Kevin Kelley doesn't believe in quitting.
That's to be expected from a serial winner, a coach who led Pulaski Academy to nine state football titles over 18 seasons while shattering records in the process.
So when the news came in December that Kelley was walking away from Presbyterian College after less than seven months as a Division I head coach, there was surprise, especially back in Arkansas.
As always, Kelley had his reasons.
"The only thing that supersedes quitting is do[ing] what you think is right," he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week. "The only thing I've ever done in my life is try to do what I think is right, and I thought this was the right thing for my family."
Kelley declined to answer any questions specifically discussing his time at Presbyterian -- a small private school in Clinton, S.C. -- but in a March interview with The Athletic, he cited the numerous challenges of trying to compete at the Football Championship Subdivision level while not offering scholarships. The Blue Hose won their first two games last fall, only to drop its final nine. Seven of those defeats were by 20 points or more.
He doesn't regret walking away from a Pulaski Academy program that excelled in its first season post-Kelley -- the Bruins went 13-1 en route to another Class 5A state title in 2021.
"You make a decision to give something up to take something else," Kelley said. "You can always look back and go, 'Man, maybe I shouldn't have.' I'm not that guy."
Shortly after resigning from Presbyterian, Kelley quietly took a job with the New England Patriots and his friend Bill Belichick as an offensive analyst. Kelley performed his duties remotely through the end of the Patriots' season but went to Boston in February. Walking into an NFL facility, Kelley said he was "in dreamland."
But after a week, he didn't want to be away from his wife, Dana, and his daughter, Kara, any longer. As much as he wanted the NFL, now wasn't the time. It's instead given Kelley some unexpected opportunities.
He watched Kara, who took college classes at Presbyterian while her family was in South Carolina, graduate with the rest of her classmates last month after re-enrolling at Pulaski Academy. Kelley and his son, Zach, are also in the process of launching an athletic training facility for kids ages 2-10 called Kid Champion.
Best of all, he and Dana get to spend more time as a couple than they have in decades. Although both worked at Pulaski Academy -- Kevin as head football coach and Dana as a preschool teacher -- they never saw one another during the day "except if they did a Christmas program."
Now? They exercise together daily and are partners in business, working as a real estate duo for a local agency.
"It's given me so much more time," Kelley said.
One thing Kelley isn't doing is considering retirement.
Sitting in a coffee shop in a polo and khaki shorts -- but with sandals, so as not to be too buttoned-up, he explains -- Kelley detailed the nuances of passing offenses, differentiating between high school, college and the pros. He's still got his film setup at home, watching tape regularly and also works with coaches on all levels to help them improve as leaders.
At 52, a return to coaching is a legitimate possibility. Just not now.
"I will miss when the fall comes. The games and their strategy and the relationships with the coaches and kids when you're battling together, I'll miss that," Kelley said. "But I'm enjoying the [business] relationships I'm building."
Local football fans may catch a glimpse of Kelley on Friday nights. He said he'll be at games -- both at Pulaski Academy and elsewhere -- but he'll try his best to remain inconspicuous, perhaps with a hoodie or a cap.
Despite all that transpired the last 13 months, Kelley still loves football.
"It's been my whole life," he said. "I've gotten to go on trips and see the world that I would never see as a guy that just [lives] on a coaching salary. ... I've gotten to meet freak people -- actors from Hollywood, celebrities in the sports world -- because of the game of football. So how can I not love it?"