Conventional wisdom in American football dictates that on 4th down, the rational thing to do is punt the football away if your team is outside your opponent’s 40 yard line. This keeps most everyone happy, because it is what is expected. Going for it on 4th down is usually seen as a gutsy call, reserved for desperate situations or the occasional and rare tactical gamble.
The same can be said for onside kicks. When kicking off, it is expected that the ball will be kicked deep, either creating a touchback, or at least making the returning receiver start as deep as possible in his own territory.
But what if someone ignored conventional wisdom and what is expected, and instead incorporated an unconventional approach to 4th down situations and kickoffs? What if you never punted and always went for onside kicks? Sound crazy? Too risky? A sure-fire plan to lose and get fired as head coach?
Coach Kevin Kelley, of the Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas, has been going for it on 4th down and kicking onside kicks since 2003 and has an impressive 152-24-1 record and five state titles in six championship games to show for it. He was looking for a way to give his team a slight edge and came upon research by Professor David Romer, from the University of California, Berkeley, that revealed it is almost always incorrect to punt away the ball. Using a system that assigns point values to locations on the field, the coach can quickly determine whether or not to punt – and the answer is almost always no. The players love it.
Of course getting fans, management or owners to accept the idea of going for it deep in your own side of the field is another story. These are the kind of wild, gambling actions that get coaches fired. Better to do the “smart” or “right” thing and punt the ball. That is the safe play. But statistically, rationally, it is not.
Coach Kelley is winning games and championships in an unconventional way and displaying the three tents of unconventional action and thinking:
- Effort – he put in the time do the research and develop his system and now even sells it as a coaching package – massive action.
- Doing what others will not – Nobody goes for it on 4th down outside the opponent’s 40-yard line. Is just wrong. It goes against everything traditional football “experts” know and expect.
- No need for social approval – You are going to catch a lot of flack choosing not to punt and kicking “dangerous” onside kicks all the time. There are millions of armchair quarterbacks and experts that will poo-poo and deride your decision. You will make headline news if you are wrong. You will probably get fired if you are wrong too often. Coach Kelley doesn’t mind what the experts think – and he has 5 championships on his side.