ill Dee sat in the cramped, cluttered Phoebus High office that's been his second home for a generation, mentally and verbally juggling years' worth of influences.
Ambition and comfort. Age and timing. Success and challenge. And the kids. Always the kids.
"I hope I'm making sense," he said finally, almost apologetically. "It's just that everything fell into place and I think the time was right. At least I feel the time was right."
Dee leaves a Phantoms football program that he nurtured into a state power for an unspecified assistant coach's job at Division III Christopher Newport under longtime friend Matt Kelchner.
At first blush, it's a peculiar move — the accomplished conductor leaving his baton to play in the cello section for the orchestra across town.
Except it isn't.
Dee is 55. He has been a head football coach for 28 years, the past 24 at Phoebus.
"I think of 55 now as still being relatively young," Dee said, "where 20 years ago, you were like a dinosaur. I look at it, I still have that opportunity for maybe 10 or 15 more years. Let's see what happens."
You don't want to say that Dee had this high school coaching thing down cold, because everyone knows it could all go into the dumper in a hurry.
Still, Dee's teams won four Division 5 state titles in eight years, culminating in last season's undefeated title run with what was clearly his best team.
The Phantoms have averaged 11 wins per season since 1998. He has assembled a competent, loyal staff. There is no shortage of talent.
Dee could have remained the King of Ireland Street for the rest of his days. He'll tell you, there are worse fates.
But the man also knows his heart. He has seen too many coaches stay in one place too long, beyond the point at which the fire burned brightest. He didn't want to be one of those people who cheated the kids, or himself.
"It's just something you know inside," Dee said. "I think you need change sometimes to invigorate you. I felt an excitement when we started to talk. Even my wife, she said: I can tell.
"Let's face it. I'm at the back end of my career, and it would be nice to coach college football. … It was important for me that I didn't have to move and I'm coaching for a guy that I really respect. They have coaches over there that I really respect."
Second acts can be tricky. But Dee isn't reinventing himself. He didn't decide to chuck it all and become a beekeeper or open a combination bait shop/rum dispensary on the
He remains a football coach. Practice. Meetings. Film study. Blocking. Tackling. Kids. Relationships. The things he knows.
"I still feel like I have a lot of football coaching left in the tank," he said. "I have the opportunity to coach football on a full-time basis and that's what I want to do."
CNU's success played a part in Dee's decision as well. He is going to one of the region's premier programs, a program that has earned six
playoff berths in its eight seasons, with top-shelf facilities and administrative support.
"Nobody can say that I didn't give everything I had here for 24 years," Dee said, "and that we didn't reach the goals that we set for this program and for this program to be in good shape. If they get the right guy to come in here and keep these assistants here, they'll continue to be good."
Dee built a Phoebus program that banged heads with Hampton High, the platinum standard for excellence in the state, and gave as good as he got.
Most notably, he made football matter at a place where there was no reason for it to matter.
He told stories Wednesday about how his first group of players treated film sessions as little more than comedy hours, busting on each other for mistakes and absorbing big hits.
He talked about instilling the characteristics of team and brotherhood into a program where there were none.
He talked about coming full-circle, from a team that struggled to win one game when he arrived, to one that didn't look like it could lose.
"Twenty-four years here," Dee said. "And we're going out on top. I have to admit, I like that feeling. I mean, what a year. All those things just kind of lined up where I felt it was the right time."