Kehoe's long road home to Miami (cont.)
Soldinger, who worked with Kehoe at Miami from 1995-2005, calls the man "human espresso." Indeed, Kehoe does seem to inject a burst of caffeine whenever he walks into a room. But as he drove through the night, through Tupelo, Miss., and Birmingham, Ala., before taking a hard right at Atlanta and heading south, Kehoe needed something extra. Every so often, he'd stop and slug a 5-Hour Energy shot. When those didn't work, he stopped at a rest area, got out and let the icy air slap him in the face. Then he did his best Jack LaLanne impression, stretching every possible direction to keep his neurons firing so he could keep driving toward his dream come true. If anyone drove by, they probably thought he'd lost his mind. What else could they think? After all, how often do you see a 53-year-old man in the dead of a freezing night standing outside a rest area doing calisthenics?
Kehoe doesn't want to talk about the firing. He doesn't want to talk about the lawsuit. "I want to bury it," he said.
What good would bitterness do now? Like a lot of people the past few years, Kehoe lost a job unexpectedly and had to move from a house he couldn't afford to keep and -- thanks to a crashing real estate market -- could barely afford to sell. "I just got crushed on it," he said. "But it is what it is. At least I got rid of it."
Kehoe couldn't help getting angry at the time, though. "Everybody in this country has been going through hardships," Kehoe said. "A truckload of people have lost everything they've worked for. It's hard times on a lot of people. I happened to be one of the people going through it, too. When you're going through it, you get a little perturbed."
Kehoe did get lucky at first. Former Miami colleague Ed Orgeron hired Kehoe and Werner at Ole Miss, but after two seasons, the staff was fired. In 2008, Kehoe worked briefly as a volunteer assistant for former Ole Miss assistant Hugh Freeze at Lambuth College, but Kehoe didn't stay long. That August, Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley hired Kehoe to fill in for Petey Perot while Perot recovered from heart surgery. Kehoe coached the line that season, and Perot returned in time for the Independence Bowl.
Temp duty didn't lead to a full-time college job, so Kehoe found himself in the Subway inside the Wal-Mart, calling old friends and chasing leads. The Subway was perfect, he said, because even when it got busy, there was always a corner in which he could sit in relative privacy. The Subway also was noisy enough that Kehoe didn't bother diners with his frequent, occasionally salty outbursts. "I'm a loud talker," he said. "I get excited."
Kehoe coached the past two seasons in the UFL, first for the California Redwoods in 2009 and then for the Sacramento Mountain Lions in 2010. When he returned to Mississippi after the season, he returned to the rumor mill at FootballScoop.com and to the phone in the Subway and in the parking lot. He hoped for a return to major college football, but he couldn't find an opening.
When Miami fired head coach Randy Shannon in November, Kehoe took note. But a return still didn't seem like a realistic possibility. Jeff Stoutland, the Hurricanes' respected offensive line coach, was named interim coach, and Stoutland was retained after Miami hired Temple coach Golden as Shannon's permanent replacement. Then, last month, Kehoe saw a small crack of light in the darkness of his job search.
Rumors flew that Stoutland planned to leave Miami for Alabama. When those rumors proved true, Kehoe told his wife he might have a chance to come back. "Dee, I gotta get back on board," he told her. Kehoe called a few old friends from Miami and asked them to lobby for him. A few days later, he sat in the parking lot outside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and talked to Golden for 45 minutes.
Suddenly, the possibility of a homecoming seemed quite real. So Kehoe unleashed 27 years worth of Hurricanes upon Golden. Golden, who was feverishly recruiting, didn't take many of the dozens of calls on Kehoe's behalf, but he got the message. Besides, Golden already knew all about Kehoe. He knew he could coach an offensive line, and that mattered more than any recommendation from an alum. What mattered even more to Golden was the love for Miami that came blasting through the phone when he spoke to Kehoe. "The first thing I touched on when we came to Miami was that we have to get back to guys who want to be Miami Hurricanes," Golden said. "There's something to be said for that. If I think that applies to recruits, why wouldn't it apply to our staff?"
Golden formally interviewed Kehoe in Greenwood, Miss., on Jan. 20. Three days later, he delivered the good news. Golden has no doubt that he has never dealt with anyone happier to be hired than Kehoe was that day. "Unequivocally, no," Golden said.
Perhaps the most amazing thing to Golden was that despite the firing, despite the lawsuit, despite everything, Kehoe still loved Miami as much as he did as a player. "It didn't diminish his love for the university or the football program," Golden said. "That sums it up."
When Kehoe arrived back in Coral Gables, he went straight to work. Because he was an ex-employee, he had to be revived in Miami's human resources system. On his first full day of work, he had to track down a copy of his last Miami pay stub. Then he had to fill out form after form and take a drug test. The next day, he had to take the NCAA recruiting test so he could go on the road and give last-ditch pitches to prospects who didn't know this Miami staff. He passed the test on the afternoon of Jan. 26. At 3:30 p.m. that day, Kehoe was told he had a flight leaving Miami International Airport in two hours.
He didn't have time to park in a proper lot, so Kehoe parked in the American Embassy lot across from the terminal. He didn't have Miami business cards yet, so he pulled out an old UFL card and wrote on the back. "My name is Art Kehoe," he wrote. "I just got hired at the University of Miami. Please don't tow me. I'll be back tomorrow." Kehoe tossed the card onto the dashboard and sprinted to the terminal.
Inside, an airline employee recognized Kehoe from a newspaper story about his hiring. The employee quickly checked in Kehoe and gave him directions to the shortest security line. Kehoe made his flight, which landed in Jacksonville. There, Miami linebackers coach Michael Barrow would pick up Kehoe and drive him to meet Ed White High lineman Kaleb Johnson, who eventually would sign with Rutgers. After he deplaned, Kehoe had a few minutes to wait before Barrow picked him up. He figured he would read through the media guide to hone his pitch, even though he probably didn't need to. "You don't need a media guide," Soldinger said of his old friend. "Just ask Art. He's a walking encyclopedia."
Kehoe spotted the perfect place to work. A Quizno's. Just like that Subway in the Wal-Mart, he had all he needed. A seat. Mobile phone bars. Sandwiches. A "U" on his polo shirt. "Here we go," Kehoe said. "I was so happy."
Kehoe could have flown from Mississippi to Miami, but a 1,000-mile victory ride felt so much better. Sometimes, a man needs to feel every inch of earth beneath his tires to appreciate the distance between what he lost and what he's regained.
The U.S. Interstate system reaches its southernmost point when I-95 dead-ends into U.S. 1 in Coral Gables. As Kehoe drove down the ramp on the afternoon of Jan. 24 and merged onto the stretch known as South Dixie Highway, the palm trees danced in the breeze. He couldn't stop smiling.
Finally, he was home.