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


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.

48 responses to “NFL teams pick the brain of high school coach who never punts

  1. The masterful Chip Kelly paved the way for guys like this. This guy should thank the original mad scientist. Multiple SuperBolws coming for the Eagles. #ICWT

  2. That sucks. I will miss announcers brainlessly repeating “it’s 4th down and they’ll be forced to punt.” Forced. Ok.

  3. It would be incredibly fun but insanely stressful to watch my team do that in and out every week. I don’t know that I have the emotional stability to ride that roller coaster week after week.

  4. I remember hearing about this a while back and it’s an intriguing thought.

    If anything it would be more exciting going for it on 4th more often, along with more 2 points this year vs the longer extra point attempt.

  5. Many, many years ago I read a story where Don Shula and Bill Walsh were claiming that eventually there will be coaches that won’t punt. Bill Walsh supposedly toyed with the idea quite a bit, just never went all in on it.

  6. It’s the state championship. You’re up by 1 point, and there is 2 minutes left, and the other team has 2 timeouts left. You are in 4th in 26 at your own 5 yard line. Go for it? I think not.

  7. “Kelley is an innovative thinker about the game of football”

    Innovative…perhaps. Thinker? No. He’s actually taking all thought out of the chess match and blindly playing the odds. My cousin never punted in Madden but no one from the NFL ever called him…of course he did always lose.

  8. I think teams do punt too much. Why punt on fourth and less than a yard when you are on the other team’s side of the field especially if you are not protecting any lead?

  9. If an NFL team is facing 4th and one or less, why punt? If you go for it and your team can’t convert it, that doesn’t say much for your OL, QB, and RB. If I would hazard a guess you would make a lot of conversions, which will get you into scoring position later. Risk vs. Reward.

  10. mybrunoblog says:Aug 14, 2015 10:31 AM

    This coach is pretty well known. He’s an innovator. Hope some NFL teams begin to go for it on 4th down more.



    You remember that when your team doesnt convert a 4th and ten on there own 25 yard line …..and lose’s……..its bad strategy that will cost people there jobs in the NFL

  11. A lot of things work in high school that don’t work in pro football. Heck, a lot of things that work in college don’t even work in pro. What works in pro football is having a HOF QB on your team. There are plenty of innovative ex-coaches. You can game plan all you want, but your team is going to get beat by Joe Montana on Sunday.

  12. NFL coaches can barely make themselves call a fourth and inches play a few times a year. Or go for two after a TD. No way are they giving up punts. Ever.

  13. NEVER? 4th and 10 from your own 1 yard line? He’s willing to possibly turnover the ball, on the 1, and give them 4 chances to score on his team? Or he can punt, and bet on his defense to eventually stop them from scoring from 40-50 yards away, or the other team making a mistake during their possession. I don’t know man, if my defense is good, and tough, I bet on them to get me the ball back in a better position in my scenario. A truly dominant defense can control an entire game. A blanket never never punt seems foolish.

  14. In my mind not innovating, but just plain stupid . NFL has great coaching minds, hard there is a reason none have have indorsed this philosophy. There is a huge difference between high school football and the NFL. In high school there can be big disparity between teams, so a good HS team can make up the difference of giving the other team great field advantage. Also it states that this coach does this strategy on his side of the field. Less sense in the NFL who has kickers that can kick 60 yd field goals. How many fans are not going to be screaming when their teams go for it on 4th and more than 10. There are a ton of NFL statistics that success a much higher rate of scoring based on a shorter field. What I’d like to know is the number of seasons this coach missed the state playoffs or championship making decisions like this.

  15. They should give me a call… I go for it all the time on Madden 2015 and good for the conversion.

  16. Bill Belichick has been going for it on 4th down more than anyone else in the NFL until recently, when certain other teams started to. He doesn’t do it all the time, he does it when the punt will probably net you less than 20 yards. All the time seems like too much. None of the time seems like too little. Bill’s way seems just right.

  17. The masterful Chip Kelly paved the way for guys like this. This guy should thank the original mad scientist. Multiple SuperBolws coming for the Eagles.

    The triple option, wing T, wishbone, pistol, etc… all of those considered innovative in their day. Even the forward pass was once considered an innovative miracle.

    I know you’re just a troll that’s trying to get a rise out of people, but give credit to all of those that thought outside the box and did things differently.

