Florida Gators football putting premium on analytics under Ashour Peera
The rise and continued growth of sports analytics has impacted athletics at all levels, from professional to the high school level and in between, including at Florida under new football coach Billy Napier.
As he has said repeatedly since arriving in Gainesville from Louisiana, Napier intends to build an army of a support staff — no stone in UF’s rebuild can be left unturned. That’s where Ashour Peera, UF’s director of football operations, logistics and analytics, factors into the equation.
Peera, who served on Napier’s staff at Louisiana as director of player engagement from 2019 until 2021, is now back in Florida, the state where he first established himself as a coach.
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Ashour Peera was a high school coach
“I taught all throughout Florida for about 17 years,” said Peera. “I was at Belleview Elementary, that’s where I spent a majority of my time.”
Peera’s path from Belleview all the way to the collegiate level was full of some unexpected stops, some of which saw him play a part in the development of former Gators, such as Marcell Harris and Mark Herndon.
“I was the offensive line coach at Vanguard High School in Ocala, that’s where I lived,” Peera explained. "I had the chance to coach Marcell (Harris) while I was at Forest High School. Mark Herndon (too), who was a running back here, walked on and ended up being a scholarship athlete, I was fortunate to coach them. From there, went out to Miami Northwestern, coached down in Dade County."
Peera would then go to Colorado, come back and coach in Florida — including a head coaching stint at East Ridge in Clermont — and then try out college.
Like many coaches, Peera’s career began when another ended.
“I grew up in Chicago. I went to a small Division III school, played ball for about a year at Concordia University in River Forest, and it didn't work out well. I wasn't really built for it on that level, kept getting hurt. So I decided I better coach,” he said. “So ever since then, I've been a football coach. Actually, my first job in the state of Florida was at the University of Florida, as a lacrosse coach for the men's club. I coached high school lacrosse, coached wrestling, basketball. I had to do it all.”
It’s fair to say Peera found himself in multiple scenarios en route to arriving on Napier’s staff at UF. In a way, his career is a microcosm of his current task load.
Peera is responsible for tracking all factors where odds come into play — if it can occur in a football game, it will be outlined and assessed in the overloaded binder he’ll be found holding in practice, the same one he eventually will clutch when he's at Napier's side when UF opens the 2022 season.
It’s not just analytics in the job description he works on — logistics is a significant portion, too. Put the two together and Peera is essentially Florida’s fixer.
“It’s a really unique position, I feel,” he said. “It’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades. I’ve been working with Coach (Napier) the last three seasons, either as a quality control coach, or I work in academics, work in recruiting, work in operations. So, I’ve kind of had a hand in all of our areas. Coming here, I’m just kind of doing more of the same, making sure everything’s running smoothly. If there’s a problem, I kind of jump on that.”
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If a decision is to be made in a game, Peera will be involved. So he’s also heavily engaged in establishing the team's year-round preparation.
“Take game-day, for example. The decision-making that goes into when do we go for it on fourth down, when we go for two, certain situations when you try to take a shot at the end zone — just different areas of situation football,” Peera said. “We prepare that throughout the year. That’s my area that I take care of. Fall camp, we’ll do a little more extensive work in that, where we have different situations that we introduce in practice and then cover them, and go over them again in meetings. So that when we face them in a game situation, we’ve already made a decision on what we’re going to do.”
There should be no hesitation, or the need to make split-second decisions. With Peera on board, Napier and his assistant coaches can maintain focus on the in-game management of the personnel and the play-calling.
“You’ve still got to call a game. You’ve got to feel the game, and you got to make some decisions, go with your gut,” Peera said. “I think (analytics) eliminate some gray area, or it forces you to prepare more. Now you're more prepared for certain situations, you'll see different situations that come up, and you'll learn more as a coach. I've learned a lot. It's made me a better coach.”