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Spokane Empire

Bad blood between Shock, Rattlers

Spokane Shock head coach Rob Keefe had to call plays on offense in last week’s win over Arizona. (Dan Pelle)
Spokane Shock head coach Rob Keefe had to call plays on offense in last week’s win over Arizona. (Dan Pelle)

Put yourself in Spokane Shock head coach Rob Keefe’s shoes last week.

His team had just suffered a crushing home loss to Cleveland. During the week, offensive coordinator Matt Sauk was suspended for the Arizona game for violating the AFL’s Code of Conduct policy, so Keefe spent hours brushing up on the offense to assume play-calling duties.

The Rattlers have six former Shock players, which dialed up the intensity a couple of more notches.

Roughly 24 hours before kickoff, Keefe’s father, Wallace ‘Rob,’ began suffering from chest pains. Keefe’s parents traveled to Phoenix as part of a Mother’s Day vacation to watch the game and golf for a few days. Keefe spent about 4 hours Friday night at the hospital. His father’s condition improved overnight and he was able to attend the game.

And after a tense game that saw Spokane pull out a 63-56 victory, Arizona coach Kevin Guy was seen screaming at Keefe shortly after the last play. At one point, linebacker Kevin McCullough shielded Guy from Keefe. Keefe said he kept his cool because an altercation would have “ended up on ESPN” and he probably would have been suspended.

Keefe believes a number of issues went into Guy’s postgame fit. According to the Arizona Republic, Guy was miffed that Spokane wasn’t flagged for illegal defense on the final play, a Nick Davila pass that was intercepted by the Shock’s William Mulder.

There were also hard feelings left over from offseason recruiting, much of which centered on the ex-Shock players that joined Arizona’s team.

“I’m not scared to say this at all,” Keefe said. “I don’t really have too much respect for him. I felt he lied to our (ex-Spokane) players, which pretty much all of them came up to me and said they made a mistake signing with him.

“He was good friends with ‘Shack’ (former Shock coach Adam Shackleford, Keefe’s predecessor) and he felt I stabbed him in the back. He was pushing for Matt (Sauk) not being able to be at the game. The first thing he started complaining about (after the game) was the officiating and then he throws his own guys under the bus, saying there are no leaders on the team. It was just a series of things he couldn’t handle and all that nastiness came out.”

Keefe said Guy texted AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz, claiming Sauk was attending Shock practices. Keefe said Sauk went home to Utah because he couldn’t stay in team housing as part of the suspension.

Keefe detailed Guy’s postgame tirade in an e-mail to Kurz, but he’s not sure the league office will take action.

“There was an article down there where he said if Nick stayed in Spokane that they were going to beat his butt,’ ” Keefe said. “We’ll see him (Guy) again and we’ll beat him again.”

The teams meet July 2 in Spokane.

Calling plays

Keefe said his biggest chore in calling the plays was learning the terminology.

From film study, he knew what he wanted to call, but wasn’t sure how to put it into words.

“I worked with our guys, watched a piece of tape and I’d say, ‘This play will work against this defense, how do I say it?’ and they’d tell me,” Keefe said.

Keefe, who played defensive back and has coached on the defensive side of the ball, studied the plays with flash cards. He spent time learning terminology, formations, protections and the various motions. Then the high-energy Keefe had to call the plays in a timely fashion.

“He basically memorized the offense in 21/2-3 days,” quarterback Kyle Rowley said.

“We actually sat together on the plane and I brought that up. I said, ‘Are you going to be calm when you’re calling plays?’ He said he’d be two different people, he’d be excited with the defense and calm with the offense.”

Dad improves

Keefe’s parents arrived in Phoenix about 3:30 Friday.

About an hour later, Keefe’s dad was admitted to the hospital. Keefe found out a couple of hours later because he was at a walk-through with the team.

“It was a big scare,” Keefe said. “He had an angina, which is like the first stage of a heart attack. Obviously, he has to watch what he eats and be smarter, but he was in some pain.

“It was hard to see him like that.”

His dad attended the game and he’s played some golf in Arizona. And he got a souvenir – a football tossed to him by Vijil after one of his four touchdowns.

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