A Hall-of-Fame player, Dre Bly is carving out his own corner as a UNC football coach

·4 min read
Robert Willett/rwillett@newsobserver.com

Great players often stumble transitioning to coaching, but that’s another hitch North Carolina cornerbacks coach Dre Bly has covered.

Bly, who played at Carolina from 1996-98 and is in the college football Hall of Fame, has in just three seasons become a valuable member of Mack Brown’s coaching staff. And he’s doing it with the same flair that he had as a player: one part preparation, one part swagger — and all parts charisma.

Bly doesn’t want to be the kind of coach who dazzles with Xs and Os and football jargon that sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. His approach is simply to relate on a personal level, which has allowed him to make a smooth transition into coaching.

“What you can teach a player, how he responds to you, is what matters, and I think that’s the skill set that I bring to coaching,” Bly said. “And so it hasn’t been a challenge for me, the biggest thing with me is I’ve been determined throughout my life to be successful. Whatever I touch, whatever I decide to do, I’m determined to continue to grow, to get better.”

Bly’s 11-year NFL career ended in 2010, but he didn’t immediately jump into trying to start a coaching career. He dabbled with coaching youth teams, including once having a young Sam Howell under his tutelage.

But before he made a foray into college or pro coaching, he did a lot of research. That included returning to UNC under former coach Larry Fedora and shadowing defensive coordinator Gene Chizik and defensive backs coach Charlton Warren during spring practice. He sat in meetings and asked questions while getting a feel for what would be required.

“You could tell that he wanted to be a great coach,” Chizik said. “Everything is the want to, and the willingness and the humility to be able to be have an open mind and say, ‘I want to learn. I knew how to do it as a player, but doing it as a coach is different.’ And I think he’s done a great job of that.”

Bly had also completed participating in the NFL’s Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship with the Miami Dolphins when he took his first coaching job. He was going to be the defensive backs coach for the San Diego franchise of the fledgling league, the Alliance of American Football.

Two months after accepting that position, Brown returned to UNC and made the call to bring Bly on board. Despite Bly lacking college coaching experience, Brown never worried that he couldn’t adapt.

“He and coach (Jay) Bateman worked really well together and Jay helped him a lot in his progress,” Brown said of the Heels’ former defensive coordinator. “And one of the things that I thought about when we hired Gene Chizik, and Charlton, is Dre worked with them when they were here before ... so I think that’s even going to enhance his ability to coach moving forward.”

Bly’s biggest impact has come so far in recruiting. He has played a major part in helping Carolina reel in some of its top recruits of its past three classes.

Junior Tony Grimes was listed as the nation’s No. 1 rated cornerback coming out of Virginia Beach, Virginia Grimes said his relationship with Bly, who is also from the Tidewater region of Virginia, is the reason why he came to UNC.

“I want to say I got a call from Dre when I was on a trip to Texas A&M and just that conversation I had with him was just amazing,” Grimes said. “So I was like, alright, well, I found my school.”

Bly doesn’t want to be limited to just being thought of as a great recruiter. He said he wants to get better in another aspect of coaching every year.

“What happens in this profession sometimes with guys, they try to take on so much and not rely on different people for different roles,” Bly said. “And so I’ve embraced my role. I think coach Brown has done a tremendous job in allowing his coaches to be who they are. And that’s my approach. I’m loving doing what I do. I’m going to continue to get better.”

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