Why the next chapter of Jamey Chadwell's story should have the attention of the college football world
When Jamey Chadwell steps onto the field for the first time in 2021, he’ll be rocking a mullet.
Well, that’s assuming the Coastal Carolina coach isn’t able to talk his way out of chopping off the “party in the back” look that he promised his team he’d grow in 2021 if it won the Sun Belt in 2020. As of early June, that was still in play for Chadwell. His wife really doesn’t like it, “and it’d be nice for her to start talking to me again,” Chadwell said on a recent episode of The Saturday Down South Podcast.
Instead of stepping onto the field in 2021 leading a new program, Chadwell will look more like the face of his current program than ever.
In 2020, Coastal Carolina unofficially became America’s team. The Chanticleers provided everything a college football fan could’ve asked for — the mullets, the WWE locker room celebrations, the undefeated regular season.
In peak-2020 fashion, they also gave the people what they wanted by transforming a canceled game with Liberty into a midweek schedule flip to host unbeaten BYU. Coastal Carolina turned a message board fantasy into reality not just by playing, but by winning the nationally televised game with College GameDay in the house.
Chadwell delivered Coastal Carolina’s best season in school history (after being predicted to finish last in the East Division), and he was named the National Coach of the Year by 5 different publications. In the midst of being rumored for several potential Power 5 openings, he was rewarded with a substantial raise to stay in Myrtle Beach. Chadwell went from being the lowest-paid Sun Belt coach at $319,866 to rising to second on that list with a base salary worth $850,000 annually with annual raises of $50,000.
That deal might’ve surprised some who assumed he’d climb up the coaching ladder after 2 decades in the business.
“Just try to enjoy where you’re at instead of worrying about what’s next,” Chadwell told SDS. “I’m a big believer that if you plant roots where you’re at, it’ll blossom.”
There’s no denying that Chadwell is blossoming. As for how much more he’ll blossom, well, that’s a fascinating question that should have the attention of the college football world.
It’s not just that the 44-year-old Tennessee native ran it back for an encore season and that “the flow’s going pretty well right now,” according to Chadwell. It’s that he’ll lead a team that’s sure to start in the Top 25 with 89% of its 2020 production returning, including 2020 Sun Belt Player of the Year Grayson McCall, who became the ideal fit to run Chadwell’s modified triple-option offense. It’s essentially built like a service academy team who can actually stretch the field with the passing game. The differences are the formation — Coastal Carolina often operates out of the pistol with 1 or 2 running backs — and the personnel.
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) October 31, 2020
The Chants improved by a touchdown per game with McCall as the starter in 2020. Chadwell’s offense had shown flashes in the past during his 3 previous seasons at Coastal Carolina (1 as OC, 1 as interim coach and 1 as full-time head coach), but it never quite had the right player to execute both the running AND passing duties needed to take it to the next level. Go figure it took a former 2-star recruit in his redshirt freshman season to help put Chadwell on the national map.
With that increased spotlight, a few questions are worth asking.
For starters, how will defenses respond to the offense? You can’t just put 8 defenders in the box and dare McCall to throw. The guy is a 69% passer who averaged 10 yards per attempt and was only picked off 3 times on 250 attempts. He also returns preseason All-American tight end Isaiah Likely and leading receiver Jaivon Heiligh. McCall, who finished No. 8 among FBS quarterbacks in rushing yards, will have the benefit of running behind an offensive line that returns all 5 starters.
As long as McCall stays healthy, Chadwell’s squad should be favored in every regular season game. A potential Sun Belt Championship against fellow preseason Top 25-worthy team Louisiana could be the only thing standing in the way of another unbeaten regular season.
Louisiana coach Billy Napier is the only Sun Belt coach who will be paid more than Chadwell this year. Like Chadwell, Napier was a popular coaching candidate from the Group of 5 ranks, which will likely be the case after 2021, as well. That brings up the other question that could surface in a few months.
