Alabama woman is NFL’s technical guru

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NFL

Michelle McKenna-Doyle

You watch an NFL game and you see the see the officials, with wireless microphones and ear pieces, communicating with one another and with a centralized replay office in New York. You see coaches communicating with other coaches and with the quarterback through similar technology.

You see a quarterback on the sidelines watching replays on Microsoft Surface tablet. You keep up with the game’s statistics on your own phone. You watch replays from every conceivable angle, including from the goal line pylons. You get tweets from your favorite team and from the league office. You keep up with the other games, receiving updates and highlights on your phone.

If you are at the stadium, you can use an app on your phone to learn the location of the shortest beer line or the nearest bathroom.

Perhaps you are not aware, but every NFL football contains a microchip with a tracking device. Every player has a microchip hidden in his shoulder pads, which tells the league, among other data, the speed he runs and how fast he accelerates.

Now then, knowing this, you might wonder: Who in the world is in charge of all this technology? And you might be surprised at the answer.

She is Michelle McKenna-Doyle, NFL Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO) since 2012, a 50-year-old native of Enterprise, Ala. She grew up an avid football fan in a University of Alabama family, with a brother who played for the Crimson Tide. She attended Auburn, which maybe tells us something about her independence and willingness to blaze her own trail.

McKenna-Doyle speaks today at Ole Miss at 5:30 p.m. at The Pavilion, as part of a C Spire-sponsored technology conference.

“My daddy always dreamed he’d have one of his own in the NFL, he just never dreamed it would be his daughter,” McKenna-Doyle said in a phone conversation earlier this week.

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

McKenna-Doyle has worked as CIO of Constellation Energy, in a number of executive positions with Walt Disney World and as CIO of Universal Orlando Resort.  But she never lost her love of athletics, football in particular. Five years ago, she learned of the NFL’s search for a new CIO.

“One thing my daddy taught me is that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” McKenna-Doyle said.

So, she took a shot at the NFL job – and got it, which essentially puts her in charge of all the league’s technology, social media and game day experience. These past five years have been by far the busiest in history in terms of league’s technological advances.

The NFL, which has long valued tradition over all else, was perhaps late to the technology game but has been making up for lost time. Said McKenna-Doyle: “It’s something we still grapple with: tradition vs. technology.”

The goal is to reach a happy medium, to build on the league’s tradition by using the technological advances to make the sport more enjoyable for fans and hopefully safer for players.

Instant replay might be the most visible aspect that falls under McKenna-Doyle’s authority.

“There’s literally no room for error,” McKenna-Doyle said. “We have to get it right, and we have to get it right as quickly as possible.”

My take: The NFL gets it right far more often, and much faster, than college football.

“We still think it takes too long,” McKenna-Doyle said. “We’re still trying to speed it up.”

This coming season, NFL referees will no longer go under the hood, but will use tablets on the field to review calls.

“It should save a few more seconds,” McKenna-Doyle said.

More changes are imminent as the NFL attempts to parley all the microchips and new technology to make the game safer for the players.

In charge of it all will the woman from south Alabama, who took a shot at her dream job – and swished it.

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Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Today’s sports columnist, this year was named Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year — an honor he achieved for the 10th time — by the National Sports Media Foundation. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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