Kevin Kelley is the high school football coach at Pulaski Academy, a private school in Little Rock, Arkansas. He's received a great deal of attention for his utterly unorthodox strategy when it comes to kicking the ball: don't. Kelley's teams never punt, never return punts, and always attempt onside kicks during kickoffs. This approach has yielded remarkable results, with Pulaski's Bruins winning three state championships while going 124-22 over the last decade.
Kelley's been featured in publications ranging from Sports Illustrated to the New Yorker, and now Grantland has put together a terrific short interview in which he explains his philosophy and the effects it's had. Even if you aren't a football fan, and even if you know little about the sport, it's very much worth watching:
But why bring this up on a political site? Coach Kelley, it turns out, shares a core trait with the online activist movement that spawned the progressive blogosphere: He's an outsider at heart. Kelley rejects conventional wisdom because the facts say he should.
After watching a video from a Harvard professor who concluded teams should stop punting, Kelley says he started asking "'why' about everything in our program." That led him to adopt an empirical approach—you might call it reality-based—that revolutionized his team's kicking game and made them wildly successful (while having a ton of fun, too).
Kelley could have played it safe. He could have rejected the advice of some pointy-headed Ivy League academic, just like the football establishment has. But like the Bill James devotees who ultimately succeeded in dragging professional baseball into the "Moneyball" era, Kelley isn't interested in tradition for tradition's sake. He's interested in winning, and in understanding the numbers so that they can help him win. They may ignore Kelley now, but eventually, they'll be listening to him—and imitating him.
Sounds a lot like a political movement I know. And one I'm proud to be part of.
P.S. For more on the math behind Kelley's approach, check out the New York Times' Fourth Down Bot.