A month after signing with the New York Jets in 2008, Brett Favre memorized between 40 and 50 percent of the team’s complex offensive playbook. By the season kickoff, he had 75 percent of the plays down cold. He did it all with the help of coaching software developed by three twenty-somethings in Lincoln, Nebraska.
David Graff was an MBA student at University of Nebraska working for Huskers football coach Bill Callahan when he first got the idea for Agile Sports. Callahan, a former Oakland Raiders coach, wanted to adapt his offensive and defensive strategy for college football. Leveraging his accounting background, Graff developed some crude databases that looked at statistical breakdowns. But there was one hitch. There was no way to analyze game tape away from the team’s headquarters.
To Graff, the technological dilemma smelled of opportunity. He sat down with two fellow students, Brian Kaiser and John Wirtz, and made the pitch: the three of them would develop a software program that would let coaches and players view, mark up, and “tele-strate” footage(writing on the screen like a sportscaster on TV) remotely and securely over a laptop.
They presented the idea to Callahan in February 2006, and the coach liked it so much that he wanted to use it for spring training. That posed a small problem. “The demo was a lot of smoke and mirrors,” says Graff. They needed access to Callahan’s coaching staff in order to assess the team’s needs, and a year to build the software. Callahan agreed. With just their laptops and a $200-a-month office space, they went to work. Kaiser focused on the technology; Graff and Wirtz applied for patents and wrote the business plan. Security was the biggest concern. In addition to a firewall and tracking IP address of approved users, the software would text a five-digit access code to a users’ personal cellphone.
Callahan was so pleased with the software, called Hudl that, when he interviewed with the New York Jets in 2008, he brought it with him. The Jets soon signed up as a customer. Two more NFL franchises, the Broncos and the Browns, as well as 12 Division I college football teams, now use Hudl to allow players and recruiters study tape remotely.
In the past year, the company has also signed on 1,300 of the country’s 18,000 high school teams as accounts. The software lets coaches input video directly from a camera with the same notation and telestration functions. Players can also easily assemble highlight reel to send to recruiters. With a 100,000 youth sports teams around the country, the company is considering diversifying even further. “Right now, we wouldn’t rule anything out,” says Graff.