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Art Kehoe's Block party Miami's assistant head coach has gone from digging ditches to King of the Trenches and has given the Hurricanes the best offensive line in the country. Again.

Aug. 19, 2002
Aug. 19, 2002

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Aug. 19, 2002

Art Kehoe's Block party Miami's assistant head coach has gone from digging ditches to King of the Trenches and has given the Hurricanes the best offensive line in the country. Again.

You are in their world now, so relax. Belch. Scratch yourself.
Neglect your hygiene. When practice is over, throw on the clothes
you wore yesterday and the day before. You are among like-minded
people. You are in Lakeland, Fla., at the Down and Dirty Camp, a
sweltering, collision-intensive three-day immersion in line play
for ninth- through 12-graders. The D&D is seven two-hour
practices crammed with instruction and head knocking. The
participants are proud to be known as mules. (Only those who
finish the camp are allowed to purchase a T-shirt bearing the
legend AIN'T IT GREAT TO BE A MULE?) It is not for everyone. A
few years ago a 6'5", 320-pounder went missing on Day 2. "We
found him hiding in the closet in his dorm room," recalls
cofounder Kelly Scott. "It's too hard," blubbered the lad. He did
not get a T-shirt.

This is an article from the Aug. 19, 2002 issue Original Layout

Of the 41 coaches working the second of three D&D camps in July,
21 were from colleges. As they teach, so they are enlightened,
making mental notes on who can move, who can take coaching. "When
we get into the fiercely competitive drills," says Art Kehoe,
"that's when you find out who really doesn't like to hit that
much, and who's gonna bring it."

Kehoe, who has coached at Miami since 1982, has been working the
Down and Dirty for seven years. His Klaxon voice--"Get a wide
base, like a sumo!"; "Throw your hands out like you're trying to
rip through somebody's chest!"; "I'm gonna be a pain in your ass
till you do it right!"--is a familiar noise here. "Coach Kehoe
doesn't get on my nerves," says Joel Rodriguez, a backup center
for the Hurricanes. "But the sound of his voice does."

Rodriguez is one of three players Kehoe has harvested from this
camp. (Starting right guard Chris Myers, a third-year sophomore
from Palmetto, Fla., is another.) That's fewer than one every two
years. Why does Kehoe do it? The money these coaches make at the
camps is barely enough to cover the beer they drink at the El Kau
Kau, a homey hole-in-the-wall not far from camp. "I'm here
because I like linemen," says Kehoe. Also, it beats digging
ditches.

He was a small fish in a small pond, a 175-pound guard at
Archbishop Kennedy in Conshohocken, Pa. Yet Kehoe seemed
ungrateful when his coach delivered the news: "I talked to the
coach at Stevens Trade School," said Chris Bockrath, "and we can
get you in." Kehoe's father was a plumbing contractor; Bockrath
figured his son wanted to be one too. At Stevens Trade, in
Lancaster, Pa., young Art could get a two-year degree in plumbing
and play some ball, boning up on faucets while testing himself
against such opponents as Lackawanna Junior College and archrival
Williamson Trade School.

There was a small problem: "I didn't want to be a plumbing
contractor," says Kehoe. "I'd been digging ditches every
summer--long enough to know I didn't want to do it for the rest of
my life."

Instead he found a career in a different sort of ditch. After
embarking on a U-joint of a journey--from Conshohocken to Laney
Junior College in Oakland to Miami--Kehoe played two seasons for
the Hurricanes. Since arriving in Coral Gables in 1979, he has
been a fixture around the football offices, evolving from player
to one of the finest offensive line coaches in the country. Last
March, following the Hurricanes' national championship season, in
which Kehoe's line yielded all of four sacks in 12 games, Miami
head man Larry Coker added assistant head coach to Kehoe's title.

Kehoe combines a dynamic and, well, earthy teaching style with a
sharp eye for talent and a willingness to go out and find that
talent, even if it means packing his passport. He commands the
respect of his players even as he allows them to take their best
shots at him, as starting center Brett Romberg did at the team
banquet last February. "This is for Coach Kehoe," said Romberg,
standing on the dais holding a framed photograph of the O-line,
"even though I can't really see him right now because of the
glare of the spotlight on his bald spot."

Arthur Francis Kehoe, as incorrigible wiseass Romberg is wont to
address him, had a full head of hair when he signed with Miami.
His arrival coincided with a modest renaissance in Hurricanes
football. (By then Kehoe was up to 235 pounds.) He started two
years at guard, protecting future Buffalo Bill Jim Kelly. As a
senior Kehoe was a co-captain, roomed with future New York Giant
Jim Burt and played on the first Miami squad to go to a bowl game
in more than two decades.

Kehoe played a more important role in the Hurricanes' most recent
renaissance. Miami's rout of Nebraska in the Rose Bowl last
January gave the school its fifth national title since 1983 but
its first in 10 years. It marked a rebound from NCAA sanctions
that stripped them of 31 scholarships from 1995 through '97 and
forced Miami's coaches to be more resourceful than ever.
Throughout those lean years, no one did more with less than
Kehoe. "The state of Florida has traditionally had great skill
players and great defensive players," says former Hurricanes
coach Butch Davis, now at the helm of the Cleveland Browns.
"But," he adds, referring to Florida, Florida State and Miami,
"there haven't been enough talented offensive linemen for all
three major programs."

In 1995 the Hurricanes traveled to Syracuse, the Big East title
on the line. "We suited up five offensive linemen," recalls
Davis. "If someone got hurt, our plan was to put the backup tight
end in and tell him to hold someone on every play." Miami won,
but Davis and Kehoe realized something had to change. "We were
never going to win a national championship the way things were
going," says Davis. "I encouraged Art to push and grow--to get
outside the box."

