Chester H. McPhee was a coach and mentor whose second act as a radio host brought him fans among the music lovers around Hartford. He was probably one of the few college football coaches with a Ph.D.
McPhee grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, where his father was the coach at the local high school. He played halfback for his father, learned to play the saxophone and won an academic scholarship to Oberlin College, where he played three sports.
After graduating in 1951, he was drafted, but the Army considered his musical ability when assigning him, so he spent his two-year enlistment playing sax in the army band in Korea.
After he was discharged, he taught and coached at an Ohio high school, and enrolled at Ohio State to study education. To support himself and Jane Deschaux, his new wife, he worked in the athletic department and started a lacrosse program.
A friend who was interviewing for a Trinity College athletic position suggested that McPhee might be a perfect fit as freshman football coach, and McPhee got the job in 1957. He also started the men's lacrosse program and coached men's varsity swimming, and after Trinity school became co-ed in 1969, he started the women's swim and diving teams. He was an assistant coach for women's soccer and men's and women's track and field teams.
He retired in 1994, after coaching and mentoring thousands of young athletes.
"It was never about the W," said Bob Parzych, who played on McPhee's freshman team and then helped McPhee coach when he was an upperclassman. "It was more about being a team player."
"Everyone loved him," Parzych said. "He was one of those people, if you talked to him, it was always about you."
An advocate of lifelong learning, McPhee spent a sabbatical year at Ohio State earning the credits for his doctorate, and then wrote his dissertation on kinesiology, the scientific study of body movement, after he returned to Hartford. He was awarded the degree in 1968 — but never wanted to be known as "doctor," or even "coach." He preferred to be known simply as Chet.
"He was very learned," Parzych said.
As coach, McPhee gave his players a lot of independence.
"He would give them the fundamentals, but he would let them make the decisions: 'You're the quarterback; you make the call.' He put it on their shoulders," said Parzych.
He also expected his students to study. "Sports was part of the program, but not the program," Parzych said.
Central Connecticut State University offered McPhee a job teaching philosophy at the midpoint of his career, but McPhee turned it down. "When would I coach or teach PE?" he asked. "This isn't for me."
Trinity named the scoreboard in its swimming area for McPhee.
McPhee had a folksy quality about him that he displayed on the field and on the radio station.
"He was a master of the long joke. You knew what was going to happen, but you didn't walk away," said Parzych, now the jazz and sports director of WRTC.
Parzych introduced McPhee to the Trinity radio station, and McPhee began with "Chet's Corner," a half-hour of jazz, on Mondays in the late1970s. Then he began doing a three-hour jazz show, "Sunrise Serenade," on Fridays and also hosted a classical music show on alternate weekends, "Sunday Concert."
"Chet's delivery was very much like Bob Steele's," said Parzych. "A very home-grown, hambone sense of humor," all delivered in McPhee's Midwestern accent that turned "Ohio" into "Ahaya."