Stan Sexton could have stayed in the nest. Remained an assistant coach and
's heir apparent.
That was the safe course.
Sexton discarded safety. Tested himself elsewhere. Handled meddlesome parents, disciplined wayward players and answered to nosy media.
All of which make him eminently qualified for the job he officially accepted Wednesday: head football coach at Phoebus High.
"We didn't want just anybody," Phantoms lineman Micah Blakely said before a weight-lifting session. "We wanted someone to take over the reins and get things up running quickly. The only person we could think of was Coach Sexton."
The only person anyone could think of was Stan Sexton.
He worked under Dee from 1991-2004 as Phoebus won two state championships and emerged from Hampton's considerable shadow. He coached running backs and coordinated special teams.
That experience alone would have made Sexton a logical successor whenever Dee retired, especially since Dee's defensive coordinator and childhood running mate, Greg Narvid, had no interest in wearing the big whistle.
But Sexton had long been ready, in Dee's words, "to spread his wings." He applied for head-coaching positions at Kecoughtan, Heritage and Menchville but didn't land a gig until Warwick hired him to replace Tommy Reamon in 2005.
Sexton guided the Raiders to a 23-19 record and two playoff appearances in four years. They were 0-5 against Phoebus, but the regard in which Sexton was held on Ireland Street never waned.
"One thing you always knew about playing the Raiders was you had to work hard to beat them," Blakely said.
After a 20-10 victory over Warwick in 2006, Phantoms running back Dennis Mathis embraced Sexton and said, "I miss you so much."
The feeling was mutual. A 1983 Phoebus graduate, Sexton missed the people, the place, the winning.
When Dee resigned unexpectedly this off-season to become an assistant coach at Christopher Newport, Sexton was on his way home. The only issue was finding him the required teaching position.
Had none surfaced, Narvid, no offense intended, was Plan B.
"No offense taken," said Narvid, who will remain as an assistant coach. "I consider myself Plan B, too. I didn't want the job."
Didn't want the ancillary duties and accompanying headaches. Eligibility forms? Player discipline? Parental politics?
Thanks, but no.
Sexton can relate.
"As an assistant you kind of work in anonymity," he said. "You might make a mistake, but it doesn't come back to you except behind closed doors. … As a head coach, you learn to make decisions that aren't popular."
The most difficult or unpopular decision Sexton made at Warwick?
Oddly enough, it involved Phoebus. Preparing for a 2007 playoff game against the Phantoms, Sexton suspended four starters for violating team behavior rules.
The Raiders lost 28-9 but learned valuable lessons.
"Physically we didn't match up with Phoebus," Sexton said. "To then take four starters out of the picture. But I think they became stronger for it because it was a hard decision."
Sexton saw that strength when Warwick opened this past season 1-3. The Raiders won their next five, earned a second consecutive playoff bid and competed admirably in a 24-17 first-round loss to Lake Taylor.
Dee said such experiences are "a huge advantage, knowing that the hard decision always comes back to you. It's up to you to make sure everything goes right."
At Phoebus, "everything" is not a stretch. Dee's teams won 215 games in 24 years. The Phantoms were 15-0 last season and own four of the past eight Division 5 state titles.
Can you say expectations?
"This is true of all coaches," Dee said. "They put more pressure on themselves than what you can put on them from the outside, trust me. He expects to come in here and win every game."
"I'm already waiting for the first 'Coach Dee wouldn't have done it that way,' " Sexton laughed.
He won't have to wait long. But let's give the guy some space.
Phoebus' offense will remain run-first, play-action later. The defense will remain eight-in-the-box aggressive.
But the coach calling the shots will be different. He'll be a little more relaxed but no less demanding. He may even smile on the sidelines.
"He is," Dee said, "totally prepared."
As Sexton answered questions via cell phone Wednesday, one of his three children was audible in the background. Sexton immediately lauded his wife, Carolyn, a computer technology specialist for Hampton schools and a rabid football fan.
"She's a Kecoughtan grad," Sexton said, "but I converted her."