Kehoe didn't stop there. He got out of the country, with frequent
trips to Canada. Offensive guard Rich Mercier, a Toronto native
who's now with the Browns, committed to the Hurricanes in 1995,
and a transcontinental pipeline was christened. Since then Kehoe
has plucked four more mules from the Great White North. He found
Romberg at a tryout in Windsor, Ont. "It was a gloomy day, and
there was this stumpy guy with a tan," recalls Romberg. "Every
time he walked by me, he'd whisper, 'Miami.'" Kehoe had been
immediately smitten with Romberg's intensity and footwork. A
scholarship was dangled soon thereafter.

Last season Romberg centered what was arguably the finest line in
the nation. Both tackles were drafted: Outland Trophy winner
Bryant McKinnie by the Minnesota Vikings with the seventh pick
and former walk-on Joaquin Gonzalez in the seventh round by the
Browns. The Atlanta Falcons took right guard Martin Bibla in the
fourth. "They had outstanding players," says Nebraska defensive
coordinator Craig Bohl, "but the unit as a whole was even better.
Being a great pass blocker--standing straight up, sticking your
hands out, retreating--isn't conducive to knocking the crap out of
people in the running game. But those guys could do both."

"A lot of the kids Art's gotten haven't necessarily been the kids
everyone else is after," says Hurricanes offensive coordinator
Rob Chudzinski. Plenty of schools had passed on McKinnie by the
time Kehoe dropped by Lackawanna Junior College in Scranton, Pa.,
and popped his highlight tape into a VCR. Kehoe's trembling
response to seeing that video: "Bring this freak to me." The
freak will now be playing on Sundays, leaving Romberg as the
unquestioned leader of this year's unit. In late July, Romberg's
hair was shoulder-length. "I'm a senior," he explained. "It's
rock-star time." Don't let his flippancy fool you. "Brett is so
smart and such a leader," says Kehoe, "he's a coach in the
making."

In that case Romberg will be instructing fellow Canadians Sherko
Haji-Rasouli and Joe McGrath. McGrath, who came out of spring
ball as the starting left guard, is a 6'5", 292-pound junior
afflicted with what Romberg calls "24-hour bedhead. He's not
doing anything to dispel stereotypes about offensive linemen."
McGrath hails from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Haji-Rasouli, the
highly intelligent--and hirsute--fifth-year left guard, is of
Iranian descent but grew up in Toronto. Though he's assured of
ample playing time this fall, Haji-Rasouli missed spring drills
while recovering from right knee surgery. Kehoe, naturally, was a
font of understanding. "Sherks, pull up your shirt," he would
command Haji-Rasouli in meetings. The fifth-year senior weighed
325; his coach wanted him at 305. "That's O.K.," Kehoe would say
while taking in the sight of Haji-Rasouli's gut, "because
McGrath's having a hell of a spring."

Tact, diplomacy, compassion--these qualities have no place in the
meeting room of Miami's mules. "Sometimes if I'm bored," says
Chudzinski, "I'll go sit in there." Says Rodriguez, the backup
center, "If your mother's fat, if your dad drinks too much, if
your girlfriend's cheating on you--it's all coming out in the
meeting." In the emotionally stunted universe of football, this
is how large men express affection for one another. Here, and in
practice, is where they forge the bonds that make them
accountable to each other; the bonds Kehoe spoke of at the Down
and Dirty camp after the first day of practices.

"The games are cool," he told the mules gathered in the camp's
chapel. "But the bonds you make in football are the best bonds in
the world."

So the guys at the Down and Dirty were not so much ragging on Joe
Toth as they were bonding with him by nicknaming him Tooth, a
sobriquet that packed a tiny sting. Toth, a 6'4", 280-pound
senior at Port Charlotte (Fla.) High, was one of the brightest
stars in the camp. One of the first things you notice about him,
aside from the fact that he's built like The Rock, is that he is
not exactly a candidate to appear in an Ultrabrite ad. Surely if
he were to end up at Miami, none of Toth's teammates would be so
insensitive as to mention his smile. Yeah, right. Just like none
of them would be so unkind as to touch on Kehoe's lack of hair.
This is a tough crowd. Say this much for the Hurricanes' linemen:
They're all equals in a democracy of abuse. No one is spared.
Listen to Kehoe, walking among his Miami players during a
prepractice stretch:

"Romberg, if I didn't bring you here, you're playing at the
University of Windsor, and no one cares about you.

"Sherko, without me, you're playing on the Canadian national
rugby team. After games, they're over by the keg, shaving your
back.

"McGrath, right now your parents are in the attic of your house
in Moose Jaw, looking out the window at a 30-foot snowdrift. If
you were still there, you'd probably be married to an
eight-point buck. But I brought you to Miami, Florida. You owe
me everything!"

"Truth be told," says Kehoe, when he is sure they can't hear him,
"it's the other way around."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES ART LOVERS Kehoe is a perennial favorite at Camp Down and Dirty, where high school linemen get a taste of his unorthodox methods.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES HOG FARM Kehoe coaches at Camp Down and Dirty because he loves football and because he occasionally unearths a prospect. TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES LINE UP Miami's loaded with (from left) Meyers, James Sikora, Rodriguez, Vernon Carey, Ed Wilkins, Haji-Rasouli and Romberg (also below, 66).
The Klaxon-voiced Kehoe combines a dynamic and earthy teaching
style with a willingness to go find talent, even if it means
packing his passport.