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Sleep is a precious commodity for Tom Dyer these days, and not because he’s added football head coaching duties to his already time-consuming day job as Hamden’s athletic director.
His daughter, Riley Victoria, turned one month old on Monday. Late-night feedings and diaper changes have joined team meetings and film breakdown as part of the routine for the next three months.
On this weekday afternoon, the inside of his cramped office is cluttered with boxes of unopened football equipment stacked beside a table of ducky- and bunny-themed gift bags – presents for the baby recently delivered on behalf of Hamden High’s faculty.
Dyer, 37, wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s quickly discovered the rewards of fatherhood, like coaching, far outweigh luxuries like free time or eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
“It’s been awesome and exciting being a new parent,” he says. “Sometimes when people have a newborn, they aren’t able to take on new challenges. My other half is tremendous. She understands this is a passion of mine and loves what I’m doing also. With that support, I can do it.”
Whether Dyer can rally a once-proud program that’s fallen on hard times remains to be seen. Hamden hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2009. It lost 26 of 32 games the past three seasons. Last fall it was 1-9.
If anyone can revive football at Hamden, it’s Dyer.
Young, ambitious and football savvy, he led Hillhouse to state championships in 2010 and 2012. The decision to leave the school and give up coaching was difficult, in part because he resigned at the 11th hour when Hamden hired him in August 2013.
But Dyer, an athletic facilitator at Hillhouse, long aspired to run his own department. The opening at Hamden, a school with a large enrollment, 28 varsity sports and a deep tradition of athletic success, was simply too good to let pass.
The past two years have been rewarding. Still, the passion for football and coaching still burned inside.
Dyer played three sports growing up in the town of Belleville, New Jersey, located just a stone’s throw from Giants Stadium. Baseball was his first love. He would coach it at Hillhouse for a spell. In time, football’s camaraderie and complexity won him over. The game led him to Southern Connecticut State, where he played tight end from 1997-2000 for Rich Cavanaugh and then-offensive coordinator Tom Godek, who succeeded Cavanaugh as head coach in 2014.
Dyer says his coaching style and philosophy is an amalgam of tidbits picked up from various coaches throughout his career, including Cavanaugh.
“I learned how to run a program from coach Cavanaugh,” Dyer said. “To this day, I call him with questions and he’s always there.”
His latest coaching job could prove to be the ultimate football project.
Hamden has always been something of a high school football enigma. It’s long been a hotbed of talent. Since the 1980s the town produced more NFL talent – Rich Diana, Tony Sagnella, Rob and Ron Monaco, Ed Ellis, Bobby Myers, Anttaj Hawthorne and Bruce Campbell – than any other Connecticut town. Yet it has never won a state championship and hasn’t reached the finals in 20 years.
Football participation at Hamden is dangerously low for a Class LL school. Only 65 players are spread out between varsity and junior varsity this fall, with only 15 of them freshman. Dyer says for a school of Hamden’s size – 886 boys were enrolled last year, 11th highest in the state – there should be closer to 90 on the varsity and 120 in the program.
But with middle school football trimmed from the budget this year, sustaining the current numbers will be a challenge. Keeping homegrown talent from heading elsewhere to play high school football — Cheshire Academy currently has three major college prospects from Hamden – has also been a problem.
Dyer, as the athletic director, looks at football as only part of the larger picture, but the message is clear.
“When we talk about restoring things, I talk about it for all our programs,” Dyer said. “How much can we tie in at the youth level to support us? We have 700 kids playing youth soccer in the town. We’ve always done well in hockey. Each program has its own little niches. We have to find what’s going to work. But I would hope a parent would trust enough that we have great coaches and teachers and this is a great school. Anyone that doesn’t think that should come by, take a tour of the school and see the great things going on.”
What the coming fall brings is anyone’s guess. The Southern Connecticut Conference reclassified Hamden as a Tier II program for the fall, easing some of the burden, though heavyweights West Haven, Fairfield Prep, North Haven and Notre Dame-West Haven are still on the schedule.
Dyer has changed the offense — his trademark triple option is installed – as well as the defense and is encouraged by what he’s seen in the preseason. His lessons and expectations, per usual, extend beyond simple Xs and Os and wins and losses.
“There’s a great opportunity for the program,” he said. “It starts with great effort. All I ask for is for them to give everything they’ve got. But what we’re really training people to do is to be better people in society. Ultimately, that’s our goal as coaches. Sure, you want to win. But if there are off-the-field issues it takes away some of the flavor of winning.”
There’s precious little time with the added duties of coaching and parenting added to the mix. Still, Dyer gives his full attention to everyone who needs it. On this particular afternoon, after meeting with the field hockey coach and a local reporter, he’ll scarf down lunch inside his office before hauling some of the new equipment to the football stadium prior to practice.
“I focus on what I’m doing,” Dyer said. “When I’m sitting in this chair, I’m an AD. When I’m on the football field, I’m the coach. And when I’m at home, I’m a father.”
It may be hectic and unconducive to sleep. But it suits Dyer well. Besides, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Chip Malafronte is the Register’s columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.