Coastal Carolina has made incremental progress in its foray into the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Will the progress continue in 2019 despite some significant losses via transfer, particularly offensive lineman Brock Hoffman to Virginia Tech and defensive end Jeffrey Gunter to N.C. State?
With significant turnover within the coaching staff and roster, new head coach Jamey Chadwell and several players said Thursday they believe a renewed commitment and togetherness within the program will continue the program’s upward momentum.
“I think the sky is the limit for this team,” redshirt junior linebacker Silas Kelly said on the eve of the team’s first practice of the season. “We have all the pieces in place to be a very successful team. We’ve had an incredible offseason, we’ve had an incredible summer, a lot of growth spiritually and culturally in this offseason since the coaching change.”
After developing into one of the top Football Championship Subdivision programs and going 10-2 in its final season with an FBS schedule in 2016, Coastal entered the Sun Belt Conference in 2017 and went 3-9 (2-6 in the conference), winning its final two games, and 5-7 ( 2-6) in 2017, losing its last four games.
Coastal has been picked to finish fourth in the Sun Belt’s East Division in 2019 by league coaches and media members.
The Chanticleers finished ahead of only Georgia State and well behind Appalachian State, Troy and Georgia Southern in voting.
“I think they’re hungry. I think they’re tired of being picked low and saying you’re not going to amount to much,” Chadwell said. “Sometimes kids get tired of hearing that so I think there’s a hungriness to try to prove they are good football players. I think we’ve got some confidence coming into fall camp . . . we’ve got to make sure it’s not false.
“They are listening, I think they’re hungry to put ourselves in a position to make a bowl game, and that’s exciting.”
This season is Chadwell’s second opportunity leading the Chants. In his first season in the program in 2017, he had the interim tag as then head coach Joe Moglia took a medical sabbatical. He believes this year will be more successful with another year in the Sun Belt and an elevated level of authority – which he has exercised to implement rules such as no earrings during team meetings, according to junior running back C.J. Marable.
“You’re not the substitute anymore, so when you say something it means something. They know nobody else is coming to maybe get them out of the doghouse, so to speak,” Chadwell said. “Being in the Sun Belt now for the last couple years and knowing how good the teams are, that helps us. . . . We know what it is, we know what we need to get to, so I think that’s why we’ll be better prepared for what we need to do to ultimately be successful over time.”
Chadwell said at Sun Belt Football Media Day last week that division within the locker room contributed to a season-ending four-game losing streak.
“I think this team is the closest team we’ve had since I’ve been at Coastal,” Kelly said. “In the locker room and off the field I’m really close with all those guys and I care about them. You just have a feeling that everybody cares about each other and everybody wants what’s best for everyone and the team in general.”
The mantra for this season is “Bel1eve,” with the numeral ‘1’ replacing the letter ‘I’ in “Believe.” “So it’s one team, one family, one purpose, and trying to bring everybody together for that purpose,” Chadwell said. “I feel we’ve had a great summer with our team, as far as building the things necessary to try to have a successful football program. They’re learning the ways we want to do things.”
With Chadwell’s promotion to head coach, there has been a lot of turnover in the football staff and coaching staff, including four new coaches and the addition of Chad Scott from Charleston Southern as the director of football speed, strength and conditioning.
“The additions we’ve made to our staff in all areas including strength and conditioning has been a big hit for us,” Chadwell said. “I’m excited to see what type of team we’re going to have and how they respond to these next 30 days as we’re preparing for our opener.”
The most significant change has come at the defensive coordinator position.
Marvin Sanders left the program in July after one-plus season and has been hired as a defensive backs coach with Dallas of the professional XFL.
The Chants were already transitioning from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 with three down linemen and four linebackers, and they intend to give multiple looks and formations under new defensive coordinator Chad Staggs, who was initially hired as a linebackers coach in February after two seasons as Furman’s defensive coordinator.
“I think [Sanders] got an opportunity that he thought was better for him, and you can’t fault people for that,” Chadwell said. “Fortunately we’ve got coaches here that have been coordinators before who know how to coordinate the defense.
“We were changing part of the defense while coach Sanders was part of our staff anyway so it’s not going to be a complete overhaul. I do think our transition we’ll handle smoothly and we’ll be better from it once our guys get used to how we’re going to do things a little differently.”
Staggs has worked with Chadwell for several years, serving as his defensive coordinator in seven previous seasons – at North Greenville from 2009-11, Delta State in 2012 and Charleston Southern from 2013-16.
“I think his best attribute in my opinion is he gets the guys to play with an edge, play with a passion,” Chadwell said. “They’re going to play hard, they’re going to chase the ball, the things you want your team to do, and they’re going to be competitive in every situation. That’s one of the values of our program.”
Filling the open position recently was veteran assistant Bryant Foster, who will coach defensive backs. He spent two seasons at Charleston Southern coaching cornerbacks before being promoted to the Bucs’ co-defensive coordinator in the spring.
Chadwell said he particularly likes his defensive front seven, including down linemen senior Sterling Johnson and juniors Tarron Jackson and C.J. Brewer, and junior linebackers Kelly and Teddy Gallagher.
“I think our defensive line has a chance to be a really solid group, our challenge there is we don’t have tons [of depth] behind them,” said Chadwell, whose team is young in the secondary. “. . . And I feel good about our linebackers. Silas Kelly and Teddy Gallagher are two solid players in the Sun Belt Conference.”
Offensively, Chadwell believes Marable “has a chance to be a really special player in the league.”
The starting quarterback will be determined this fall in a competition between true sophomores Fred Payton of Georgia and Bryce Carpenter of Florida. Chadwell indicated he’d be willing to play both in games if there isn’t a clear cut No. 1 to start the season.
“I could see both of them playing and contributing in some way,” Chadwell said. “Unfortunately I wanted one of those guys to win the job this spring . . . Now I feel great about both of those young men as far as whoever it is that they both can play and help lead us to wins.”
The Chanticleers will have 25 practices leading up to the first game of the season against Eastern Michigan at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at Brooks Stadium.
CCU is still young as it continues to transition to FBS, with more than 60 percent of the team sophomores or younger, according to Chadwell.
“The feeling is just different,” said Marable, who is in his second season in the program. “I just love the feeling that we want to come out here and work, we want to come out here and grind. Last year was kind of like people were complaining and you really didn’t want to come out here. This year is more we are just working, we’re having fun. I see a difference, I just feel it. . . . I feel we’re going to be special this year.”
Coastal will host a Fan Appreciation Day on Aug. 10 that will include an intrasquad scrimmage, autograph session, children’s activities and opportunity to learn about ticketing options.