Modern-day society tends to measure a coach’s success by wins and losses, championships and streaks.
As impressive as those statistics may be on a coach’s résumé, however, a coach’s influence, impact and contributions to a sport can be just as meaningful. For the past 44 years, few have made more of an impact on high school football than Tom Feely.
Feely, the longtime special teams coordinator at Jesuit High, has coached hundreds, perhaps thousands, of youths in various sports, but he is known especially for his work in football. Whether a one-one-one instruction on a Saturday or a week-long camp or combine featuring hundreds of youths, Feely is nationally known for teaching the fundamentals and techniques of kicking and punting.
To date, roughly 15 of Feely’s students have played professional football. His most notable pupil is son Jay Feely, a Jesuit High grad who went on to play 16 years in the professional ranks, including 14 in the NFL, and now works as a college football analyst for CBS Sports.
“I know there’s nobody who’s done more in the state of Florida to help kids get better in the last 15 years from a kicking and punting standpoint,” Jay Feely said of his father.
The son of legendary Minnesota and NAIA Hall of Fame coach Thomas Feely, Tom Feely was a running back at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, never once taking a snap as a placekicker. After college, Feely became a high school running backs coach in Minnesota in 1972 before moving to Florida in 1986, and for 10 years he coached football, tennis and wrestling at Zephyrhills High. The majority of his coaching career has been spent at Jesuit, where he’s served as a junior varsity head coach and special teams coordinator under five head coaches. He spent one season, 2012, at Armwood, when his son Nick Feely was a senior kicker on the team.
For the first 20 years of his coaching career, Feely worked with nearly every position in football, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s, when Jay became a placekicker at Jesuit, that Feely began specializing as a kicking coach.
“We were trying to find places to go and camps, and there wasn’t a whole lot out there,” Jay Feely said. “We tried to put together as much as we could.”
Father and son attended a camp in Miami, and another in Nevada. They used all they learned to form their own strategy, one that included mental exercises designed by Tom Feely, who owns a doctorate in sports psychology. Jay Feely later signed with Michigan.
“After Jay, I started working with the next kid that came along at Jesuit High School, and then the next kid and the next kid, and it sort of mushroomed from there,” Tom Feely said.
Feely began holding camps in Tampa at the University of Tampa in 2004. Some of the first players to attend his camps include current Philadelphia Eagles kicker Cody Parkey and Atlanta Falcons punter Matt Bosher. Soon, Feely Kicking, now called Feely Athletics, had a national following. The latest of Feely’s students to make the NFL is San Francisco punter Brad Pinion, who would travel with his father from North Carolina to Tampa for lessons.
“It’s amazing to see, when you see him at a high school game or a combine or camp, just how many kickers are out there and have improved,” said Ryan Feely, a three-time All-American at Jacksonville and the University of Central Florida who now helps instruct with his father at Feely Athletics events. “You watched them talk to your dad and you see them so thankful. Some kids he’s coached for five to seven years, grade school through high school. It makes you appreciate your dad in a different way.”
Recent high school kickers include former Armwood kicker Sterling Hofrichter, now at Syracuse, and Plant senior Stephen Yaffe, arguably the top kicker and punter in the Tampa area.
“Growing up, it was always very inspiring to see him with his players,” said son John Feely, now in his fourth year as boys soccer coach at Plant High. “You could see the respect and competitiveness he brought out of them. That relationship is what made an impression on me and why I went into coaching.”
All three brothers agree their father is worthy of being in a Hall of Fame, whether in Florida or nationally.
“The interesting thing, his career has taken him away from the spotlight with wins and champions,” John Feely said. “With his experience, he could have done more, but he spent his time helping. It’s kind of hard to quantify something like that.”
This year, Tom Feely entered his 42nd year as a secondary education teacher. He is currently a guidance counselor at Burns Middle School in Brandon. After four decades and countless players, Feely said the reward isn’t weighed in accolades, but in those proud moments he experiences when a former player blossoms into something special.
“I’m sure we all agree, the greatest thing about it is when you see the guys go on to be successful, that you worked with when they were younger,” Tom Feely said. “It’s the one thing that makes all those long hours worthwhile is when you see that happen and they become great young men and contribute to society. That’s the reward in itself.”