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Former Phoebus coach brings intensity to new level as CNU assistant
— His job may have changed, but Bill Dee hasn't.
As he walked off the practice field on a chilly Tuesday morning, Dee grumbled to a player, "I tell you what — no contact in the spring? It really sucks."
Dee, 215-64 with four state titles in 24 years as head coach at Phoebus High, left the Phantoms program he built into a juggernaut on Jan. 22 for Division III Christopher Newport. He's coaching the defensive line for CNU coach and longtime friend Matt Kelchner.
Though still dealing with administrative duties until the end of the school year at Phoebus, Dee has been on the field for the Captains' 15 spring practices. After a recent one ended at 7:15 a.m., Dee let his imagination conjure up a little more hitting.
"I'm looking forward to this summer, when we can strap it up and see what we got," he said.
Dee was wearing a familiar blue windbreaker, though this one bore a CNU logo, not a Phoebus one. The biggest difference, he said, is being able to spend entire practices working on, say, pass-rushing techniques instead of adhering to a more compacted high school schedule.
"At Phoebus, we had an offensive day and a defensive day and a game-plan day, and then a pregame day, and that was it," Dee said. "The difference here is you can spend a lot more time with your guys, with the group that you're working with. ... Football's the same. The X's and O's are the same. I'm learning a new system and getting to know the kids."
Just like when he presided over whistle-filled, profanity-laced practices at Phoebus, Dee cuts an unmistakable figure at CNU.
"I've seen him work for a lot of years, and I knew how he operated," said Kelchner, who first recruited Phoebus players as a William and Mary assistant more than 20 years ago. "I know he's going to be intense with his coaching and what he demands of the young men. I don't think that's going to change, and I can see and hear that at certain points on the field."
Dee's arrival attracted immediate attention.
"My first impression was like, 'Oh, my God,' but I love the guy," said sophomore defensive tackle Carlos Canales. "He works you hard, makes you get better."
Canales, from T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, had heard of Phoebus' football reputation, if not its head coach. Fellow tackle Kyle Krupp, a junior out of Colonial Heights, near Richmond, had a better idea of what — or rather, who — CNU was in for.
"He's kind of got a legendary status almost," Krupp said. "You get a guy like him coming in, it's a big deal. I'm honored to play for him, and I've learned a lot."
CNU junior safety Jermando Towler, who played for Dee for two seasons at Phoebus, occasionally has had to serve as something of an interpreter to teammates not used to Dee's blustery teaching style.
"They're not used to his vocalness," said Towler, which sometimes prompts an exchange like the following:
" 'Why does he cuss so much? Was he always like that?' 'It's Coach Dee.' 'He's gotta stop.' 'No, you just gotta listen.' "
But Towler is convinced Dee will take the Captains, who've made the playoffs in six of their eight seasons of football, to even greater heights.
"We can do big things, just with his drive and intensity on the field," Towler said. "I think it's going to ripple down to everybody else on the team."
Dee, though, is still figuring out how his oversize persona fits into his new gig.
"It's an adjustment. I'm not gonna lie," he said. "I'm just trying to work my way in. I got a little vocal this morning. I think they're getting to know my personality. I pretty much think it's the same personality. I don't think I'm going to change at this age."
That's fine with Kelchner, who, like Dee, who grew up in northeast Pennsylvania. Dee played college football at Mansfield (Pa.) for Kelchner's father, Rod.
"I think Coach Dee and I are probably cut from the same cloth on our philosophies about football and probably about life," Kelchner said. "We were both probably brought up in similar ways. My mom and dad were raised in the Hard Coal region of Pennsylvania, too. It's kind of a way of life there, with football and discipline and the way you did things. So we had a lot of things in common. That made it easy for us to get along."
That doesn't mean Dee's transition from boss to assistant will be completely smooth.
"That's going to take patience from both sides," Kelchner, 49, said. "But Bill's a professional. He knows when he needs to speak up and he knows when he doesn't. He knows what he's doing."
Kelchner said Dee already has brought a few new ideas to the Captains' table, and Kelchner is expecting more contributions as Dee gets more comfortable.
"Here's the thing," Kelchner said. "When you bring anybody into your program, whether it's an equipment man, a trainer, a young football player, an assistant coach, a janitor — if you have anybody that's involved with your program that comes from a tradition of winning ... that's going to help you.
"Bill Dee knows how to win."
Online To read more about Bill Dee's run at Phoebus and transition to CNU, log on to dailypress.com/billdee. To view a photo gallery on Dee at CNU, visit dailypress.com/deeatcnu.