Kevin Kelley of Pulaski Academy

A reader posted this link in a recent comment. It's an interview with Kevin Kelley, head coach of the Pulaski Academy high school football team in Little Rock, Arkansas. He always goes for it on 4th down and 75% of his kick offs are onside kicks. The team has enjoyed unprecedented success, including winning the state championship last year. I've mentioned him before, but he spells out his thinking very clearly here. Gregg Easterbrook has been writing about Coach Kelley and Pulaski Academy since 2007. He was also featured in a Sports Illustrated article earlier this season.

The video is embedded below, but you may need to give the video a few seconds to load. Here is the direct link.

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10 Responses to “Kevin Kelley of Pulaski Academy”

  1. bytebodger says:

    This is great stuff. I think it's enlightening to hear him talk about the attitudes when he first installed this strategy - the kids were all for it, the parents and fans were much more skeptical. This illustrates why this would be much harder to implement at the college or pro level. If you think the parents/fans were extremely skeptical at the high school level, how much of an uproar would there be if this were done for a Top 25 college program or a pro team?

    On one hand, I love seeing stuff like this because I think the more work that is done to expose the true math behind this "extremely risky" strategy, the more likely it is that this approach starts to, very slowly, leak into the higher levels of the sport. On the other hand, I don't think we would ever see this adopted on a broad scale unless it had the explicit, public approval of a team owner or a senior college administrator.

    Unfortunately, if a college/pro coach tried to implement this strategy without the explicit backing of the organization, they would sacrifice him to the masses the first time a failed 4th down play cost the team a game.

  2. Brian Burke says:

    True. I've often thought that a service academy might be the kind of place where this doctrine could take hold. They're always looking for a way to compete with the big elite programs with players who have less athletic ability. They have smart and tight-knit fan bases too, who might actually buy in to it.

    I'm a Navy alum, and they already go for it on 4th down very often. They almost never pass anyway, so there is no danger of an incompletion. The triple option is usually reliable for at least a yard or two. Very rarely are they stuffed, so the odds are often in their favor. They're could almost be the perfect running offense. If they get 3 yards on every run, and go for it on every 4th down, they'd be unstoppable.

  3. Jason says:

    Not that I doubted you Brian, but I had to look it up:

    Navy's tied for #4 in 4th-down attempts this season. Another service academy, Air Force, is tops in Div. I. Army is 20th.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I guess the Navy thing might answer my question, but I wonder if there is a correlation between going for it on fourth down, and the ability of the fan base to process statistics (average math SAT of entering freshman?). I would think that MIT would employ an optimal strategy because their fans would be all for it. But I'm not sure they have a football team.

  5. Anonymous says:

    MIT has had 77 total 4th downs;
    they've had 28 4th down attempts;
    converting 12 times.
    By the way Massey has football rankings for every 4 year college with a team.MIT is ranked 709th out of 715 teams.

  6. MIT_student says:

    There's a football team here at MIT, but there's not much of a fan base to sell it to as far as I can tell.

  7. James says:

    For what it's worth, Texas Tech is known for going for it a lot on 4th down too, and is considered at least a mid-major program that is usually covered up by Texas and Oklahoma. They have the 2nd most 4th down attempts this season.

  8. Jeff Clarke says:

    I went to Brown. The football team went 0-10 my freshman year. There was a headline in the school newspaper: Football team plays well; Loses 52-6.

    For a school like that, what the hell do you have to lose? An unconventional but successful offense run by an overmatched academic school can catch on. Think of the Princeton offense in basketball.

    I think eventually somebody will try something like this in college football. That program will become moderately successful. Then it will start to get copied. Eventually it will catch on in the NFL. It might take a while.

  9. Unknown says:

    To follow on to Jeff Clarke's comment: why not a similar team in the pros? If you look at any one of the abysmal teams this year so far (St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Cleveland) the fans are pretty disengaged. This is doubly so with a team that is consistently bad year after year (like Detroit). In any of these teams, a good portion of the coaching staff is on the chopping block anyway. Why not start going for 90% of 4th downs? Or kicking more onsides kicks? Even in my own Buffalo, where the record isn't quite as bad, fans are absolutely done with Dick Jauron. He has nothing to lose by going with this sort of strategy, and in fact it would be good for the team by increasing publicity.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Doesn't the off-side kick argument go away if you have a kicker that can put it in the end zone? The high school team in my town has a kicker that does that on a consistent basis.

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