he fed it in and got it back to us, within what seemed like 10 minutes at the most. It was an amazement to me.”
That information helped Dooley turn around a losing program and build a team with a 31-10-2 record over the next four seasons.
Did the 7094 make a big difference? “It was certainly a factor,” said Dooley.
As Patrick Garbin further relates, it turns out that Vince Dooley was something of a computer nerd, or at least knew enough to appreciate a computer nerd.
Upon his arrival to Georgia, Dooley was curious if a scientific approach could better his team’s chances to win ballgames. Nearly filling an entire room at UGA’s Computer Center, an IBM 7094 computer was purchased by the university for around $3.5 million which, considering inflation, would equate to roughly $28 million today. Serving as a liaison of sorts between man and machine, Georgia’s head scout Frank Inman approached the center’s Dr. J.D. Williams, who developed a program which coded information into Number 94.
Scouting data from Inman was entered on a deck of “source cards” by Williams. The data primarily consisted of offensive and defensive play details like down and distance, formation, field position, etc., and obviously the results of the plays. For each game in 1964, Georgia used the opposition’s play details from its previous four games. Taking about an hour to compute each game’s data, Number 94 compiled the information and then printed it out on “output sheets” for the coaches’ usage.
Did it help?
Notably, from 1961 to 1963, or the three seasons leading up to Number 94’s arrival, Georgia’s .400 winning percentage ranked tied for 98th of the then-135 Division-I college football teams. With Number 94 onboard in 1964, the Bulldogs finished out their campaign with 7-0 victories over Georgia Tech followed by Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl, before recording a combined 31-10-2 mark the next four seasons. Georgia’s .731 winning percentage from 1964-1968 was the 13th-best in college football during the time period, and second in the SEC only behind mighty Alabama. The Bulldogs would not achieve a higher winning percentage over a five-year span until 1978-1982.
I have to admit I don’t think of Dooley’s coaching philosophy as being cutting edge for the most part, but I can’t imagine there were many of his contemporaries who thought to do that back then.