Art Kehoe has a national championship ring for each finger of one hand, an outrageous answer to nearly every question, and linemen who are considered among the best in college football.
On Thursday, the University of Miami’s offensive line coach expressed his sadness at the long-term loss of redshirt freshman backup guard Danny Isidora to a broken foot. But he reveled at the depth of talent to compensate for his absence.
How tough is Jon Feliciano, first-team left guard Malcolm Bunche’s backup?
“He is a tough dude, bro,” Kehoe said. “He is a ferocious, old-school, put-your-face-in-the-fan whacker.
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“He’s fun to coach.”
Bunche, it turns out, was seen minutes later at practice wearing the dreaded, red no-contact jersey assigned to players with injuries. Because UM coaches and players conduct their daily interviews before practice, Bunche’s injury was not revealed.
The Miami first-team offensive linemen, according to the newest depth chart: 6-6, 312-pound sophomore left tackle Ereck Flowers; 6-7, 327-pound redshirt junior Bunche; 6-4, 296-pound redshirt junior center Shane McDermott; 6-6, 319-pound senior right guard Brandon Linder; and 6-8, 332-pound right tackle Seantrel Henderson.
Kehoe spoke about UM’s strength as a unit, and how players such as formerly troubled Henderson, for instance, are buying into coach Al Golden’s process-oriented, team-first philosophy.
“I think it’s about the Goldenization deal,” Kehoe said. “You’re in or you’re not in. That’s why we’ve got a train on our chest that’s going uphill. We talk about it all the time: ‘Get in the train, lean forward. If your foot’s out we’re going to axe it right off.’ ”
Kehoe, a Hurricanes guard in 1979 and ’80, coached in 2001 what is widely considered the best UM offensive line in history. This is the closest he’s come to that line, with at this point “maybe eight or nine guys that can play and win.”
“Most of the years if you’ve got five you’re lucky — [when] you’re saying, ‘Hey, man, you can put them there against anybody and they’ll operate,’ ” he said. “I think we’re close to being two deep.”
Last year the Canes ranked 41st nationally in sacks allowed (1.5 allowed per game). This year, with senior quarterback Stephen Morris poised for what UM expects to be a breakout season, that ranking could improve significantly.
“We all can run pretty well,” said Feliciano, who started every game in 2012 and said that strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey “keeps us in good condition. Our up-tempo offense helps us with the defense. They get tired sometimes, and we’re still ready to go.”
Kehoe was asked about the UM “swag” — that’s short for swagger — and what it means and has meant to the program.
“The game is about winning and losing,” he said. “Coach Golden, from the day he took over, has been on a relentless assault to win. That’s what the entire swag is. It’s an entire prescription from January to January. We’re following it pretty hard.”
Center Shane McDermott, back after several months of rehabbing from shoulder surgery, said the Canes intend to ignore the outside noise, even if they’re pumped from within.
“We are trying to become an internally driven team, and I think we’ve reached that point,” McDermott said.
Kehoe talked about some of the youngsters who can help compensate for the loss of Isidora, who was scheduled to undergo surgery Thursday and will be out for several weeks, if not months. He mentioned Alex Gall, a 6-5, 290-pound freshman from Mason, Ohio.
“You just keep forgetting this was his fifth practice,” the coach said, laughing and explaining that he reminded himself to “be nice to him” at first. “Now I’m starting to yell at him. We’ve been doing this for a couple days. Let’s get it on.”
Linder made it clear earlier this week that the fiery veteran coach, a member of the UM Sports Hall of Fame, was the right fit for this team.
“He’s a trip,” Linder said. “Last night in the meetings we were dying laughing in between plays, getting our stuff done. He’s a great guy, great coach, really gets it out of you. I’m glad I get to play for him.”