The days of seeing an NFL coach or coordinator cover his mouth with a laminated play call sheet on Sundays may be coming to an end, starting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, the Bucs will be the first NFL team to use Microsoft Surface tablets for their sideline playbooks during games.
"The Glazer Family has always been so involved with the league and that is part of why they are always trying new things," said National Football League Chief Technology Officer Michelle McKenna-Doyle on Wednesday. "We're having to teach some of the coaches of a certain generational age who have been slower to adapt."
McKenna-Doyle added that the next step for data-driven coaches and franchises is to go completely paperless on the sideline to help coaching staff with in game analysis and decisions, "We cannot build mobile solutions fast enough" she noted.
While the days of seeing a coordinator cover his headset mic and mouth with a laminated play sheet may be coming to an end, take comfort in knowing that some coaches, like Mike Leach, will likely always favor his trusty 3x6 (or so) index card over a tablet.
But seriously, from a coaching point of view, being able to have access to all the data you need to make a 4th and 1 call with the game on the line has got to be an advantage. The conflict with this kind of technology is going to be whether to trust the data, or your gut for the right call in critical moments.
Somewhere in the back of my mind it seems like the NFL would have to change an existing rule to allow coordinators to use technology to assist them in calling plays, right?
What great product placement for Microsoft though? You know that didn't come cheap.
UPDATE: The NFL has provided some clarification on exactly what the tablet can be used for (courtesy of Pro Football Talk). In short, the Bucs, and other NFL teams who go this route, will be able to use the tablets under the new pilot program called the "Sideline Viewing System". Under the system, teams will use the tablets for pre and post snap images instead of the black and white photos you always see in a binder.
Coaches and players will be able to see HD images and be able to draw on the photos and save their notes, and teams will also be able to take the tablets to the locker room to review the photos and notes during halftime, although they will no longer be able to be connected to the secure wireless system at that point.
In short, those laminated play call sheets survive...for now. But it's only a matter of time before the rules around the tablet and the data it has access to expands to other feasible on the field applications.