Friday, December 26, 2008

Using All Four Downs to the State Title..

A high school football story this week really caught my eye. It comes out of Pulaski, Arkansas, and it's about a high school football coach, Kevin Kelley, who decided he simply would not punt the ball, no matter what. The best part? His team just took home a state title.

The neat thing about the article is that the coach's reasoning wasn't coming from some Disney-esque "Never Say Die" cliche-book, or some stubbornness that bore no fruit (like the opposing college basketball coach who decided to always double-team Steph Curry, even when he just stood out in the corner, thereby giving Davidson a 4-on-3 "power play" every time down the court).

Instead, he did a lot of rigorous statistical analysis of the conversion percentages on fourth down, the distance that punts travel in high school games, the average returns, etc. and when he crunched all the numbers, came to his reasonable conclusion, despite the inevitable guffaws and eye-rolls that surely came from his own stands and sidelines when he said he was "sticking" on fourth-and-long deep in his own territory.

Also of interest was his decision to onside kick approximately 75% of the time. Again, he had numbers to back him up, and he has the results to prove that he was onto something. Reading about it took me right back to Michael Lewis' wonderful Moneyball, a true page-turner which appealed right down the middle of my sports fanatic and analytical sides.

I'm sure a lot of other coaches and administrators were upset with Mr. Kelley because of his unorthodoxy that must've seemed unfair somehow.

But I wholeheartedly congratulate his success (just as I do every time I see something neat like a third-down "quick kick" or a real fourth-down punt set up to look like a fake), because of the lesson he's sending to his players.

Innovate. Work within the rules that society lays down, but when you see room for clever, new interpretations of those rules, seize the opportunity. As much as the cliche will make some people cringe, think outside the familiar rectangular object.

If you've been given four downs, take them. Use them. Just because everyone else punts on fourth doesn't mean you have to.

When you study the lives of any great inventor (say, a Thomas Edison) or even just an innovator (Warren Buffett) you'll see a common theme emerge -- they saw things for what they could be, followed their hunches, and changed the way others thought.

I was just looking at the e-mail signature quote from Kathleen Marcin, Lowell DNA President, and here it is, straight from Albert Einstein: "Great spirits have always encountered
violent opposition from mediocre minds."

I'm sure Coach Kelley can relate.

And the princple, of course, goes way beyond a bunch of teenagers in Arkansas.

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