Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe is one of the most honest men in America, which makes him a dream for people like me. Ask him anything, and he tells you the unvarnished truth. What makes him more compelling for my story on college football in Florida is his incredible role in the transformation. Kehoe had a front-row seat for it all, having played at Miami when the Hurricanes began their rise under Howard Schnellenberger. He got his first coaching job under Schnellenberger in 1982 and remained on staff there until 2005, coaching under Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis and Larry Coker. If anybody is an expert on the rise of football in the state, it is Kehoe.
He returned to Miami under new coach Al Golden last season and is back where he belongs.
Here are some of his insights into why football in Florida exploded and how the Canes make their return.
On why Florida is breeding ground for high school talent:
Art Kehoe: When I grew up in Pennsylvania, the season got over in Thanksgiving. In December, January, February, March, you were locked in doors watching the “Three Stooges” and eating potato chips. Unless you were wrestling or good enough to play basketball. All the kids down here, they’re doing Frisbee, or they’re on a surfboard, playing basketball, baseball, football all year round. The best months of the year are November, December, January, February, March. To me, I always felt there was so much speed down here and the combination of, you were getting a Florida kid he might be a little scrawny because he wasn’t lifting all the weights and doing all the eating. You were getting a faster, tougher kind of athlete down here. You also had a mushrooming community that was producing tons of athletes, in a climate that said we’re going to practice year round, get faster, better and tougher.
On why Miami never skipped a beat despite the coaching transition in the 1980s and 1990s:
AK: People have said whether it was Jimmy or Howard, if they had stayed here, they could have been icons. Now they’re icons anyway, but it’s all the same reasons. It’s like Coach Golden says: We’re a landlocked peninsula. There’s nowhere else to go so why shouldn’t we control this area? If people want to win a national championship -- you have a private school, high graduation rate, beautiful campus, tremendous city, the weather’s fantastic, and we have the players in ... Miami, why can’t we control that?
On Miami's return:
AK: If anybody thinks Miami is gone, you’re going to learn the hard way. We are not gone, and we’re not falling off by the wayside. We’re going to win and we’re going to win big, and the reason I feel that is the guy at the top. I don’t know how close we are, because we’ve had a couple of dents in our armor, but I know it’s coming. I watched Coach Schnellenberger do it and I was in awe to be a part of it with the teammates we had. It was an awesome thing to watch. I’ve been through all the transitions, to do that, for that long and not believe you’ve got a leader and it’s going to happen again.
On heightened expectations when you win as many championships as Miami has:
AK: Nobody wants to hear about the pain, just deliver the baby and the baby’s got to be winning. People know what’s been done here, and they expect things to happen. And if it doesn’t, our fate will be sealed, and so will the guys up at Florida State if it doesn’t and so will the guys up at Florida if it doesn’t. That’s the inevitable thing about sports and society, especially if you go up levels. If you’re at the college level or the professional level, there’s big money involved and people expect results, especially at places where you have nothing but winning.