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Volume 21 No. 6
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Tennessee’s Roll focuses on wearable technology as GPS analyst

Amid the increasing evolution of college football support staffs, SportsBusiness Journal sought out some of the unique people and positions that have been part of that growth.

Roll has coached football for 38 years but currently serves as an analyst for the Volunteers.
Photo by: TENNESSEE ATHLETICS / DONALD PAGE

Brad Roll has coached for 38 years, so he’s had to reinvent himself a few times to stay relevant. He’s the first to admit that the high-energy world of strength and conditioning is a young man’s game.

“There aren’t a lot of strength coaches my age,” said Roll, 59, now a member of Tennessee’s football support staff.

It was 2013, when Roll was on the Cleveland Browns’ staff, that he began exploring sports science and the role analytics provides in the football setting. Using wearable tracking devices, Roll could tell not only who moved the fastest, but also who played with maximum effort.

These mobile tracking devices use GPS technology to measure an athlete’s output and performance, which is how he was given the unique title of GPS analyst at Tennessee. As an analyst, Roll does not count against the five full-time strength coaches the NCAA allows to work directly with the football players.

Brands like Catapult, Zephyr and Zebra have made wearable technology more common in the college ranks, but Roll constantly looks for new ways to analyze the GPS data and present it to the position coaches in a way that makes sense.

Roll said football programs can spend $50,000 or more annually on wearable technology, so the emphasis is on getting the most out of it.

“You don’t want to drop a 10-page, three-color report on a defensive tackle on the coach’s desk and say, ‘Here ya go,’” he said. “Most have a hard enough time turning on a computer, much less going through a lengthy report. But through my experience, I know what coaches will look at. … I can expose lazy players and coaches who aren’t getting intensity level from their players.

“We put grades up on the window and the players come by like they’re checking their exam grades.”

— Michael Smith