There are many people out there who say they love football, but no one means it like Art Kehoe.
“I loved football from the first time I did it,” said the Pennsylvania native who has returned as the Hurricanes’ offensive line coach.
It all started in his hometown of Conshohocken with a youth team called the “Conshohocken Midgets.” As the son of a former football player and a cheerleader, it was only a matter of time until he would discover his passion for the sport.
“My mom signed me up for football when I was 7 or 8 and I was embarrassing because I didn’t even know how to get dressed and put on the pads,” Kehoe said. “[My mom] taught me how to do all that stuff.”
While the beginnings might have been humbling, Kehoe soon started to do what he would continue to do all his life: win.
“I think I played six years in that league and we won a championship four times,” he said. “We finished second the other two times.”
Kehoe attributed that success to the coaches he had during his early life.
“The coaching was fabulous, just basics of discipline and being on time, about doing your stretches as a team and caring about your teammates,” he said. “I learned those lessons from my father and mother and my coaches early in life. I think that’s the biggest thing that steered me toward coaching because I liked football and I liked the hitting aspect of it and I was coached really well at an early age and we won all the damn time.”
There is no doubt that Kehoe is a winner; after all, five national championships are no accident. Kehoe is a competitor at heart in everything he does. He may always be competing against another defensive line coach across the field during a game, but Kehoe has faced competition his whole career.
Before Kehoe came to the University of Miami as a transfer in 1979, he played football at Laney Junior College in Oakland, Calif. Even then, Kehoe knew when to seize an opportunity and how to fight for a dream. The undersized nose guard did not hesitate a bit when Miami was looking for players at that position. He sent his playing tapes to the UM coaching staff and described himself as 6 feet 2 inches and 250 pounds when he really was 6 feet and 230 pounds.
Though he may have lacked the physical size, he definitely didn’t lack the passion.
“I was glad that he was playing on my team,” said Don Bailey, Jr., Kehoe’s former teammate and now color commentator for the University of Miami football team.
Kehoe’s opportunism and resourcefulness paid off: A relationship was built between a man and a university for years to come, joined by their love for football.
Success would follow Kehoe on his every step for 27 years, first as a player and then as part of the coaching staff, until his abrupt and, for many fans, surprising firing after a devastating Peach Bowl loss in 2005.
Despite being upset by this “divorce,” Kehoe kept working in the sport he loved so much. He had various coaching stints in college and even in the United Football League until the offensive line coach position opened up again at UM when former O-line coach Jeff Stoutland left for Alabama in mid-January.
Once again, Kehoe took the initiative, but first he needed a little spark to ignite his competitive fire.
Bailey, Jr. turned out to be the one with the flint when he told his old friend, “The University of Miami offensive line coaching job is lying in the middle of U.S. 1. The person that’s going to get it is the one that’s going to fight for it the hardest and prove that he should earn it.”
His close friend and former roommate Jim Burt agreed with that sentiment, and so, Kehoe got the ball rolling.
“I just made up my mind about 7 o’clock at night that I was going to call every person I knew in this world- that I coached, played for, coached with, coached for, every dean, every alumni, every kid I went to class with, every person that had a Miami tie, I was going to either tell them to come to this campus and go after Coach Golden or to call him,” Kehoe said.
The texting and calling continued into the wee hours, but it soon became clear that “Canenation” was unleashed.
His competitive approach worked and it didn’t take long before Kehoe was back at his alma mater coaching the offensive line.
His return was emotional.
“My weakness is probably that I’ll keep stuff a little bottled up inside of me and then I’ll blow off some steam instead of just getting it out right early,” he said. “I am more of a late steam blower.”
By the same token, it is also his biggest strength.
“I am very involved about winning and winning is like what Coach [Al] Golden is doing. You know, winning to me is winning in the classroom, and you don’t have to do it with an A, because some guys are marginal and a C or a B or a C+ may be their best grade,” Kehoe said. “But I just want to see them compete. And I want to see them treat teachers with respect just like they’re going to treat me or any other coach in this building.”
Strength or weakness, in the end one thing is certain: Kehoe is all about competing.
“I kind of thrive in the environment of competition and if I lose I want to do something about it, if I win I want to study what I did and get better at it,” he said.
It seems like the football program at the University of Miami is getting back to its good old days. Back to discipline, accountability and toughness. Back to commitment, emotion and, of course, back to competing.
Fittingly enough, back with a coach that personified winning at Miami over decades probably more than any other person.
And even though this change in attitude is a fairly recent phenomenon, the players sense it.
“There is a lot of energy in the air here,” senior center Tyler Horn said. “Something big is going on here.”
Patrick Riley may be contacted at email@example.com.