  18. I watched a show where an MIT mathematician said the same thing about punting. He had this crazy formula that (he said) showed that not punting gave a team a higher percentage chance of winning. Pretty interesting. It’s so contrary to conventional wisdom that coaches are reluctant to try it though.

  19. The NFL is very conservative. Any innovation comes from college and when one progressive and innovative NFL coach dares to stray from the conservative approach he’s met with scorn and ridicule until it works. Then the NFL is a copycat. The pressure to win with known methods is enormous but accepted. Losing with an unknown is unacceptable in their minds.

  20. Giants punted from the pats side of the field on 4th and manageable on their opening drive of the second SB with the pats. Downed at the 2, next play Brady panics and grounds in the EZ for a safety and the tone was set for another glorious victory over the cheaters.

    NFL ain’t madden

  21. Teams with no Offense have to punt. The 2005 Bears got to the Superbowl by punting and defense.

    The Seahawks, Ravens and Giants are all teams which used punting to set up their Defense to either get better field position/score and win Superbowls.

    Punting will always be part of the NFL.

  22. All of the MIT/simulation studies showed that you would on average win 1 to 1.5 more NFL games a year by never punting. The reason why it’s not done is simply that no coach would survive a few failures, much less a season’s worth. If Belichek is still getting killed for failing once against the Peyton Manning, then no one has a chance.

    The 2 biggest fan failures: Just because you fail on 4th down doesn’t mean the other team will score. Just because you punt doesn’t mean the other team won’t score.

    You only have to look at how many coaches kick fgs on 4th and short, then later regret it when losing a close game. Why pass up a 4th and short when maybe you need to convert multiple 4th and long later in the game with the clock running down?

  23. Chris Richardson and Troy Taylor, FOLSOM HS Division 1 California State Champs never punt (well rarely, like two times last year)

    Troy Taylor is a brilliant offensive mind. He is wasting away in a HS program. Dude should be in the NFL.

  24. Eliminate the punt entirely. That would actually make football more interesting, would certainly be an improvement over the bore-fest the game has become given the rule changes since 2000.

  25. The run and shoot started as a high school philosophy and filtered up to the NFL. Would be interesting to see this do the same.

    The thinking is thus — the average pass in the NFL gains about 7 yards, and the average run 4 yards. If you use all four downs for active aggressive plays, you keep the other side off balance AND you beat up their defense for later in the game, so the yards are easier and the clock runs. And I bet you cause the D to use more time outs, too.

    I’d like to see a coach try it in a preseason game and, if the season is looking shaky, go to it in an important game.

    As for “You’ll lose your job!” concerns — coaches are hired to be fired. If you lose you gig playing it safe, does that make you feel better? Nope.

  26. “The masterful Chip Kelly paved the way for guys like this. This guy should thank the original mad scientist. Multiple SuperBolws coming for the Eagles. #ICWT”

    The same masterful original mad scientist that has yet to win an NFL postseason game??

    At one time Don Coryell & Marv Levy were called the same thing. But both of those men although they won a few playoff games didn’t win any championships. Chip Kelly’s tenure & legacy will be be a lot like those 2 coaches.

  27. Just like to touch on two points.
    Point one:

    On the “winning by one and it’s 4th and 26 on your own 5 yard line with 2:00 on the clock” Kevin Kelly’s teams have punted before, his theory is based on the odds so it would be a punting situation.

    Point two:

    Chip Kelly paving the way for this guy? I don’t think so. They have opposite philosophies, while Chip Kelly is about scoring as quick as possible, this proved to be counter productive for the Defence because they spend to much time on the field and not enough time to recuperate between possessions.
    On the other hand Kevin Kelly’s take on the game puts the ball in the hands of the offense longer keeping the Defense fresh. Yes it’s not the same level of play high school and NFL but think that both teams get better not only the opposition, there’s research that proves that even in the NFL, teams that go for it on 4th down have a 75% chance of success.
    Think about it, are NFL teams playing the way they do based more on tradition than logic? It makes sense if you look at the numbers. Kevin Kelly’s style of football sounds like the logical way of playing the game. Last to the guy that made the Cowboys comment so the could keep sucking for another decade. I wish they would! We’d probably be looking at multiple Super Bowls 6th, 7th, 8th …

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