Rob Keefe, who helped the Spokane Shock win arena football titles as a player, assistant coach and head coach, is out as the team’s head coach.
The Shock announced Thursday that Keefe’s contract will not be renewed. Keefe guided Spokane to the 2010 ArenaBowl championship in the organization’s first season in the Arena Football League. Spokane had a rocky, injury riddled 2011 season, finishing 9-10 after a blowout loss to Arizona in the first round of the playoffs.
Majority owner Brady Nelson said the decision had nothing to do with Keefe’s win-loss record.
“We were hoping when we hired Rob it was going to be a long-term deal, but it just got to the point where we couldn’t work together,” Nelson said. “I liked him as a person, but we just couldn’t work together any more.”
Nelson declined to go into specifics, but he said there was a disconnect between Keefe and numerous members of the Shock administration.
“We like Rob, it’s just that we have a code of conduct in our organization that you have to adhere by and if you don’t there are consequences,” Nelson said. He added there weren’t any legal issues.
Team president Adam Nebeker informed Keefe of the change Thursday after rumors began to circulate earlier this week.
“Fundamentally the Shock and I disagreed on a lot of things,” Keefe said. “Being a young coach and wanting this to rival the NFL, the way I coach is the way I am all the time and a lot of people can’t handle that. Fundamentally, the differences were tough for them to get over.
“It got to a point where I felt my character and who I am was being attacked and I don’t feel like it was justified.”
Keefe acknowledged that his style isn’t for everyone, but he added that he was the same coach this season as he was in 2010.
“It’s different when you’re a player and they only see you 2-3 hours a day,” Keefe said. “As a coach, I’m in the office 16-18 hours every single day. To be honest, it’s tough for non-football people to be around football people every day. That’s tough on a lot of people, when you’re walking into my office in the middle of the week and you’re rough around the edges. I think you’re going to see a new coach that isn’t as committed to winning all day long as me. It just got to a point where we almost suffocated each other.”
Keefe was a fan favorite as a defensive back on the inaugural Shock team that captured the 2006 ArenaCup. He also assisted an Adam Shackleford-coached team that won another arenafootball2 championship. Keefe replaced Shackleford, who wasn’t retained after a championship season, in another controversial move by the organization.
Nelson understands those moves might not be viewed favorably by Shock fans, but he added, “when we parted ways with ‘Shack’ that was not fun. It was probably the worst couple weeks of my life, talking to the fans and being criticized is how it goes. Knowing how bad that was, the decision to do it again was well thought out because I wouldn’t want to go through that again if I didn’t think it was something we had to do for the Shock to move forward.”
Players were alerted of Keefe’s dismissal via text message. AFL players can re-sign with their current teams Sept. 5-15.
“Most of the players we want back for 2012 have re-committed,” Nelson said. “We’re not worried about losing players over this.”
Attempts to contact several Shock players were unsuccessful, but a few posted reactions on their Facebook pages. Defensive back Alex Teems and offensive lineman Shannon Tevaga had the same post: “Wow.”
Spokane’s search for a new coach will likely include former Shock offensive coordinator Matt Sauk, current offensive coordinator Andy Olson and possibly Chicago offensive coordinator Sherdrick Bonner, who was a standout quarterback for the Arizona Rattlers for 15 years. Shackleford, who still lives in Spokane while serving as head coach for Tri-Cities of the IFL, said he has no interest in the job.
Sauk, who left Spokane to become Utah’s offensive coordinator this season, said he would listen if Spokane calls.
“Obviously I’m very comfortable where I’m at,” he said, “but (being a head coach) is something you want to work toward.”
Olson, who replaced Fred Biletnikoff Jr. as offensive coordinator three weeks into the season, didn’t return a phone message. After Keefe learned he wouldn’t be returning as head coach, Keefe phoned Nebeker and urged him to consider Olson and assistant head coach Travis Crusenberry for the head coaching position.
Several AFL jobs were filled recently, but Keefe hopes there’s an opportunity as an AFL head coach, defensive coordinator or as a collegiate assistant.