Arrow-right Camera

Spokane Empire

Blanchette: Shock continued puzzling trend by firing Keefe

Sun., Aug. 21, 2011

Here’s a sports marketing tip for one of the local clubs:

It is not a good thing when the palace intrigue permeating your operation becomes a more compelling amusement than the product you put on the field.

And we’ll throw in a slogan for the 2012 season for free: The Spokane Shock – What Will They Think of Next?

Maybe the ironic subtext needs some work. It’s not so much that the Shock are constantly inventing ways to pump up the public buzz, but rather that they seem to be stuck on one fraying plot device.

Ridding themselves of coaches who win championships.

So, guys, maybe it’s time to dream up something else.

Now, that the Shock have won three of those in their six years of existence can be taken as evidence enough that however broken their coach/management dynamic appears, the results are what count. In this respect, the Shock are our own version of the old George Steinbrenner Yankees, a comparison that may not thrill the man in charge, Brady Nelson.

And it’s not altogether accurate. Accessible and reasonable, Nelson likes a happy store and the kumbaya that plays well both around town and in the ever-important procurement of players. He is also, you can tell by the record, driven to win.

So when he first jumped into the indoor football playpen, he went out and hired the most proven coach he could find in Chris Siegfried. The result was a storybook championship, in the old arenafootball2 league, that first year – and a glow which lasted about a week. Siegfried’s ambitions landed him a job in the Arena Football League, even after Nelson tried to sway him with a three-year contract.

A no-fault divorce if ever there was one.

His replacement, Adam Shackleford, produced another af2 title in 2009, but was bizarrely judged not to be the guy to lead the Shock into the AFL and – semantics notwithstanding – was fired so that Nelson and Co. could promote Rob Keefe.

And now Keefe – 12 months removed from another storybook championship, this one in the AFL – has been run.

Guys haven’t been whacked at this rate since “Goodfellas.”

For lack of a clear explanation – Shock management loves to take us hiking through the Ambiguity Forest whenever it gasses a coach – we can only surmise that l’affair Keefe is a be-careful-what- you-wish-for deal.

Keefe was the closest thing to an instant icon the franchise could muster when he played on that initial 2006 championship team, and Shock management was just as instantly enthralled, even entertaining the notion of making him Siegfried’s successor. So Shackleford had reason to look nervously over his shoulder when Keefe returned as an assistant in 2009.

Now, just as Shack’s exit was greased with non-endorsements like “no problem with him at 7 o’clock,” we’re getting the “not about wins and losses” kiss-off with Keefe – along with whispered inferences about personal conduct issues, which is either another way of saying he doesn’t always play well with others or something else. Since they prefer the vague, we get to think the worst.

Hey, maybe he was just too thin.

It was implied in the previous beheading that ownership didn’t believe Shackleford’s presence could attract/retain AFL championship talent, so it must be assumed that there’s a similar thought, too, about Keefe now. Short of not winning or armed robbery, there really isn’t another reason in this league to make a coaching change.

So how will a track record of firing winners entice players to Spokane?

Keefe is a problematic character, to be sure. Single-minded at times, all over the place at others. Obsessive and impulsive. In turns engaging and then prickly, he wants what he wants when he wants it, and he’s not necessarily much for the niceties.

Let’s put it this way: that anti-Spokane vibe Nelson has said he senses from the rest of the league?

Firing Keefe might soften that a bit.

But if Nelson and general manager Adam Nebeker didn’t know what they were getting, they should have. Hard to believe the coach sprouted horns just from winning it all. In the meantime, a good and honorable man – and a winner who could have won in this league, too – got the boot two years ago simply because Shock management had a crush. Shameful.

Now we can hardly wait to see the ad for Keefe’s replacement. Wanted: winner, strategist, savant, charismatic choir boy.

As for winning championships, well, don’t bother. It’s the kiss of death around here.

There are two comments on this story »