PC Nails Kevin Kelley Hire


Kevin Kelley broke several Division I FCS records in his first game as the Blue Hose head football coach. Photo © Mitchell Mercer.

Mitchell Mercer, Staff Writer

Presbyterian College drew howls of protest last year when, despite the team’s 4-3 record, competitive in all games, and its first winning season since 2014, Head Football Coach Tommy Spangler got the axe.

From newspaper editorials to outraged alums, the reaction wasn’t pretty. Spangler, now a defensive coach at nearby Clinton High School, received a lot of support as fans, students, and alumni loudly let it be known they felt the College had made a massive mistake.

The 2020-21 season had represented a return to PC for Spangler, who left back in 2006. The Blue Hose did not thrive in his absence. With legendary South Carolina high school coach Bobby Bentley and Harold Nichols, both PC alums, at the helm, the team compiled a 31-82 record: a winning percentage of 27.4 percent. As the program hemorrhaged support, the College made the decision in 2017 to move from the Big South to the Pioneer Football League, still Division I, but a non-scholarship league.

The decision was costly for PC, as Spangler faced the loss of many key players to the transfer portal, including future Indianapolis Colts cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, Coastal Carolina running back and play-maker C.J. Marble and former starters Adonis Sealey and Ralph Singleton at offensive tackle.

While Spangler was able to retain key contributors Keith Pearson and Colby Campbell, the transition hurt the program’s recruiting. As a result, many on the football roster are walk-ons, paying out of pocket for their PC tuition. Spangler was seen to have done remarkably well with limited options. 

The PC football job may not just be the toughest Division I FCS job—it may be the hardest college coaching job period.

Even YouTube got into the act a few years back, with a vlogger calling Presbyterian College the “worst college team” in America and claiming that a powerhouse high school program in California could beat the Hose. 

A Risky Play

For PC’s new leader, Dr. Matthew vandenBerg, facing his first major test as president, the combination of circumstances represented a high-pressure situation. Knowing the program faced an uphill battle fighting for success, knowing that by comparison other small South Carolina schools — Coastal Carolina, Wofford, The Citadel, Furman — had had much more success in Division I FCS — vandenBerg called a risky play.

He hired Kevin Kelley of Pulaski Academy out of Little Rock, Ark., otherwise known as “the coach who never punts”—and early results seem to indicate that it was an inspired move.

There were naysayers, to be sure. Despite winning multiple state championships at Pulaski, despite his coaching philosophy’s being praised by luminaries like New England Patriots legend Bill Belichick, many felt the hire was risky, that PC was taking too much of a gamble. 

It’s true the transition from high school to college can be a bumpy one. Coaches have struggled mightily with the NCAA rules, not to mention with recruiting, the complex playbooks and more mature players.

But Kelley has proved all of his doubters wrong.

In his first-ever game as PC’s head coach, he dominated for 60 minutes by defeating St. Andrews 84-43. Indeed, PC quarterback Ren Hefley broke a Division I FCS record, throwing 38 completions with 10 touchdowns. 

The win was so massive that PC was the top story on ESPN SportsCenter–and garnered coverage on CBS Sports, The Athletic, and more. 

Then PC proved lightning could strike twice. On the heels of that home-opening victory, the Hose posted another dominating performance against Fort Lauderdale. They won 68-3, with the offense posting 635 yards. 

The bottom line is that Kelley has brought excitement to the fan base and a relevance to the program that it hasn’t experienced in years.

More With Less

Presbyterian College’s football program is a tough job, but Kelley has proven that winning can happen in Clinton.

Kelley has brought excitement not only to campus, but throughout Clinton and Laurens County. Everyone is now coming together and cheering on PC at Bailey Stadium on Saturdays, compared to a sea of empty seats in seasons past.

Kelley has done more with less in a tough roster situation, has hired great new coaches and retained solid members of the old staff and is building a program that is all about a positive culture and the belief that the team can win games.

PC will play tougher opponents in Campbell, San Diego and Davidson, but winning by large margins in early games not only builds confidence and momentum, it helps the players believe that, despite relative disadvantages, the program can compete at a high level.

It’s looking like the best is yet to come for Kelley and the PC football program. Indeed, PC President vandenBerg nailed the Kevin Kelley hire.