Coastal Carolina Chanticleers: College Football's Feel Good Story Of 2020
Updated: Jan 4, 2021
By Kevin Sayer.
In a year where nothing is normal and one bad news event follows another it’s enlightening to find a good news story.
In the Sun Belt conference Coastal Carolina has become that story. For the first time in school history they achieved a Top 25 ranking after their second game victory over Louisiana. What’s more a double was achieved as this victory over the Ragin Cajuns was their first ever over a Top 25 ranked opponent.
Five games later they remain Top of the Sun Belt East and look destined for debut bowl appearance following their inclusion in the FBS back in 2016.
Tucked away in Myrtle beach, South Carolina is the idyllic college setting of Coastal Carolina, bracketed from the ocean by a 60mile stretch of beach providing a popular vacation spot. If you were choosing a college spot (and it wasn’t hurricane season), this would be it. From a quick Google search of the facilities their teal coloured athletics track and football field is instantly visible, perhaps taking an influence from Boise State's own ‘smurf turf’.
Brooks Stadium opened in 2003 for CCU’s inaugural season in the Div 1 FCS Big South and hired David Bennett, a successful Div II coach who achieved quick success winning the division in 2004 in only their 2nd year as a program. Between 2003 & 2011 they won a share of four conference titles and reached the FCS playoffs twice.
Despite the success Bennett was an uncompromising character and was fired after the 2011 season despite going 7-4. He will be remembered for a press conference where he asked his team to “be mo dawg”.
Bennett even today is asked to deliver public motivational speeches off the back of it, the main criticism of his players being they were more concerned with how they looked rather than how they played.
CCU went in a different direction next hiring Joe Moglia, a former high school coach who was more ingrained in the world of finance than football. The hire worked, he took them to a share of three consecutive conference titles and four consecutive FCS play off appearances and the program was invited to move to the Sun Belt in 2016.
In 2017 Moglia hired Jamey Chadwell to be his offensive coordinator and eventual successor. Chadwell was head coach at Charleston Southern where his record was 25-14 and he was named Big Conference Coach of the Year three out of four seasons. At the time it was billed as a “head coach in waiting” hire and so it proved with firstly Moglia taking a medical sabbatical due to his severe asthma, and in 2019 making the decision to step away from the footballing duties eventually becoming the schools Executive Director of Football & Chair of Athletics.
In fact this year in times of tightened purse strings, he’s the most underpaid of any in his position as he agreed to forgo his $177,000 annual salary and instead accept $1 which shows his love for the program.
In Chadwell’s first season the Chanticleers went 5-7 but capped the season off with a 12-7 win on the road over Kansas - another first - a win over Power 5 FBS opposition! The season had a lot of positives but was unsettled at Quarterback.
Grayson McCall was committed in the back end of December 2018 and saw a handful of snaps in 2019 but has made the job his own this season ranking inside the PFF Top 10 offensive rankings for QBs in the NCAA. At 6’3 200lbs, his nimble feet and quick decision making has allowed Chadwell’s Triple Option offense to flourish with the ability to hit big plays off the success of the running game.
This gives it the x-factor over the traditional Option attack. The more yards they gain through running the ball the more the box gets loaded with man gap assignments. This allows the QB to take advantage of one on one matchups. As Chadwell himself has said “If your quarterback can hit those, then the defense has to decide if they want to play man-to-man or they want to go zone and try to make that a little more difficult, and if they go zone it opens up some of your run game.”
This allows explosive plays and one of whom who benefits is Junior Tight End Isaiah Likely, who was named to the pre-season 2nd team All Conference after catching 32 passes for 341 yards and a team high 5 receiving TDs last season. At the time of writing this season he’s caught 13 passes for 350 yards and 4 TDs, which works out an incredible 26.9 yards per reception. Likely can play with hand down, pull across the line to release and block or go vertical on any play meaning he has to be accounted for by the opposition linebackers. Likely remains a genuine late round NFL Draft prospect if he declares.
They run a lot of 21 personnel sets meaning they can get two good half backs on the field at any one time choosing between Torrance Marable, Shemari Jones or Reese White, but it’s the variation Chadwell and co-ordinators Newland Isaac and Willy Korn deploy that makes it so difficult to defend.
The two halfbacks line up all over the backfield with essentially the same Triple Option concept but out of varying looks pre-snap. They also change which running back is the designated first and second reads presumably to add to the confusion. If you’re playing linebacker against this offense you need to concentrate. They’ve been averaging over 200 Rushing Yards and 230 Receiving Yards per Game and comfortably outscoring their opponents; this is not your traditional Wishbone offense.
On the Defensive side of the ball they have another NFL Draft hopeful in Tarron Jackson, a physical edge rusher with powerful hands who logged 10 sacks last season along with being named All-Conference first team and at the time of writing has gained 6 sacks this season.
Jeffrey Gunter at LB was also named to the All-Conference team back in 2018 before a transfer to NC State didn’t work out and he now finds himself back in familiar surroundings. He will line up as an outside backer allowing him to chase and make plays and will consistently appear in the backfield racking up tackles for loss and contributing to QB hurry and sack counts. They remain an opportunistic defense having accumulated 16 turnovers inside 8 games.
Whilst the previous alum of CCU doesn’t include huge NFL names outside Josh Norman (other names include Tyler Thigpen, Mike Tolbert and Jerome Simpson) with continued success it could mean more players drafted, more national attention and improved recruiting classes.
Teal Nation don’t do normal, whether a garish astro turf coloured pitch or crazy post game celebrations and after all how many other teams would play a 5’9 center? They know as a program that the physical freaks will be playing in the Power 5 and coaching is paramount. The ethos is on player development and developing a locker room culture to thrive and build a tradition and they’re not going to stop here, with growth for the program expected.
The program is less than 2 decades old but is used to success having won over 63% of it’s games all time, they don’t just want to be the feel good story, they want a Sun Belt title and following a huge win over Appalachian State this weekend they’re on their way to doing so.
A Bowl game beckons and a national audience to cheer the Chanticleers…Oh and one final thing lets clear that up, a Chanticleer (pronounced SHON-ti-clear) is the proudest rooster in the yard from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Right now the trajectory is up and they’re one of the proudest teams in College Football. ‘GO SHONTS’!
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