# The Guardian on Kevin Kelley

The Guardian is a British newspaper/website but they do have US operations including covering American sports. So one of their US sports guys talked to Kelley. Actually learned some stuff here I didn’t know, like where KK got the numbers that are the basis for Kelleyball. Interesting read.
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Interesting article that told me something I did not know: that the analytics was developed by an economics professor using NFL teams. Per the article, the system says it’s better to go for it on 4th & 4 or less. I can understand that. NFL teams are roughly equal to each other & 4th & 4 is short enough that a decent NFL team can probably make that more often than not. (I don’t think the article addressed the on side kickoffs.)

Kelley, however, goes for it (or used to) when it was 4th & forever everywhere on the field regardless of the game situation. (Down by a FG with under a minute to play on your own 20 & facing 4th & 10 & the other team with all its timeouts, go for it and hurry to the line of scrimmage rather milk clock.) I can understand playing the odds as set forth in that system, but I think he overreads the system. But I’m no expert & certainly no coach.

The decision to go for it on 4th downs doesn’t take only your odds of converting into account. It also takes the odds of what happens after. Say it’s 4th and 30 from your own 10-yard line. The odds of you converting that are low. And if you don’t, what are the odds your opponent is going to score from there? Pretty good.

Analytics look at what the odds are if the other team scores even if you punt it away. There are a number of outcomes there as well. If you historically net 20 yards on punts and your opponent scores on about the same number of drives from the 30 as they do from the 10, then go for it on 4th down.

I’d say Lane Kiffin read that book! 4 games, 9 punts. Went for it 4th down 19 times w 14 conversions, right at 74%. Punter is averaging just short of 50 yards a kick too.

That doesn’t surprise me. I’m not sure that any model can account for everything a coach should consider from the sideline while making a decision, but it doesn’t surprise me the model takes most things into account.

I notice that Kiffin doesn’t ALWAYS go for it. Neither does he try an on-side kick on every kickoff. Kelley does that. I suspect both are Kelley’s own innovation & is not based upon the model. However, I also know there’s a big difference between a model based on NFL teams and a model based on high school or low-level college football. The NFL punters can all kick high 45 yard-plus punts. HS punters are much less consistent and rarely punt nearly as far or high. The only equalizer is that HS returners aren’t as likely to field the ball or return it.

Interesting article.

Here is another story - with a short video - that explains Kelley’s strategies.

Years ago, I read that another factor in his decision to never punt is that in a game, they punted twice and each was returned for a touchdown.

A strategy that I have not seen discussed is punt returns. In Pulaski games I watched, the punt return team didn’t attempt to block a punt. They made sure it wasn’t a fake; once the ball was kicked, all players would run to the sideline. I concluded this was to not risk a penalty or a turnover.

Clicking links through from the Guardian article, I eventually came across an article written in 2006 by Jason Scheib, whose premise is that a punt is just a different kind of turnover. Scheib’s ideas dovetail with KK. Go for it all the time, regardless of yardage, which allows you to make the numbers work for you, and alter your play calling pattern knowing that you don’t have to pick up the first down in 3 tries, which puts more pressure on the defense (they can’t just drop deep on third and 10 for instance).

To no one’s surprise, when you count any time you give up the ball without scoring as a turnover, the teams that do that the least win the most. Which is what KK did at PA all those years. KK cut his “turnovers” down by not punting. Kicking off deep is not a turnover, because you don’t have possession, but if you recover the OSK, it’s a “turnover” for the receiving team

I strongly suspect KK has read Scheib. It seems to mirror Kelleyball: no punts, onside kicks, etc.

This is loooong, and I haven’t finished it yet, but…

Well, certainly a punt is turnover, but it’s 40+ yards downfield. It’s like those DB’s who intercept a long 4th down pass and celebrate when if they’d knocked down the ball their offense would have much better field position. Of course long 4th down passes are rare and usually occur at the end of a game when the trailing team is desperate.

I don’t think the nomenclature changes the strategy. You’d rather give up the ball farther from your own end zone than near it. Your odds of converting 4th and long are worse than 4th and short. Now if you play with the idea you’re always going for it on 4th down, I can understand calling plays that are more likely to get 4th and short vs 4th and long.

