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The high school football coach who never punts

Posted by: Ryan 4 years, 3 months ago
Categories: Fluff

While watching the recent Patriots game, I remembered a story about a high school football coach who chose to never punt the ball on fourth down - ever.  I dug the story up again, and it's even better than I remembered.

The coach's name is Kevin Kelley.  He is the head coach at Pulaski Academy in Arkansas.  Before I get into Kelley's coaching approach, let me first say that his record was 77-17 as of August 2015.  Looking up Pulaski Academy's 2017 record - they were undefeated.

Coach Kelley's theory is built on the concept that possession of the ball is more valuable than the position on the field.  From that concept, punting the ball is clearly a bad idea.  Coach Kelley never punts - even if his team is on fourth down with terrible field position.

But that's not the only strange thing about Coach Kelley's approach.  Since he puts so much value on ball possession and so little value on field position, most of his teams' kick-offs are on-side kicks.  If you don't know, this means that rather than kicking-off by sending the ball to the far end of the field, they kick the ball only a few yards and let it erratically skip along the ground with the hope that they can regain possession during the ensuing chaos.  His team practices 12 different variations of an on-side kick.

Along with that same theme, Coach Kelley's team never returns punts or kickoffs.  This is because punt and kickoff returns are often high-risk for fumbles, and since possession is so valuable, returning the ball isn't worth it.

Obviously, since ball possession is so important to Coach Kelley, turning the ball over due to an interception or fumble would be bad.  To statistically reduce the likelihood of a fumble or interception, Kelley strategizes to move the ball down the field in as few plays as possible.  He found that plays in which three or more people touch the ball (i.e., trick plays) are statistically more likely to result in 20 or more yards.  So, his offense relies on them heavily.  Rather than blocking to help shield a ball carrier from defenders, teammates will position themselves behind or to the sides of a ball carrier to make themselves available for a lateral pass.  The coach says that the lack of blocking doesn't have a big impact because defenders are forced to position themselves differently to defend the potential lateral pass.

Despite the overwhelmingly strong win-loss record, there is a news story from 2016 about Kelley's team giving up 26 points in a single quarter due to the no-punt strategy.  Obviously, turning the ball over on fourth down while in terrible field position would be devastating, especially if done repeatedly.  But, despite this hiccup, the coach's strategy has garnered some serious attention.  NFL coaches have even consulted with him.

Here are some articles about Coach Kelley: [1], [2], [3]

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