When Jamey Chadwell was introduced as head coach of Charleston Southern University’s football program two years ago, he told the fans and the media:
“We’re going to coach with passion and we’re going to be intentional about our relationships. We are going to engage this community. We are going to engage this student body. This is their team. We want the student body to be proud of their team – and that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Passion. Intention. Relationships. Pride. Those, said Chadwell, were the ingredients that would lead to success for the CSU’s football program. Oh, and patience. Remember that last statement, “… that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Well, it kind of did.
Winning will do that to an athletic program and, since his arrival, all the CSU Bucs have done is win football games. Chadwell has led the team to a combined 18-7 over two seasons, the most wins over any two-year period in program history. During the last two-year stretch Charleston Southern has chalked up a pair of wins against in-city rival The Citadel and conference wins against Coastal Carolina (2013) and Liberty (2014) on the road.
“To beat Liberty on the road, to be Coastal Carolina here, those are ‘wow’ kind of things,” said athletic director Hank Small. “Those are tough games. You can see the respect the program is getting.”
Respect — and honor. Chadwell’s success earned him the 2013 Big South Coach of the Year, the AFCA Region II Coach of the Year, and a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, which is awarded to the top FCS coach, after CSU set a school-record for wins during a 10-3 season.
Last season, CSU led the country in time of possession and ranked 16th in rushing offense while the Bucs’ aggressive defense also excelled, leading the Big South in total defense, rushing defense and pass defense. The team finished the season 8-4.
“He has a great relationship with his players,” said Small. “The whole purpose of playing football is to have fun. Jamey and his coaching staff have the ability to really relate to the players.”
“More than anything, I learned, be who you are; I can’t be Coach Mills or Steve Spurrier, I’ve got to be Jamey Chadwell,” said the Bucs head coach. “So, I’ve tried to put my personality into the program and, hopefully, that shows.”
Chadwell’s football education began on 100 yards of Tennessee green grass, between the hash marks and in the shadow of his father. The senior Chadwell coached his son in middle school and, later, at Campbell County High School as head coach in football, baseball and assistant basketball coach.
“We were at it constantly,” said Chadwell. “It was something that was in our blood.”
After high school, Chadwell attended East Tennessee State University, where he quickly excelled and by his sophomore season, he was starting at quarterback. But two weeks prior to the opener, he tore his tibia and deltoid ligament in his ankle. The experience was a turning point in Chadwell’s life.
“I was lying in a hospital bed and I said, ‘Alright, I accepted you in my life, but you’ve always been second; sports was always first,” Chadwell prayed. “I’m going to give it to you.’”
With his life firmly in God’s hands, Chadwell soon began charting a new course for life after college: coaching.
“My roommate (Mark Collins) and I talked about how we were going to coach,” he said. “I remember vividly staying up at night talking about what we were going to do and how we were going to coach, but it was all high school. College was not in our mind at all.”
After completing his bachelor’s degree in Economics and Business Education from East Tennessee State, Chadwell accepted a coaching job at his alma mater as a recruiter and assistant, working with quarterbacks, tight ends and running backs. Collins went on to coach at Michigan, Georgia and in the National Football League with the Atlanta Falcons before landing his current position as outside linebacker coach for the New York Jets.
In 2003, East Tennessee State announced it would drop the football program. The clock was ticking and Chadwell knew he needed to find a new opportunity.
After the 2003 season, then CSU head coach Jay Mills contacted Chadwell and asked if he would be interested in joining him in Charleston as a full-time assistant and recruiter. Chadwell accepted, and over the next five seasons, he listened and learned everything he could from Mills.
“Coach Mills was great with detail and organization and I learned that from him,” said Chadwell.
Charleston Southern finished 7-4 and won the Big South co-championship capped off by a thrilling comeback win the final game of the season against Coast Carolina. In 2006, his third season as an assistant, the team finished 9-2 and Chadwell completed his master’s in Business Administration from Charleston Southern.
Chadwell, who grew up in the church and attended Fellowship of Christian Athletic meetings at East Tennessee State, was experiencing a deeper commitment at the faith-based college.
“When I came to here in 2004 my faith grew from being in this environment,” he said. “Being able to talk with spiritual leaders, attending Chapel and campus events really helped me grow in my walk.”
In 2009, the head coach job opened at North Greenville and Chadwell asked Mills if he thought he should pursue the opportunity. Mills encouraged him. Not long after, Chadwell was named head coach at NGU. He packed up his belongings — and all his experiences — and headed for North Greenville.
The team struggled the first season under Chadwell, finishing 2-8.
“We were lucky we got two (wins),” he said. “I started questioning myself about a month into the season and thought maybe I was in over my head. I think that is your faith being tested. I’m a big believer that you have to go through failure and adversity before you can reach your full potential.”
Chadwell called his first season as a head coach “miserable,” but he saw some hope in some of his young players. North Greenville went 9-3 and 11-3 over the next two seasons, including the University’s first-ever national ranking, finishing the 2011 season 12th in the American Football Coaches Association DII Poll.
“What he did at North Greenville was amazing,” said Small. “He immediately had an impact on the program and immediately impressed me as his ability to be a head coach. Not everyone can make that transition.”
Despite the success, Chadwell’s heart was still in Charleston.
“In the back of my mind, I always thought one day, if I have the opportunity and they want me back – I feel that’s where I am meant to be,” he said. “We got married here. We have a home here. A lot of who I am and who I became was developed here at CSU, personally and professionally. People ask me where I am from – I’m originally from Tennessee – but my home is Charleston.”
Chadwell’s opportunity arrived after the 2012 season, when Mills announced his retirement after 10 years as head coach at Charleston Southern.
When he returned to CSU to interview for the job as head coach, Hank Small was struck by his maturity. “He was a completely different person,” he said. “He was ready. He really wanted to be at Charleston Southern.” Chadwell’s looks back at his four-year stretch as head coach at North Greenville and later Delta State as a learning experience.
Chadwell vividly remembers the day he was offered the head coach job at CSU.
“I was on the phone and I told the university, let me pray about this and I will get back to you,” he said. “I hung up the phone and turned around and my wife said, ‘You can pray all you want, I’m packing.’”
The CSU football program has experienced physical growth too. Since 2012, the University has invested in a new Athletic Center (including new locker rooms), new uniforms, stadium lights and, in 2015, a new stadium entrance, turf and upgraded seating and amenities.
“It shows we’re serious about the future of the program,” said Chadwell. “When you show that kind of support to players, it makes them want to play harder. We are trying to give every student and student-athlete a great college experience.”
The 2015 CSU Buccaneers will open the 2015 under new lights and on new turf. The transformation is creating a lot of excitement around the university, the program and Chadwell himself, who confessed, “Every morning I drive on to campus, I get chills when I see the facility going up right before my eyes.”
Fittingly, the CSU Buccaneers kick off the 2015 college football season Thursday, September 3 at home and under the lights against North Greenville University.
Winning comes with its own set of unique challenges. Recent success has created high expectations among fans and the media. In May, the Sporting News’ FCS Preseason Top-25 Poll, ranked the Bucs at No. 24. While Charleston Southern has been ranked in both major polls each of the last two seasons, this marks the first time in history that the football program has been ranked in a major preseason poll.
Maybe this won’t happen overnight.