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Kevin Kelley, Head Coach of Pulaski Academy (Little Rock, AR), is on the show this week to discuss his unique strategic philosophy. Known as the “coach who never punts”, Coach Kelley has leveraged his offensive acumen, love of advanced stats and commitment to onside kicking to lead his team to three state championships since 2003. He and Dave break down the data underlying his strategies, dive into the details of how he executes his special teams plays and discuss the differing ways the football world has responded to his success.

If you're interested in learning more about Coach Kelley and the Pulaski Academy Bruins, check out the following links:

Grantland Channel: "The Coach Who Never Punts"
New York Times: "Punting Less Can Be Rewarding, but Coaches Aren't Risking Jobs on It"
The New Yorker: "The Case Against Punting"
ESPN (TMQ): "It's time to punt that punter!"
Sports Illustrated: "Down 29-0 before touching the ball"
Youtube - "Pulaski Academy Onside Kick Highlights""NFL Films Presents"

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Comments (4)

  • Guest - Andrew Sutton

    Great Interview. His points about the lack innovation/risk aversion thats in most walks of life. People like sports because they view it as this meritocratic field but it falls for nepotism like any other endeavor. If I was a GM of a team or an AD of a school, I would hire him so fast. I have also read about this unconventional West Liberty coach and how he wins so many games. The Grinnell coach too but neither has made the jump. I'm glad that he isn't going to settle just because its the way you typically go on to become a D1 coach.

  • Wow - what a great interview. I have been listening to the podcast for a while and this was excellent. Being a Falcons fan, can someone hook this guy up with Arthur Blank? He "gets it." He is the only football coach I have ever heard who understands numbers and statistics. Great job guys.

  • Guest - Andrew Sutton

    Second the Falcon point.

  • Guest - SlackerInc

    Super interesting interview. I have been reading about this guy for years, but this was truly the sweet spot, getting a lengthy interview on a podcast for a site that "gets it".

    I don't understand why a coach who is facing almost certain firing at the end of the season, like the Jets' Rex Ryan, doesn't try some of this stuff for the last few games of the season. Or what about someone like Belicheck giving it a try in an early preseason game?

    It's so reminiscent of how the game of poker has changed. Pretty much everyone used to play poker very conservatively, except the bad players who played loosely and passively. Kelley actually reminds me of poker hall of famer Stu Unger in terms of being aggressive and ahead of his time. Unger played poker very aggressively decades ago, and won a bunch of world championships; but he was seen as kind of a madman and no one really emulated him until decades later. But now there are thousands of very good online pros who play that super aggressive high variance but high reward style. I suspect we'll eventually see the same happen with football (we're already seeing it just a titch, as some coaches are a little more aggressive about fourth downs than we would see a decade or more ago) and Kelley will receive his due as a visionary ahead of his time.

    Extending the poker analogy, though, I have to call BS a little bit on his claim that the only reason to eschew onside kicks when he's got a big lead is because of sportsmanship. Clearly his usual strategy is a higher variance play that, *on average*, leads to what poker players call "higher EV" (I think there's a similar term used on this site but it escapes me). But higher average EV, with greater volatility, is not worth it when you have a big lead, because winning by a large margin doesn't give you anything more valuable than winning by a small margin. Thus you'd rather reduce volatility at that point. In poker, this can happen when you are on the bubble of a qualifier (where, say, five players all win the same prize--usually a ticket to a bigger tournament--and you have a dominating chip lead with six players left). Though aggressive, high variance play may have been the best way early in the tournament to accrue that chip lead, at this point your best play is to fold everything--even pocket aces (though in real life, most players find it hard to do).

    And getting back to football, there are obvious cases like the "victory formation" on offense, or the "prevent defense" (even if it is sometimes used too soon, there are times late in the game when it is clearly the best strategy, even if it does a terrible job statistically in terms of giving up yards).

    The irony in my enthusiasm about Kelley is that I actually really like the punting game. I tend to think it gets overlooked, and I enjoy watching good punters and punt coverage teams in action. But if I were convinced that even on the NFL level, it was strategically superior to give it up altogether, I'd live. (What I think is more likely is that it should be used more sparingly, in conjunction with a strong defense, when a team faces fourth-and-long--especially when they are backed up deep on their own side of the field.)