From Electrical Engineer to NFL Number Cruncher

UM alumnus Adam Vonder Haar finds home outside engineering as sports analyst for Dallas Cowboys

UM electrical engineering alumnus Adam Vonder Haar and his wife, Mary Lela, proudly wear their Dallas Cowboy jerseys in support of the team. Vonder Haar is a football research analyst for the NFL franchise. Submitted photo

Like most Dallas Cowboys’ fans, Adam Vonder Haar meticulously follows the team’s stats, players and strategies. Unlike most fans, however, he gets paid to do so.

That’s because the University of Mississippi electrical engineering alumnus (BSEE 14) is a football research analyst for the NFL franchise. Vonder Haar’s responsibilities range from scouting and personnel decisions to assisting coaches with game planning and opponent scouting to sports science and player health.

“I spend a lot of time working with the NFL’s new player tracking data specifically, trying to discover ways we can use it to make our processes more efficient, improve our ability to make evidence-based decisions and uncover new insights about the game,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to come to work every day and do something that I enjoy so much.”

Vonder Haar is doing a great job in his role, according to Tom Robinson, Cowboys’ director of football research and the UM alumnus’s supervisor.

“Adam is in just his first year with the Cowboys, but he has already made a big impact in a short amount of time,” said Robinson, who oversees all analytic and sports science initiatives for the football side of the operation (such as scouting, coaching, front office and performance). “He has produced meaningful analysis that has helped inform decisions made by our front office and coaching staff. Adam has a bright future in football, and we feel very fortunate to have him as part of our staff.”

Robinson said Vonder Haar is “off the charts” when it comes to his curiosity, creativity and love of learning.

“He has a sharp analytical mind, and he thrives on taking on really difficult and challenging projects,” Robinson said. “One of the new frontiers in football analytics is leveraging Next Gen Stats player tracking data to study the game in ways that were previously not possible. Adam has been a real asset for our team in working with this complex data set and building models and metrics to help us better understand the game.”

The Brandon, Mississippi, native’s love of all things football began in his youth as a hobby.

“I’m probably most proud of taking what was initially a hobby I was passionate about and turning it into a career in sports analytics,” Vonder Haar said. “As long as I can remember, I’ve been an Ole Miss fan, and I always thought that’s where I wanted to go to college one day.”

As an undergraduate, Vonder Haar liked how the engineering school at Ole Miss wasn’t so large that he felt like he would get lost in a sea of other students.

“It felt really personal,” he said. “I now know that feeling of a tight-knit community extends across all aspects of Ole Miss, from academics to athletics to social life.”

Elliott Hutchcraft and Richard Gordon were among Vonder Haar’s favorite engineering professors.

“Aside from doing a great job teaching students the material, I felt like they made the classroom fun and enjoyable,” he said. “Our electrical engineering class became really close over the years taking many of the same courses together. I feel like Dr. Hutchcraft and Dr. Gordon played a major role in creating that sense of community in the classroom.”

After graduating from Ole Miss, Vonder Haar worked as an electrical engineer at Raytheon, a defense contractor, for five years both in Forest, Mississippi, and in Dallas. While he enjoyed that experience immensely, he started to become more interested in data science and analytics.

“Pairing that with my love of sports pushed me to develop the expertise that eventually led to an opportunity with the Cowboys,” Vonder Haar said. “I believe my time at Ole Miss provided me with the skills to be a lifetime learner and the confidence to go after something I wanted to accomplish.”

Vonder Haar was one of the top electrical engineering graduates in May 2014, said Ramanarayanan Viswanathan, chair and professor of electrical engineering.

“In addition to his major, he took several courses in business administration and obtained an additional degree in business administration,” he said. “I had opportunity to teach him a class during his period at Ole Miss. I remember him to be social, and he had lots of friends.”

Vonder Haar credits Ole Miss engineering with teaching him how to approach problems, gather relevant information and think through appropriate solutions.

“The application of that was often specific to circuit boards and electronics at the time, but the lessons I took from that experience have generalized well to many areas in my career and allowed me to thrive in different industries,” he said. “More directly, I think the computer science classes I took as a part of my EE degree helped lay the foundation for the programming that I now do daily.”

Vonder Haar and his wife, Mary Lela, met while in college. The couple lives in Dallas and enjoys hanging out with friends, playing sports, traveling and eating out at restaurants around town.