The Incomparable Dre' Bly
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA – Dre’ Bly has five children, including four very athletically-inclined sons. He’s in the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, played in multiple Pro Bowls, two Super Bowls winning one, and is regarded as one of the greatest football players to ever suit up at North Carolina.
He’s a husband and father first, he will tell you, and he’s also so much more.
Gregarious, passionate, disciplined, ambitious, personable, honest, smart and possessing an unyielding motor are apt descriptions of Bly.
So it’s no wonder that 19 months into this college coaching experiment things are working out rather well for Bly and Mack Brown, the man who recruited him to Chapel Hill in the mid-1990s and back to UNC to join his staff after returning as its head coach in November 2018.
Actually, it’s not really an experiment and never was. Brown had complete faith in Bly. It was a calculated hire while attempting to rebuild the Tar Heels into the form Brown left following the 1997 season, which was the program’s second consecutive top-10 final ranking.
Bly was a key component in Brown’s rebuild from the outset, but it required he essentially go back to school. He wasn’t exactly a grizzled veteran in the coaching ranks.
"Being on this staff, learning from guys like (Tommy) Thig (Thigpen) and coach (Jay) Bateman, coach Brown and just listening to those guys, picking their minds and taking what I know and what I feel like I’m good at and combining it with those guys,” Bly said. “I’ve just been open-minded and it’s been great for me.”
Bly has coaching experience. He’s coached his sons in baseball and helped start the Hammer Down Tar Heels youth football program. He spent some time in the NFL’s Diversity Coaching Fellowship, interned with the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins, and coached at Myers Park High School in Charlotte. Just two months before Brown brought him back to Chapel Hill, Bly was hired to coach defensive backs for the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football.
The ACC, UNC and working for Brown is a different animal altogether, though. But Bly was ready from the start just like in his playing days.
He hit the ground running as a player in college, becoming one of just five freshmen named All-America joining Hershel Walker, Tony Dorsett, Marshall Faulk and Bjorn Merten after the Chesapeake, VA, native led the nation with 11 interceptions in 1996. He was a two-time consensus first-team All-America at UNC.
As a coach, Bly is following a similar path.
As UNC’s cornerbacks coach last fall, Bly faced plenty of adversity when the injury bug hit the Tar Heels’ secondary forcing plenty of revamping and getting guys ready for key snaps who were once buried on the depth chart. DeAndre Hollins’ performance in a narrow win over Duke, which was perhaps the most important victory of the season for a team that eventually finished 7-6 winning its last three contests, is an example.
Hollins had mainly worked at nickel from early in August camp, but with so many guys going down, he got some work in at corner the week of the Duke game, which was in late October. His coach got him ready.
Bly offered another piece of evidence that week to the public this whole coachign thing was for real. In the cornerbacks room, however, the kids already knew.
“Once he got there, obviously he hadn't coached at that level before, but I think he has done a really good job,” senior cornerback Patrice Rene said. “He understands his role on the team. He's our corner coach and he does a really good job at that and coaching us in terms of technique, how to do things scheme-wise…
“Coach Bly, he's really just a corner guru. He knows everything about the position and has elevated my game so much for just the short amount of time he has been with me.”
And then there’s the recruiting trail.
That’s where Bly’s mojo is resonating the most right now, especially after Carolina recently gained a commitment from the top-rated cornerback in the class of 2021, Tony Grimes. The qualities of Bly’s that become obvious after spending time around him are magnified in recruiting.
“For me, I’m really proactive and I love interaction,” Bly said. “So, just the mentoring part. Me getting involved here in Charlotte and coaching the youth to have my youth organizations. The one reason why I pursued coaching at a collegiate level, a professional level was because of the mentorship and having a chance to tell my story, have a chance to help these guys accomplish what I’ve done, what my peers have done, that’s the beauty of it for me.
“I want these guys to have a chance to be better than me, to do everything that I did and gain some of the things I was able to accomplish.”
That’s a big part of Bly’s pitch. And again, it’s resonating.
“I feel like, a lot of people say that he’s got no coaching experience in college, (but) I think he’s going to be good,” Grimes said. “I think he knows what he’s doing.”
It certainly helped with Grimes that Bly is from the talent-rich Tidewater area, affectionally referred to among locals there as “The 757.” Talk to a prospect from that region these days targeted by UNC and Bly’s name is one of the first things out of their mouths.
He’s one of them. He’s come from where they are from and gone on to achieve goals most of those kids currently have. The Tidewater area may have 1.7 million people, but from an athletics standpoint, it carries more of a one-for-all feel of a much smaller rural town.
“The word 'boom' gets thrown out pretty frequently when there's a college commitment,” said Matt Hatfield, publisher of VAPreps.com and host of The 757 At 6 on ESPN Radio 94.1 FM in the Tidewater region.
“However, this was a major 'BOOM' with shockwaves sent throughout the ACC and country by UNC… There's no question that the presence of Dre' Bly has elevated the Tar Heels in Tidewater. His background, and perhaps more importantly, the way he's gone about cultivating relationships set him apart.”
Bly loves the area and it loves him back. There’s even a field in Virginia Beach named after him. So, it’s that connection to the 757 and from the NFL that Bly uses on the trail. He gets into any front door he wants in the area and then some.
“I feel like I bring a different element to coaching because of the things that I’ve been able to do,” Bly said. “I can pick up the phone and call many different guys. The brotherhood that we share, the fact that those guys are rooting for me, the fact that those guys want to see more of us coaching because we feel like we have so much to offer, I just utilize it, man.”
And, of course, the other layer of what’s made Bly such a success is his implacable self-assuredness.
“I’m a very confident individual,” he said. “I always believe I’m going to win. I don’t care what the opposition looks like, I feel like I’m going to win. And if you do lose, that’s okay because we’re going to bounce back, so that was the one thing that I had to restore with those guys.
“I’m constantly teaching that every day. I talk a lot of trash, I’m very competitive, I hate to lose at anything I do, so I wanted my DBs to have that mindset and wanted those guys to have that mentality, and I think as the year progressed, we got better in that and were looser, which allowed us to make plays.”
Add trash talker, inspirer, motivator, communicator, winner, recruiter, teacher and coach to the parade of words best describing Bly.
They all fit.
They are Dre’ Bly.