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Arkansas high school football coaches react to Kevin Kelley, the coach that never punts, taking Sheridan job

The coaching fraternity in Arkansas is welcoming back one of its own
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One of Arkansas’ most successful high school football coaches is returning to the prep ranks and at least some of his peers are happy to have him back. 

Sheridan High School announced former Pulaski Academy standout Kevin Kelley as their new head coach following a district board meeting Monday night. 

“I think it is great for high school football having him back coaching,” said Greenwood head coach Chris Young, who battled Kelley in the mid-2000s as the Bulldogs offensive coordinator. The way he coaches and the way his teams play make a great impact. Personally, for us, with [Sheridan] also being in the 6A, it is good for us because we like playing good football teams. He is going to make an impact on the 6A-East.” 

The news didn’t shock Warren head coach Bo Hembree, who had his battles with Kelley and the Bruins several years ago when PA was in Class 4A.

“I really didn’t have a reaction,” Hembree said. “I knew he was wanting to get back. He is a really good football coach. High school football is better with him coaching.”

Pulaski Academy head coach Anthony Lucas succeeded Kelley at PA after serving on his staff. He guided the Bruins to two state titles in his first two seasons and the 6A semifinals this season.

“I was very happy for him,” said Lucas, a legendary former University of Arkansas wide receiver. “I am excited for Coach, and I know he will do well. He is a really good football coach. I know things didn’t go his way at [Presbyterian College], but he is a really good football coach.”

Along with the nine state championships, Kelley’s Bruins appeared in the state final 12 times, along with 18 trips to the quarterfinals and 15 to the semifinals while compiling an overall record of 216-29-1.

He left for Presbyterian College, an FCS program in South Carolina, and won his first two games before losing nine in a row. He and the school mutually parted ways, and after briefly serving on the New England Patriots coaching staff, he returned to Little Rock in 2022 and has worked in private business with his son Zack, a former PA and Ouachita Baptist wide receiver.

If taking over the mediocre Blue Hose was a challenge, the task that awaits the coach known for his unorthodox strategy may be more daunting. The Yellowjackets have had little football success and have only two winning seasons since 2000. Sheridan finished 3-7 this season with their second coach in the past two seasons.

“[Kelley] will come in and change the culture,” Lucas said. “The biggest thing is, will the kids buy into the preaching and teaching? The way Coach goes about things, if [the players] will buy in, they will win games and compete for state championships.”

The one glimmer of hope Yellowjackets fans had going into next season before the announcement was freshman running back Isaiah Stephens. Stephens was so good that he saw meaningful snaps on the varsity squad near the end of the season. It’s certain that Stephens will be a highly recruited NCAA Division I prospect. Lucas is familiar with Stephens and very impressed.

“I have seen them on film, and they are hard-nosed, and they have a good freshman running back [Stephens],” Hembree said. “Kevin is really smart. He has done his research. He feels like they have a shot at being competitive, or he wouldn’t have taken it.”

Kelley built a national reputation as he racked up wins at PA while never punting and always onside kicking. That along with a high-octane offense that contained a variety of trick plays became a winning formula for his program that rarely had Division I talent. Only a handful of quarterbacks played at the FBS level. New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry made the biggest splash, starring at Arkansas before moving on to the NFL. Offensive lineman Jonathan Luigs also was a standout for the Razorbacks and played in the NFL. 

While his teams weren’t always the most physically gifted, the private prep school provided players with high IQs and discipline. Their execution was rarely matched.

“Our special teams coach spent hours preparing for PA’s onside kicks (Lucas and his staff continue this philosophy),” said Young, who led Greenwood to the Class 6A state championship in his fourth year as the head coach. “They are hard to prepare for. Coach Kelley does a very good job with what he does and that will continue at Sheridan as teams prepare to play them.”

Kelley's complex offense is almost as tough to defend as the onside kicks.

“There are some good athletes there, so you put them in Kevin Kelley’s offense, they could be dangerous,” Lucas said. “I think they will do well, do good.”

Kelley's former aide is "interested and anxious to see how he will do."

"It is going to take some time, but he is going to go down there his first year and get the community on board and ignite some excitement," Lucas said. 

Photo of Greenwood head coach Chris Young (left) and Pulaski Academy head coach Anthony Lucas by Tommy Land 

-Nate Olson I @ndosports I