For Christopher Newport's Matt Kelchner, it was a chance to fill a void with a friend and an astute and experienced football mind. For Zbig Kepa, it was a coaching job with a successful program that didn't require a change of address, and the added benefit of being around his two sons.
Both men described the win-win situation that brought Kepa to CNU, a move that became official Monday when the Captains' newest assistant coach signed a slew of papers and attended his first full staff meeting in preparation for the 2013 season.
"CNU has won a lot of football games," Kepa said. "There's a lot of playoff experience. There's something to it, and it's been done the right way, and I'm going to continue to work in that direction with the groundwork that's been set already."
Kepa, 56, was the longtime receivers coach and offensive coordinator at William and Mary. But after back-to-back sub-par offensive seasons, Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock made a staff change that resulted in Kevin Rogers coming aboard as coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Kelchner and Kepa have known each other for almost 30 years, going back to their days as young assistants on Laycock's staff in the mid-1980s. The two remained close, even after Kelchner got the job to start CNU's football program in 2000.
"I know I'm getting a good guy, a good person," Kelchner said. "Hey, when you have 30-plus years of coaching experience and you've coached at that level, you're a good coach. I could have him coach punters and quarterbacks. He could coach any position because he knows the game. I know this: He'll care about the kids and he'll work with them. That's what you need: somebody who cares and somebody who works."
Kepa said that he explored many possibilities after leaving William and Mary, both at the high school and college levels. None, he said, were as good a fit as CNU.
Kepa will coach the defensive line, a return to his college coaching roots, but the first time he's been on that side of the ball since 1984.
"If you want to be a good offensive player, you've got to know defense," he said. "I always stressed that with the guys I was coaching. I know more and have seen more defensively than studying offensively — the spread and all that other stuff. I understand defense."
Kepa pointed out that when coaches run scout teams in practice, they're essentially defensive coordinators. He said that he's more familiar with the back seven on defense than the line, because of his experience with receivers and the passing game.
"Up front, now I'm just getting my ducks in a row, how to get it taught, what drills I want to do," he said. "So I've been doing some research. But hey, it's football. If you can coach, you can learn how to coach other positions, too."
Kelchner had a staff opening — multiple openings, actually — on defense. Part-time assistants Tom Caporale and Josh Vigna left the staff, Caporale to hook on at Old Dominion, Vigna to grad school. Full-time assistant Jonathan Dean, who also doubled as the athletic department's strength and conditioning coach and overseer of the new weight room, chose to devote more of his time to strength training and thus give up day-to-day football coaching.
Despite his knowledge and lengthy resume, Kepa said that he has no problem working for defensive coordinator Justin Wood.
"Coach Wood's the defensive coordinator so I'm going to do it his way," he said. "I've got to get his verbiage. … Every day I'm learning in here. It ain't like I got all the answers."
Kepa has been a regular around the football offices for the past couple of months, getting better acquainted with staff and players. He needs no introduction to two players: sons Nate and Nick, both former Lafayette High standouts. Nick is an offensive lineman, while Nate will get the opportunity to play quarterback.
"I've coached them all my life," Kepa said. "I asked them (about coaching at CNU), because if they balked, I wasn't going to do it. If I was going to rock their world, then it wasn't going to work. They're on the offensive side, so I don't bother them that much."
Said Kelchner, who has three sons: "I think that's a pretty neat thing. When you get to the point where we are in coaching, to have the opportunity to coach your son, work in a program with your sons, that's got to be pretty special. How many guys ever get the chance to do that, especially in college, at a pretty competitive level?"
Kepa's addition gives CNU four coaches with Division I experience. Longtime offensive coordinator and line coach Dan Antolik and quarterbacks and special teams coach Ed Davis are the others.
"I can get stuff from them," Kelchner said. "You get perspective from the young guys. I want to learn stuff from all of them. I can throw ideas out, then we bat around three or four different ways to do something. Ultimately, it's got to be my say, but I want everybody else to buy into it. Shoot, you've got a coach here with 30-plus years' experience. … I want to take advantage of every resource I can get, too. He's a good resource."