Nine-time state champion coach Kevin Kelley looks to prove that his unconventional strategy can work at the next level.
Kevin Kelley has made a name for himself as the high school football coach who never punts and almost always attempts onside kicks. According to Kyle Deckelbaum of KATV in Little Rock, Ark., the longtime high school coach will take his out-of-the-box philosophy to FCS Presbyterian College as the next head coach of the Blue Hose.
Since taking over as head coach at Little Rock’s Pulaski Academy 18 years ago, Kelley has proven his strategy works, winning nine state championships. Now, he’ll have the opportunity to try to prove himself at the college level.
Much of his fourth down decision-making stems from the research of David Romer, an economics professor at Cal, who found that NFL teams should always go for it on fourth-and-4 or less. This type of thinking involving risk aversion vs. risk taking stuck with Kelley, who has said in many interviews that the numbers support his strategy, so there’s no reason not to do it.
In terms of onside kicks, Kelley views it this way: if his team kicks it into the end zone, the other team gets the ball at the 20-yard-line. If they try the onside kick and don’t recover, the other team gets the ball around their own 45-yard-line. He’s willing to sacrifice those 25 yards because he knows his team will recover at least 25% of its onside kick attempts. These extra possessions—in addition to his aggressiveness on fourth down—have helped produced one of the most dominant offenses in high school football over the last two decades.
Kelley takes over a Presbyterian program that’s 16–46 since the start of the 2015 season, and while it might be unfair to say this is his make-or-break opportunity, it’s hard to ignore how impactful it would be if he can turn things around at a small liberal arts college in rural South Carolina simply by embracing math.