I doubt OM would have beaten Bama if they’d punted more than they did, but when they failed to get the first down from their own 28 with about 2 mins left in the half (I think that was about the time left) and Alabama scored on the short field in just a few plays, the game was practically out of reach.

Seems like OM eschewed a couple of FG’s against us last year, failing to get the 1st down that might have cost them the game.

Maybe this theory is the smart one. Maybe it’s the wave of the future, but I’m not sure this author and Kevin Kelley have figured out what Saban and every other great coach have missed. And a lot of those coaches were very innovative

My feeling on that is that while Saban and others are indeed innovative, they have focused their innovation around a three-down game. Because that’s what has always been done (or as Bruce Hornsby put it, “that’s just the way it is, some things will never change”; I heard that song on the way to work this morning).

Scheib and KK see that it is a four down game and the conventional wisdom wastes 25% of those downs. Even Kiffin still wastes 15-20% of them.

It’s going to take someone like KK to blow up the conventional wisdom. To prove that punting is not only not essential but counterproductive.

Well, that assumes KK is right.

If your team averages 40 yards per punt and are backed up in your own endzone, you are still giving the other team the ball at midfield, assuming there is no return, which there probably would be considering the punting team will not send many players in coverage.

That’s right. And if you’re in your own end zone & don’t make the 4th down conversion, you’re giving the other team the ball at your own goal line. I don’t know about you, but I know which circumstance I’d rather put my defense in.

You’re giving the other team the ball, no matter what. Maybe it’s at midfield. Maybe the punt is blocked. Maybe Joe Adams takes it to the house. Punting is no guarantee that you’ll be in any better shape than going for it, but it does guarantee you don’t continue the drive, and there’s a nonzero chance that they don’t get the ball at all if you convert the fourth down.

Maybe punting truly is the wiser course. But somebody needs to actually find out instead of an entire sport twiddling our thumbs for decades and assuming the CW is correct.

Baseball assumed for decades that the conventional infield defensive alignment was best too. The shift has proven otherwise, and people are not bunting all over the place to beat it.

Why would you rather put them in that situation? It is much easier to defend in the redzone due to the limited number of plays an offense can run from that spot on the field. Is it just a fear thing?

I recognize a punt is not 100% guaranteed to succeed. It’s just more likely to than not.

I’m not convinced the sport has been “twiddling our thumbs…assuming.” I happen to believe a whole lot of brilliant coaches have concluded it’s the wiser course. Perhaps they’re not as smart about this as Kelley, but I think they are.

Okay. Next time the other team gets the ball at midfield, why don’t you suggest the team commits a bunch of penalties to let them get down to the 5 yard line where it’s easier to stop them from scoring. I don’t know why no coach has thought of that.

You did not answer the questions.

I thought I answered it quite clearly. I’d rather make a team go 45-50 yards than 1 yard-. Wouldn’t you? Is it “fear”? Well, I suppose it is if you’re afraid of the other team scoring a TD. Last time I checked, the object of the game is score more points than the opponent. Rarely is a good idea to give up an easy touchdown. (Am I missing something here?)

You give them more credit than I do. I think the outliers in the coaching profession are the Kiffins. OM has gone for it 19 times, tried 5 field goals and punted 9 times (33 fourth down opportunities in 4 games ain’t much, but then they’re scoring 44 ppg). But going for it 19 out of 33 times is approaching KK territory but not really close.

So the brilliant minds are stretching just to get to Kiffin level and can’t even conceive of actually not having a punter on your roster. I think Saban probably knows about KK (he’s probably tried to recruit a PA kid or two) but that likely does not mean he’s ever actually considered going puntless.

No doubt Kiffin is the outlier. It’s also obvious I give coaches more credit for knowing what they’re doing than you do. When the subject is someone’s profession I tend to defer to the successful professionals.

I think we can all agree Frank Broyles was one of the most brilliant football minds of modern football. I cannot imagine him going for it on 4th & 2 inside his own 30 in the first half of a football game whether he was trailing or leading by 2 TD’s or if the score were tied. Of course, the game has changed to more favor offenses since Broyles coached, but even so…

No doubt Saban knows about KK & Kiffin–he had Kiffin as his OC & he’s not only recruited but signed a PA kid or two. But Saban didn’t go the never-punt route. It seems to have worked out for him.

Broyles was prone from time to time to punt (quick kick?) on 3d down. I always hated that.