Coach Spotlight: Joe Kelly

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Photo by Patrick Vitale

From playing against the University of Dallas rugby team in college, to eventually becoming its coach, new Head Coach Joe Kelly’s career has led him along a diverse and interesting path, gaining a widely respected name and high accolades in the Texas rugby community.

Kelly’s career started as a 14-year-old high school student in Washington D.C. and has been an active rugger since. Moving to Texas in 1980, he founded the University of Texas at Arlington’s Maverick Rugby Club, and played for them for a majority of his adult career, eventually filling every possible role a club member could fill, including player, coach, captain, manager, administrator, etc. It was with UT Arlington’s Maverick Rugby Club that he played against UD decades ago while Bob McNabb was UD’s coach.

Kelly moved onto coaching and administration for the Dallas Rugby Football Club (the premier USA Rugby Club in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area) known as the Reds, both on the men’s and women’s side of the sport, eventually holding the position of vice president for three years. 

Throughout all his accomplishments, Kelly is most proud of his efforts with youth rugby in Texas, helping the Mavericks provide opportunities for young men in high school from Northwest Dallas to far Southern DFW cities to fulfill their dreams of playing rugby at their highest capacity. He also volunteered his time for the Rugby Texas High Performance program, helping scour Texas for the best young rugby players and giving them the opportunity to represent Texas on the national level. With the Reds, Kelly even coached grade school children, running camps for the YMCA, leading daily summer rugby classes for Farmers Branch Rec Center and participating in every North Texas youth camp he could.

The culmination of Kelly’s involvement in Texas’ rugby community resulted in him being voted into the Texas Rugby Union Hall of Fame, though the induction ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“It is truly the greatest honor I could receive from my fellow Texas ruggers,” Kelly wrote in an email on Sept. 11. “It’s quite humbling.”

After taking a year off, as Kelly reported, much to his wife’s delight, he joined the UD community as head coach of the rugby team. When asked about what led him to UD, the character of the ruggers here arose as a key factor.

“I got a call from Fil Keuppens, a former UD coach and Director of [the Reds]…  I’ve known Fil for years… He gave my name and info to Damien Walz who gave me a call, seemingly almost immediately. The reason why I considered the position was based upon my reflection of the great character of the UD ruggers I’ve met over the years,”  Kelly wrote. “I grow more impressed each time I run practice with these fine athletes. Their work ethic, willingness to learn, desire to become better and general fitness level is a coach’s dream.”

Kelly also hopes to create a team full of versatility and commitment, saying:

“My immediate concerns are to prepare the team to be the very best they can and be ready to conquer whatever scenarios lay ahead, on and off the pitch.  Over the long term, I plan to guide  the players to a path that allows them to grow into a great rugby team, and each to endeavor to achieve their own personal rugby goals.”

Even with only a few weeks of practice completed, the team seems to appreciate their new coach as much as he appreciates them. Junior business major and Vice President of UD’s rugby team Matthew Quinlan spoke very highly of his experience under Kelly. 

“How he approaches the basics and fundamentals of the game is really unlike any coach I’ve had in my six year career,” Quinlan wrote. “I really think that under his coaching we will be really successful.” 

Junior English major and President of UD’s Rugby team Damian Walz, mentioned as one of the first to contact Kelly about the position, also spoke incredibly highly of their new coach. 

“Coach Kelly is one of the best rugby coaches in the state of Texas,” Walz wrote. “We expect to grow under his leadership into a club capable of winning in the spring and playing perfect fundamental rugby.”

Quinlan is confident in the team’s ability to reach its longstanding goals under the direction of this new coach. 

“Our goal has always been to win a Lonestar Conference Championship, which is the Texas conference, and I think that between the talent we’re bringing in and the work ethic that Coach Kelly brings, we’ll be able to win the championship in the next couple years.”

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