Rob Acunto, the embattled athletics director at Presbyterian College, said it was time “to go big or go home.”
That’s presumably why Acunto felt the need to fire Tommy Spangler after the Blue Hose’ first winning season since 2014. Spangler was loyal, widely respected and ultimately successful. He was steward of taking PC from the Big South Conference to the Pioneer Football League and from scholarships to walk-ons.
Acunto and the new Presbyterian president, Dr. Matthew vandenBerg, stressed the boldness and a willingness to take a risk in hiring Kevin Kelley, a highly successful and much praised high school coach from Little Rock, Ark.
Kelley’s mastery of the football played at Pulaski Academy is virtually complete. He has won nine state championships in 18 years and more than 200 games.
“The reputation that this school has is something I want to be a part of,” Kelley said. “I want to join this team in their pursuit of wins on the field, while representing their name, and the school's name, in all areas.”
Presbyterian College is getting lots of publicity and exposure. Some consider it an innovative hire. Others ridicule PC for hiring “that high school coach who never punts.” Some think Kelley’s ideas are those whose time has come. Some think they are as nutty as any fruitcake.
Kelley comes to PC after spending the last 18 seasons as head coach at Pulaski and as offensive coordinator for the Bruins six years prior to being named to the top spot. He is a 1992 graduate of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark.
“Coach Kelley's application immediately caught my attention because of his incredible success at winning football games, his notoriety and his national following,” said Acunto. “Once I had the opportunity to speak with him, I quickly realized he was more than just an exceptional coach. He is a person of tremendous character, possesses strong moral values and builds lifelong relationships that transcend the sport of football. We feel fortunate to have Kevin become a part of the PC family and lead our football program to new heights."
The 2016 USA Today National Football Coach of the Year is also a motivational speaker, traveling across the country speaking to big business gatherings and analytics conference. In 2014, he was the Tribeca Film Festival’s Disruptive Innovator of the Year.
How many head football coaches have been celebrated as a disruptive innovator? At least one.
Kelley approaches football in a different way, “a unique ability on the offensive side of the ball.”
No less an authority than the National Football League’s most famous head coach, Bill Belichick, has called Kelley the best high school coach in America. Belichick joined Friday’s media conference at Bailey Memorial Stadium via Zoom from an apparent SUV … somewhere.
Belichick took questions. Acunto and vanderBerg did not.
Kelley announced that Joey Orck, in whose behalf many alums and players had lobbied to be the new head coach, will remain as offensive coordinator, and Kent Haltiwanger will remain from Spangler’s staff, where he coached tight ends and special teams. A handful of players attended.
Kelley, indeed, promised to continue his “data-driven” offensive philosophies. The Blue Hose will seldom punt, seldom return punts and often try to retain possession after touchdowns by using the onsides kick as a standard practice without any element of surprise.
In his remarks, vanderBerg called Kelley a man “who will help PC define its passions.” He is, according to vanderBerg, “a data-driven master of his craft.”
Kelley said the goal for his first team is “to win the PFL next year,” PC’s first as a full member in the non-scholarship league. Of the college, its students and its players, Kelley said, “I want them to be glad they hired me.”
He might have a hard job convincing the punter.