Bill Belichick speaks regularly with high school coach famous for not punting

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Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered some unprompted praise for a high school football coach this week, in comments that weren’t surprising to anyone who has followed both coaches’ careers.

The coach was Kevin Kelley of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock. Belichick was talking about Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, whom the Patriots will face on Sunday, before shifting to a discussion of Kelley, who coached Henry in high school.

“Coach Kelley is probably the top high school coach in the country,” Belichick said. “I’ve followed him. He’s a little unconventional, but he’s had great success, and he’s had a lot of players come through there. . . . I have great respect for coach Kelley and the program he runs, and some of the creative things that he does.”

Kelley is well known in coaching circles for being adamant that punting is a bad move, and that coaches should go for it on fourth down. Kelley’s teams almost never punt, and almost always onside kick after scoring. And it works, as Kelley has won eight Arkansas state championships in his 16 seasons as Pulaski Academy’s head coach.

That sounds like the kind of weird strategy that couldn’t work in the NFL, but Kelley has had enough success with it that several NFL coaches have reached out to him. Belichick is one of those coaches, Belichick famously made one of the most aggressive fourth down calls in NFL history when he went for it on fourth-and-2 at his own 28-yard line late in a 2009 loss to the Colts. He was widely criticized by fans and the media for that, but the analytics community said it was the right decision, even though it didn’t work.

Kelley told the Boston Herald that he speaks regularly with Belichick, and although he declined to say what kind of information they share, it’s easy to see Belichick liking to pick the brain of someone who comes at coaching from a different angle. Belichick hasn’t completely bought into the “never punt” mentality — in fact, he was criticized after last year’s playoff loss for punting too much — but he’ll always make time for a football coach with a unique way of doing things.