Will Chadwell or Napier be the more attractive Power 5 candidate?
Both have some well-documented SEC roots. That’s why any list for candidates at places like South Carolina and Tennessee included Chadwell and Napier.
Who will be the next full-time Tennessee head football coach?
Billy Napier +300
Jamey Chadwell +400
Kevin Steele +500
Tom Herman +700
Hugh Freeze +800
Bill Clark +1000
Gus Malzahn +1200
— Allan Bell (@AllanBell247) January 19, 2021
Odds to be the next head coach for South Carolina (BetOnline):
B. Napier +300
H. Freeze +400
S. Beamer +500
J. Chadwell +600
L. Fickell +700
T. Elliott +750
S. Satterfield +800
B. O’Brien +900
S. Sarkisian +1000
B. Venables +1000
W. Healy +1000
J. Brady +1200
J. Monken +1200
— Odds Shark (@OddsShark) November 17, 2020
When the Tennessee job became open in the middle of January, Chadwell had some tough news to deliver to his childhood buddies back in the Volunteer State who reached out to him in hopes that he’d replace Jeremy Pruitt. No, Chadwell wasn’t going to be the next Tennessee coach.
“There were some disappointed people with that,” Chadwell admitted, “but that’s how life goes sometimes.”
He grew up bailing hay and shucking corn in Caryville, which is about 30 minutes from Knoxville. Naturally, he was a diehard Vols fan. His son’s middle name is “Heath” in honor of his childhood hero, the great Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler. Chadwell said he would’ve “died” for the chance to play quarterback at Tennessee, but he realized he wasn’t on that level and he wound up at East Tennessee State.
“That’s when I learned I needed to be more specific in my prayer life. I said, ‘God, please let me run out of the T,'” Chadwell joked. “I should’ve told him it was with the University of Tennessee and not somebody else.”
That’s really where Chadwell’s small-school roots date back to. Up until last year, he wasn’t exactly at places that earned a national spotlight.
He played and coached at East Tennessee State (2000-03), and he spent time running offenses at Charleston Southern (2004-08 as OC and 2013-16 as a head coach), Division II North Greenville (2009-11) and Delta State (2012) before rising from offensive coordinator to interim head coach to full-time head coach at Coastal Carolina in 2019.
Chadwell did have 2 issues with the NCAA during his time at Charleston Southern. He was suspended for a game in 2016 for having what was deemed impermissible contact with recruits on social media, and the NCAA vacated 18 wins after it ruled that Charleston Southern played ineligible players and allowed athletes to use scholarship money for books on electronics and jewelry.
Could that have prevented Chadwell from being a fit at Tennessee? That, we don’t know. Given the recent Supreme Court’s recent unanimous ruling that the NCAA broke antitrust laws by limiting college athletes’ non-scholarship expenses, perhaps that would be seen through a different lens in the Name, Image and Likeness era. And perhaps with Tennessee facing potential NCAA sanctions of its own for the Pruitt fallout, maybe Chadwell’s childhood nostalgia still wouldn’t have been enough to get him back to Rocky Top.
Whatever the case, Chadwell’s main focus is trying to show that those roots are deeper than 1 season as America’s team. If that yields a closer look at the Power 5 level at season’s end, he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.
His experience in the region and even his natural Southern drawl suggests he’d fit in perfectly in the SEC (he’s also a BIG sweet tea guy), but 8 of the league’s 14 head coaches are entering Year 1 or Year 2, which doesn’t suggest the market within the conference he grew up watching will be plentiful. The ACC, however, could have openings at places like Virginia Tech, Duke, Syracuse and Pitt.
Chadwell could wind up being an attractive from coast-to-coast after another Top 25 season. Turning around a program in its 4th FBS season and doing so with an offense that’s both unique and innovative should certainly be attractive to plenty of Power 5 athletic directors.
What happens next in Chadwell’s story remains to be seen. An intriguing 2021 chapter awaits.
He’ll be worth your attention, mullet or no mullet.