Remembering Trinity's Chet McPhee

Chet McPhee was a freshman football coach at Trinity. He was the college's swim coach for 15 years, coaching both the men's and the women's teams. He started the men's lacrosse program. He coached soccer.

"I think he did track for a while, too," said Rick Hazelton, who retired as Trinity athletic director after 28 years in 2010. "He was a special coach. He would do anything for me. He was my predecessor's right-hand man. Chet didn't want the AD job. I put him in any sport I could put him in."

"His coaching went beyond practices and games and strategies and all that. He was a great friend to all of his athletes."

McPhee, who died Dec. 14 at age 83, was an eclectic guy. He was, Hazelton said, probably the only one in the Trinity athletic department with a doctoral degree. He played in a band and loved jazz and big-band music. He died while broadcasting his radio show, "Sunrise Serenade," on Trinity's campus station, WRTC, on the morning of Dec. 14.

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"I called him every [Friday] in the morning, but that day, I had a physical," his longtime friend Bob Parzych said. "I was coming down Route 9 and I turned on the radio. I heard the white noise. The transmitter was on. Something was up. There was nobody on the air."

"I called his house, no answer. Chet had a bout of pneumonia two years ago. I called his daughter-in-law. They got a call from Hartford Hospital. Before he hit the ground, he was gone."

Parzych was the one who got McPhee, who lived in Newington, into radio. Parzych came to Trinity to play football in 1972, where he met McPhee.

"He was one of those unique individuals, as a coach, where it wasn't about winning," said Parzych, who lives in Berlin. "It was more about playing the game and having fun. He really let the kids run it."

Parzych wasn't getting a lot of varsity playing time, so by his senior year, he was ready to stop playing. Hazelton was the defensive coach and told Parzych he should talk to McPhee about helping coach.

They became lifelong friends, coaching football and soccer together from 1975 to 1994, when McPhee retired. Hazelton still maintained an office for him at Trinity.

"He came in every day and read the paper," Hazelton said. "I had him do different projects. He was an English major, a good writer. He would substitute teach PE classes. He would do anything. He was always around, always had a smile on his face."

Parzych remembered a typical McPhee football coaching moment: third-and-15, a nervous quarterback, Trinity had to make a big play. McPhee would call a timeout and act as if he were diagramming a big play.

"But he was really saying, 'Do whatever you want,'" Parzcyh said. "Just to relax everybody. Then the quarterback would make this big play. [McPhee] had nothing to do with it. We would all laugh."

Or how about the time the Trinity freshmen were going to scrimmage the University of Hartford's club team, back in 1977 or '78?

"We had a good team," Parzych said. "We had 25 kids on the team. Hartford had like 80. They got off the bus and we saw their team. He turns to me and says, 'Everybody in here.'"

Everybody gathered around, expecting to hear some pearls of wisdom.

"'Just remember, the bigger they are, the harder they hit,'" Parzych recalled McPhee's saying.

"They're like, 'What did he just say?' They all started laughing. That's the kind of stuff he did. I don't think Hartford scored a point on us."

His 1984 women's swim team went 10-0. The scoreboard at the Trinity pool is named after him. Many Trinity athletes considered him their mentor.

McPhee, Parzych said, never wanted to be called Dr. McPhee.

"It was never about Chet," he said. "It was always about you. He was just that sort of person. I haven't really cried yet. Part of it is that he's still here."

Parzych, who is the radio station's sports director and has been the voice of Trinity hockey for the past 35 years, has a Monday afternoon show called "The Kitchen Sink." McPhee started on his show.

"He would come in and do big-band stuff," Parzych said. "We called it 'Chet's Corner.' Chet was wide open to anything, all different types of artists. That was interesting for someone of his age. He loved his big bands."

"He was kind of the Bob Steele of WRTC. He was into puns. He had a dry sense of humor. [When they coached football], we would start a pun chain. The [other] assistant coaches would get away from us. They didn't want to be near us."

Robin Sheppard, Trinity's associate athletic director and former field hockey coach, arrived at Trinity when she was 22. He was one of her coaching mentors.

"Chet was maybe the second person I met in Hartford and he was kind of a father away from home," she said. "He was a raconteur, a very talented storyteller. He would tell these anecdotes filled with a lot of corny puns and rhymes — he told them over and over, being egged on by us.

"His family shared him with us. He spent a lot of hours in the Ferris Athletic Center with us."