It’s the beginning of the second quarter; score is tied at zero and your team is sitting at third down and six. Your offense began this series with a false start penalty, leading to first and 15, followed by a great halfback toss and a block from your tackle to set up third and six. You call a read option, the linebacker bites on your halfback and your quarterback hits the line just in time to see his gap close. Now it’s fourth and three on your opponent’s 40-yard line.
What do you do?
It’s too far to kick a field goal. You know a decent punt will pin the opposing team inside their 20.
That’s when this thought crosses your mind, “Why would I willingly give the other team the ball?”
You punt because that’s what everyone else does. Football coaches punt on fourth down unless they’re losing in the fourth quarter and within striking range of the end zone.
What if I told you your team averages just over three yards a play. That doesn’t change things for most coaches, but it was those statistics that led Kevin Kelley, the Arkansas high school coach making national headlines, to start going for it on fourth down — always.
Why doesn’t he punt? Because possession is statistically undervalued in football. A more accurate statement might be that possession is skewed on its emotional value.
It may seem obvious, but the team that holds the football the most is more likely to score than teams on defense. Similarly, the team that commits fewer turnovers wins more than 80 percent of the time. NFL and NCAA stats put the average punts per game somewhere around five per team. Every game has 10 turnovers a team is not only willing to make, but it’s expected.
Kelley decided to prevent the turnovers he could control.
He also follows almost every touchdown with an onside kick.
This year, he plans to implement rugby style laterals in his offense this season. Why? Because the statistics are on his side.
We all fear failure to begin with, but failing when you’re trying to take an unconventional path is even scarier. That’s the fear of looking stupid.
For people to adopt Kelley’s strategy they have to overcome the fear of what their fans, team owners and players will think when 20 percent of the time going for it on fourth down fails.
What’s different between this high school coach and the Dallas Cowboys’ Jason Garrett? I’m sure more than matters to this column. When it comes to fourth quarters, the biggest difference is likely the guy signing the paycheck.
Jerry Jones isn’t signing Kevin Kelley’s checks. Billions of dollars in revenue aren’t on the line for Kevin Kelley, just the wins and losses. If Jason Garrett goes for it on fourth down and fails — even with favorable statistics on his side — he has to answer to one of the country’s more hands-on billionaires.
When there is more on the line, it’s harder to veer from conventionality.
At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if Kevin Kelley is answering to a billionaire or not. His 77-17 record and two state championship appearances speak for themselves.
College and pro teams have yet to take a chance on Kelley’s statistics-driven brand of football, but he regularly fields calls from coaches at higher levels — coaches who are seriously contemplating adding probability to their teams.
When a team finally decides to try Kelley out at a higher level, his unorthodox methods will be his greatest tool in combatting the more experienced and established teams. The best way to beat a greater opponent is by throwing something completely unexpected at them.
Speaking of unexpected, the last few hundred words weren’t just about football. They were about your business. You don’t have to be a football coach to decide to beat the competition by using the information they’re casting aside.
In marketing and business alike, I often find the best way to surprise the competition isn’t by trying to be better at what they were already doing — especially if they’ve been at it longer — but doing exactly what they aren’t.
Sometimes it seems we’re doomed to play the game the way it’s always been played. After all, a big part of sports is about honoring tradition.
Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t change the game. Kelley is a high school coach featured in HBO documentaries and New York Times articles while being sought out for advice by NFL coaches. Being small makes it easier to zag when everyone else is zigging in unison.
If every dentist is advertising in health magazines, go get a billboard or a TV spot. If every retail business is advertising the breadth of their stock, talk about how good you are at customer service. You’re not going to stand out otherwise.
Fear of failure, fear of looking stupid holds us to set paradigms.
It’s the part of our consciousness that makes us jealous when someone gets rich on a risky stock.
We say, “Of course it works for him/her. It’ll never work for me.”
While Coach Kevin Kelley is brave for trying something new, his real bravery is in sticking with his plan. His consistency is the key to his success. All too often, someone tries a new path but gives up when there’s not instant success.
Find a way to never intentionally give ground to your competitors.
Find an unconventional convention.
The only thing holding you back is the fear of failure.