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NFL teams pick the brain of high school coach who never punts

Kevin Kelley


Not many high school coaches are sought out by NFL coaches for advice. But Kevin Kelley is no ordinary high school coach.

Kelley, the coach at Pulaski Academy in Arkansas, has won two state championships while employing the highly unusual strategy of never punting. Kelley goes for it on fourth down, even fourth and long on his own side of the field, because he believes strongly that a football team should never purposely give up possession of the football.

That might sound crazy, but Kelley’s success has drawn the attention of the NFL. According to the Washington Post, several NFL coaches have called to discuss strategy with him, and Falcons assistant G.M. Scott Pioli recently had an hour-long meeting with Kelley.

Of course, just because it’s been an effective strategy for one high school doesn’t mean it would be an effective strategy in the NFL. Punters in the NFL are far better than punters in high school. And the talent gap between two high school teams can be huge, which means that Kelley’s offense might convert a lot of fourth downs just because his players are a lot better than the players on the opposing defense, not because his strategy of going for it on fourth down is inherently correct.

But there has been a good amount of research that indicates that NFL teams that are aggressive about going for it on fourth down tend to succeed more than teams that almost always kick on fourth down. And as NFL teams increasingly become aware of that research, they’re eager to talk to a coach who has put the aggressive fourth-down strategy into practice on the field.

Kelley is an innovative thinker about the game of football (his latest strategy is having his receivers regularly employ rugby-style laterals after they’ve caught a pass downfield), and people in the NFL are noticing. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him on an NFL staff some day. And if he is, expect his team to go for it on fourth down a lot.