On the heels of one of the organization's worst defeats of the season, the Utah Blaze have replaced defensive secondary coach Mike Brown with former Spokane Shock coach Rob Keefe.
The Blaze officially announced the hire Thursday afternoon. Coach and team president Ron James said he agonized over dismissing Brown midseason, but the team hopes Keefe will bring a fire the defense has lacked in the last stretch of games.
"The biggest factor is we're not a desperate team we're 6-4 and right in the middle of this," James said. "We could be in the running for a championship, and this is what we need to fix at this point. We don't want to leave it to chance."
The straw that ended Brown's tenure in Utah his first full-time coaching job was an 86-70 loss on Saturday night to the Arizona Rattlers. Arizona had scored 72 points by the third quarter and was well within reach of several Arena Football League records, but they slowed their pace to settle for the victory.
James said the performance was a black mark on what otherwise could be a championship-caliber team. The unit has been ravaged by injuries, but at a certain point the performances couldn't be swept under the rug.
"I never remember anyone scoring 86 points on one of my teams," he said. "The defense and secondary has definitely been lagging."
The 31-year-old Keefe will bring experience to the position: Two years ago, he became the youngest head coach to win the Arena Bowl, which he achieved with offensive coordinator Matt Sauk in Spokane.
He was relieved of his duties with the Shock this past offseason, and served as an offensive coordinator for Orlando early this year before being cut loose. Keefe said he received other calls about defensive jobs, but a role with the Blaze seemed like the ideal fit.
"It doesn't make any sense to take a job unless you're 100 percent into it and you're passionate about it," he said. "This is an organization I respect, and it's a great situation."
Keefe won't be lacking for familiar faces. Besides Sauk, Keefe will coach Will Mulder and Antwan Marsh in the secondary both played for the 2010 championship team.
He expects the defense to match the same level of intensity that his Spokane defense mustered in that memorable season.
"When you live with passion and intensity, you bring it with you on the field," Keefe said. "I hope to bring that kind of enthusiasm."
James said he has known Keefe since the ex-AFL defensive back was in college, and doesn't expect that bringing in a former head coach will amount to any extra headbutting when it comes to calling games. James coaches the defensive line, so the two will have to work closely together.
"We've both been assistants in this league, so he knows what his role will be," James said. "He's just more experience that we're bringing in."
San Antonio at Utah
P Saturday, 7 p.m
TV • KMYU