Inside The Coaching Staff: Ken O'Keefe

Posted Mar 13, 2012

Try to imagine what the interview session was like between new Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin and wide receivers coach Ken O’Keefe.

All O’Keefe needed to do was break out the whistle he used as the head coach at Worcester (Mass.) Academy when Philbin was one of his players and he had the job. That’s how far back the two go, so the decision to add O’Keefe to his staff clearly was an easy one.

Now O’Keefe gets to work with the likes of Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess and Brian Hartline, taking what he developed over 13 seasons at the University of Iowa and transitioning it to the NFL. In our continuing series looking deeper into the new members of Head Coach Joe Philbin’s staff, we introduce you to O’Keefe and what he brings to the Miami offense.

NFL Coaching Experience: This is O’Keefe’s first NFL job and professional coaching job of any kind.

College Coaching Experience: After breaking into the coaching ranks as an assistant at the University of New Haven from 1976-77, O’Keefe established his reputation as the head coach of Worcester (Mass.) Academy from 1978-84. He compiled a 37-11 record and captured three New England Class A prep championships, with Philbin as one of his players. In 1985 he moved down to Texas as the head coach at Fort Worth Country Day School and after one season there he returned to the college level at Allegheny College. From 1986-89 he served as offensive line coach and from 1988-89 he doubled as offensive coordinator. In 1990 he took over as head coach and stayed there through the end of the 1997 season. From there it was onto Fordham as head coach for one year in 1998 before joining the coaching staff at the University of Iowa as offensive coordinator. He stayed with the Hawkeyes from 1999-2011 before resigning to take the Dolphins job.

Playing Career Summary: O’Keefe was a two-sport athlete in college at John Carroll University, playing football and baseball. He was a three-year starter at wide receiver for the Blue Streaks.

Did You Know?: “Last March during spring break my son and I went dog sledding and camping out in the boundary waters of Minnesota. I don’t think I’ll be doing any of that down here but the change of scenery is always welcome. You try to enjoy wherever you’re at because that’s important and life’s too short.”

By The Numbers: Under O’Keefe’s tutelage last season, Iowa senior wide receiver Marvin McNutt, Jr. set a single-season record with 1,315 receiving yards and his 82 receptions tied a school record. Junior quarterback James Vandenberg passed for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. Sophomore running back Marcus Coker rushed for 1,384 yards, fourth-best in school history, and 15 touchdowns. … O’Keefe also was the Hawkeyes’ quarterbacks coach for 12 of his 13 seasons, with his first season in 1999 spent coaching the wide receivers. Iowa was bowl-eligible each of the last 11 seasons and participated in 10 bowl games since 2001. … During his eight seasons as head coach at Allegheny College, O’Keefe compiled a 79-10-1 and won the 1990 NCAA Division III national championship. The team went undefeated four times in the regular season (1990, 1991, 1994 and 1996), won five North Coast Athletic Conference titles and made six playoff appearances.

Dolphins Connections: O’Keefe’s strongest connection to the Dolphins is with Philbin as he coached him in high school back at Worcester Academy. Now they have come full circle and O’Keefe and is working for Philbin.

Off The Field: “I like to read and spend time with family. Really we’ve spent most of our free time raising our kids and now they’re out of the house so you spend time with your family whenever you can. If you can throw a line in the water and catch a fish every now and then that’s good or read a good book. Hitting the beach will be a little bit easier to do here than it was in Iowa City. I just like to do the normal stuff that guys do.”

O’Keefe On His Coaching Philosophy: “Joe and (offensive coordinator) Mike (Sherman) will determine the systems that we use, but our whole vision from Mr. Ireland down is whatever we need to do it needs to be about the team improving and getting better, obviously. We’re going to have to earn everything we get along the way, especially respect, and that starts with a lot of hard work, paying attention to details and really being able to execute. In order to be able to do that you’ve got to be great at fundamentals and trust your technique while you’re playing full speed. In order to play full speed you have to know what you’re doing so you’ve got to know the system first. There’s a lot of work that we ahead of us like every football team in America, but it’s going to start the same way it did at Worcester Academy in 1978. We’ve got to teach the system and get everybody to be good at what they do from a fundamental standpoint and execute at full speed. Route running and the other nuances are what has to get done and if you can stay focused on improving and you are committed to doing the things that you need to do to reach your full potential as a player, our job is to help. Usually the results take care of themselves.”

O’Keefe On Joining The Dolphins: “I’m really excited about joining the Dolphins. I’ve followed the Miami Dolphins for a long, long time. I can remember sitting in our living room with all the guys that I roomed with back at John Carroll watching them on their great run through the undefeated season. It’s such a great organization, led by Jeff Ireland, and certainly Joe’s been a special guy in my life and it’s just a very unique opportunity for us to have. When I got the call from Joe I wanted to come and see what it was like and find out what the opportunity would look like as well. It’s obviously one of the most storied franchises in football with a huge brand name. There’s nothing really here that would hold anybody back from that kind of decision.”
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