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Power brace for new-look Predators in playoff opener

| Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 9:36 p.m.
Don Montague/Orlando Predators
Predators coach Rob Keefe is the youngest coach to win an AFL title, doing so with Spokane in 2010 at age 29.

When Rob Keefe became coach of the Orlando Predators late last year, he slept on a couch in his office and lost 30 pounds.

That was only in his first few months on the job — several weeks before the opener.

“That's part of being a professional football coach,” he said. “You give your all. You forgo the meals, you forgo the weight room, and you have to stick to the film room.”

Keefe is proud he led the Predators to the Arena Football League's American Conference South championship and a home playoff game Sunday against the Power.

Yet he is just as pleased with an AFL record he said Orlando set in January.

“We made more trades in one month than any team in AFL history: 14,” he said, unimpressed the Predators reached the 2013 playoffs at 7-11. “It was a big-time makeover.”

Sound familiar?

That's how the Power (15-3) became a playoff team this season, dumping all but five players from last year on the way to their current 12-game winning streak.

The Predators (11-7) started and ended the season with three-game winning streaks, including an upset of two-time defending champion Arizona last week.

But they were 5-7 in the middle, and Keefe said the losses didn't bother him.

“Sometimes people get a false sense of entitlement when you are winning,” he said. “I was happy we were losing. Everything about that 11-7 brought us to this point.”

The game provides an interesting contrast between the passionate Keefe and Power coach Ron James. Keefe was James' defensive coordinator in Utah the past two seasons after he resigned as Orlando's offensive coordinator midway through the 2012 season.

“I am a very fiery, intense person,” said Keefe, 33, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and played at Mercyhurst from 1999-2003. “I tend to say how I feel toward management, even when they don't want to hear it.

“I border on cocky and confident. I believe in everything I do.”

He said he learned patience from James, whom he called a “father figure.”

“He is calm and cerebral in the way he approaches things,” Keefe said.

Said James, whose face always grows a smile when he talks about Keefe: “He lives, eats, breathes and sleeps (indoor) football. What makes him great is his passion for the game and his knowledge of the game. He is one of my favorite people in coaching.”

They stay in touch but not this year when there is a championship at stake.

“Rob has a bunker mentality,” James said. “I didn't want to bug him.”

Keefe said he has ambitions to coach in the NFL. “When the opportunity arises, I will definitely jump on that,” he said.

A bachelor, he is content to settle for a nomadic lifestyle. In the past 11 years, he has played and coached in seven cities in four leagues — from Spokane, Wash., to Albany, Ga. He is the youngest coach to win an AFL title (Spokane, 2010, at age 29), but he left there a year later.

Two years ago he was living in Philadelphia, but he said he had a bank account in North Carolina, a Virginia license plate, a Washington state driver's license and an Atlanta cellphone.

“It's almost like being part of a military family,” he said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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