8:32 PM EDT, October 30, 2012
Stan Sexton called just before 3:30 p.m., the most difficult part of his days these last five weeks.
"I have to be honest," he said. "Every afternoon about this time, depression sets in."
Phoebus High was 47-2 in Sexton's three-plus seasons as head football coach, and a fourth state championship in as many years for him, and a record fifth straight for the program, would have surprised few, if any.
But on Sept. 26, four games into this season, school officials suspended Sexton indefinitely. Less than three weeks later, they dismissed him as coach and transferred his teaching position to Kecoughtan High.
Late fall afternoons, practice time for more than two decades, suddenly were empty.
The void is especially acute this week as Phoebus (9-0) prepares for Thursday's regular-season finale against rival Hampton (8-1).
"I just miss being out there," Sexton said Tuesday in his first public comments, "the competition, trying to get the best out of the players, the best out of the coaches. During the day, with the teaching, you don't really think about it much.
"But then when that bell rings at the end of the day, when I'm normally going out to football practice and (instead) I'm grading some papers, going over some assignments … I'm really struggling trying to separate myself from it."
Phoebus was Sexton's dream job. He played there, graduating in 1983, and served 14 seasons as an assistant to Bill Dee.
In 2005, Sexton left the nest to become Warwick's head coach. He spent four years there, and when Dee departed Phoebus for Christopher Newport University, Sexton was the obvious successor.
What happened? How could it go so wrong so fast?
Here's what we know, for certain: There was an incident at a Phantoms practice. One player was hospitalized, another suspended for two games.
As usual in such matters, no one, and I mean no one, is talking on-the-record. So absent public court testimony — no criminal charges or civil suits had been filed at last check — we are left with rumor and innuendo.
Given the limited information, opining on Sexton's case is a fool's errand. But there are some undeniables here.
First, parents entrust their children to coaches, and those who violate that trust must be held accountable.
Second, Sexton is a man of faith, and those who know him well believe he would never condone harm to a player or opponent.
"I'm a hard worker," Sexton said. "I'm loyal to a fault. I love working with the kids. I love the game of football. I thoroughly enjoy teaching, and I am a competitor. That kind of describes me in a nutshell."
Sexton called the support of friends, family, the congregation at Orcutt Baptist Church, and former players and teammates "amazing. I can't put it in words."
Moreover, he said Kecoughtan's "administration, teachers and students have been awesome. I couldn't ask for a better welcoming and opportunity. … They just act like you've been there the whole time."
But while teaching health pays the bills, it pales to coaching football.
"Nothing beats being out there and having that camaraderie of your coaches and players all working to accomplish a goal," Sexton said.
Phoebus hasn't lost a step under interim coach Jeremy Blunt, a former Sexton assistant. Since edging Bethel 19-17 in Blunt's first game, the Phantoms have defeated Menchville, Denbigh, Woodside and Gloucester by a combined 182-19.
By choice, Sexton has no contact with the team and has not attended any games.
"I want to watch the games (on television)," he said. "I try to watch the games. But I can only watch so much. … I have chosen not to attend any games. I just don't want to go in and answer a lot of questions.
"I would love to go to the games if I could just go in and nobody recognize me and go sit and watch the games. … They've shown a lot of resilience this year. … I'm just proud of how they keep that tradition going. That's all I want to see, is that they go out each week and uphold that tradition that was started when Coach Dee was there and (continued) in the short period I was there."
Sexton declined comment on his dismissal but knows he would have to address the matter were he to interview for another coaching position.
"The coaching bug is still there," he said. "I don't think the competitor in you ever leaves. … I'd just like to go out one day and prove to everybody that I still have coaching in my blood."
Tuesday afternoon, as temperatures dipped toward playoff norms, Sexton headed not to the practice field but home to his wife, Carolyn, and their three children.
"It's fun to be around my family now," he said. "I haven't been able to do that for the last 22 years. It's good to be able to go home and do things with them, and help with homework, though I don't know how much help they think I am. Just be there and be there for them.
"Pretty much for all my kids' lives, from August to December, Dad's not been around. It'll take a lot of stress off my wife. I know it's a lot of stress on her this time of year because she has to do everything. It's a blessing. That's kind of the silver lining in everything."
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