Bill Dee insisted that there was no timetable, no master plan. He told himself and anyone who would listen that whatever happens, happens, and that he'd be content with any of it.
So as Old Dominion's new defensive coordinator sat in his office this week, less than four years removed from a mountainous high school coaching legacy, his recent career arc sounded like the intersection of serendipity and opportunity.
Matt Kelchner had an opening at Christopher Newport. Bobby Wilder had an opening at ODU. When Wilder decided to shake up his staff after last season, he turned over the defense to a man with one year of Division I college experience, but more than three decades of coaching from which to draw.
"I'm happy for this opportunity," Dee said. "Things never go as they're scripted. You just never know what's around the corner for you. I'm going to give Coach Wilder my best effort, because that's what I expect out of myself."
Which is why he walked away from Phoebus High after 24 years as head coach, after the program's fourth state championship in eight years with what was clearly his best team. He began to worry that he could lose the edge that drove the Phantoms to compete with mighty Hampton and beyond, which would have been unacceptable for him and especially for his players.
Dee wanted to give college coaching a shot and, at 55, believed he was still young enough to do so. When Kelchner invited him aboard with the Captains, he coached the defensive line his first year, linebackers the next.
He threw his hat in the ring for an opening on Wilder's staff after the 2010 season, and Wilder hired him to coach the offensive line for ODU's first year as competing CAA members. Now comes the chance to run the defense on a burgeoning Football Championship Subdivision power.
Dee said that he was joking recently with his wife, Margaret, and said, "I wanted a change and you better be careful what you ask for. I've been in college (coaching) four years and I've done four different things already."
He laughed and said, "I'd like to settle into something at this point."
Not that he's complaining. He coaches football, which is all he ever wanted. Head coach, assistant; didn't matter. It's blocking and tackling and working with young men toward common goals.
"When you've been in charge for so long, it's different when you become an assistant," Dee said. "But I always preached 'team,' so to be a good assistant, you've got to do what's good for the team. I had no problem being an assistant."
Dee, now 58, brings an old-school mentality rooted in his Pennsylvania upbringing and in nearly 30 years as a head coach.
"I don't think there were any secrets when anybody played us at Phoebus High School," Dee said. "It's all about execution, whether it's offense, defense or whatever you're doing, and mental toughness. That's what we're trying to establish here. I just think that's the way you play football."
Dee is charged with improving an ODU defense that ranked 72nd in scoring (27.8 ppg), 81st in yards allowed (386.1 ypg) and 104th against the pass (242.4 ypg).
The defensive performance, or more accurately, its persona prompted Wilder to fire defensive coordinator Andy Rondeau just days after ODU's playoff loss to Georgia Southern. Rather than go outside the program for his replacement, he selected Dee.
"I've seen everything I expected from the coach that we first hired and who worked with our offensive line last year," Wilder said. "He's got the same fire, the same energy level. His record speaks for itself. In everything I've observed from him, he's already made great connections with our defensive players."
Wilder and captains Craig Wilkins and Chris Burnette joked that the volume level during defensive practice and drills seems to have risen, as well.
"His intensity level is crazy," said Burnette, a defensive tackle. "He wants us to be one of the most physical defenses out there. His motto for us is: back to the basics. Getting back to basic tackling, just getting after it, hard-nosed football. That's what we're trying to instill in everybody else out there."
Dee has simplified the defensive scheme in order to take advantage of the players' strengths — quickness and speed.
"It wasn't that we weren't as good as we should have been," said Wilkins, the all-conference outside linebacker who moves to the middle next season. "At times last year, people were confused. Everybody didn't have a full grasp of the defense. But with Coach Dee, he's making things simpler and pretty much fundamental. It's pretty much read and react."
Said Dee, "I want kids to be able to play fast. Obviously, you've got to make adjustments. If as a staff we can take something and get it on one piece of paper, rather than three, that's what we want to do. We want kids to look at it and have it make sense to them."
Dee expects to be challenged by the complexity of college offenses, as well as coaching within the CAA and at the top level of FCS football. He knows that the Monarchs must be versatile and flexible, but playing confidently and aggressively and tackling well will cover a multitude of shortcomings.
"The players have to make plays, not the scheme," he said.
Dee's job is to put his players in the best position, physically and mentally, to make plays. He knows that there is more responsibility, more scrutiny on a coordinator than a line coach. But he said that those inside and outside the program won't put any more pressure on him than he will on himself.
It was that way as a respected high school coach. It's that way now as a relatively new college coach.
"I just said, let's work like I always work and see what happens," Dee said. "That's what I said, see where it leads me."
ODU spring game
WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday, April 21
WHERE: Foreman Field, Norfolk