Coastal Carolina University Athletics’ Remarkable Rise and Promising Future
In 1954, 53 students met at the old Conway High School to attend the first classes at Coastal Carolina Junior College, a small, hopeful branch of the College of Charleston.
Those bright-eyed youths and the three or four faculty members of that first year could not have imagined that the fledgling school would grow, thrive and compete athletically with major powerhouse legacy schools just five or six decades later.
With enrollment now around 11,000 students, Coastal Carolina University’s (CCU) baseball World Series win in 2016, and its football Sun Belt co-championship and undefeated regular season in 2020, have turned the eyes of the nation toward Conway, S.C. and the teal colors of the Chanticleers.
Now boasting a list of honors as long as your arm, CCU football’s 2020 AP Coach of the Year, Jamey Chadwell, knew he had a great team at the start of the 2020 season, even after a disappointing 2019 (5-7) season.
At the end of the season, Chadwell signed a seven-year extension to his contract, and will ultimately earn more than $1 million annually at CCU. This makes him the second-highest paid head football coach in the Sun Belt conference, just behind Billy Napier of Louisiana.
With the national sports exposure the 2016 and 2020 seasons brought to the region, people around the country started thinking about the bright, teal-colored field at Brooks Stadium, and the oddly named mascot that has become a huge part of the CCU identity.
What exactly is a Chanticleer?
Even longtime locals and media personalities have been mispronouncing the mysterious breed of CCU’s athletic mascot, “Chauncey,” as chanticleer, like chandelier, instead of the correct, shaunt-a-clear. The Chanticleer is a “proud and fierce rooster,” according to CCU, albeit a teal-colored one.
At Chauncey’s inception, CCU was a branch campus and affiliate of the University of South Carolina (1960–1993). USC’s fighting bird “Cocky” may have also served as a kindred inspiration for Chauncey, a name derived from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. A brass statue of Chauncey stands proudly off of a picturesque CCU campus road, Chanticleer West, adjacent to the athletics department in Arcadia Hall.
Here, Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics, Matt Hogue, juggles the myriad duties required of one heading a vibrant and complex athletics department; one with some 19 NCAA collegiate sports.
Hogue, who was named Athletics Director of the Year (20/21), by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, is an exuberant champion of the school’s growing athletics fame. He, his staff and the school’s coaches are optimistic about CCU’s upcoming fall/winter sports season, and are cautiously optimistic about waning COVID-19 restrictions and greatly reduced protocols at home games and elsewhere.
“Our plan is to have full capacity at our stadiums starting this fall,” says Hogue, who also served as the voice of Chanticleers Radio for 17 years. He’s been employed by the University for nearly 25 years, and the Athletic Director since 2015.
In the Big-inning
“Athletics have always been a key part of CCU’s master plan,” says Hogue. “Our lineage goes back roughly 50 years. We had teams competing, in pretty
humble beginnings, almost as early as the [school] existed.”
All of CCU’s athletic competitions in the 1960s existed exclusively among USC branch schools–USC Spartanburg, Lancaster, Sumter, and USC Florence, which later became Francis-Marion. The conference was called “The Carolina League,” in one iteration. But few of these branch campuses would go on to enjoy the growth seen not only in CCU’s academic offerings, but in its student enrollment and athletics, which most recently captured the nation’s attention during the 2020 Football season when ESPN came to town.
Sports enthusiasts know that ESPN’s nationally televised college football program “College GameDay,” is a sign that a school has “made it,” and worthy of some special recognition. While CCU’s undefeated 2020 football season was marching forward, ESPN’s December 2020 visit covering a game between CCU and undefeated Brigham Young University, (dubbed the Mormons vs. the Mullets) energized not only the team and the school, but the entire region.
“I remember clearly when the producers told us they’d like to come to Brooks Stadium,” says Hogue. “We are about to hit our 20th anniversary of starting our football program; our first season was in 2003. No one in their wildest dreams or hallucinations would have considered we’d have [ESPN’s] ‘College GameDay’ on our campus. It wasn’t just a milestone for us athletically, but it was an incredible milestone for our institution. The [exposure] not only showcased a great team, but it gave great exposure to the school and the community at large. The media attention created a nexus leading to kids wanting to come to CCU. We saw a significant bump in interest shown by kids from all over. It couldn’t have come at a better time. The remarkable season we were having, our relationship with Sun Belt and deals with ESPN, along with interpersonal media relationships helped set us up to be chosen and, yes, ‘College GameDay’ for us and the entire community was a big, big deal.”
Coach Chadwell agrees
“We earned a lot of recognition in 2020,” says Chadwell. “I got letters and emails from all over the country from new Coastal fans. We had a lot of TV coverage, especially because of COVID-19, and the exposure it gave to our program, who we are, how we play, what the community’s like–to have that seen throughout the country has definitely paid dividends. [College GameDay] coming here was huge. It’s something usually only big-time programs get. To be the first Sun Belt team to have that honor, I think was pretty special.”
“We’re among the fastest-growing and best-valued institutions in the nation,” adds Hogue, “and now the rest of the country knows a lot more about us.”
Hogue authored the book, Chanticleer Athletics: 50 Years of Excellence, documenting the fast-moving NCAA experience for the school.
CCU’s 2020 Football Dream Season
“It was unbelievable; I mean to even be able to play,” says Hogue. “COVID-19 threw us all into uncharted territory. We didn’t know from week to week which games would happen and which might be cancelled or postponed. I give a lot of credit to our conference for staying the course, and getting ahead on the protocol and testing to be able to compete safely. A lot of things fell into place. Our schedule on the non-conference side was completely remade. To be able to end up with 11 games, be prepared for COVID issues that may or may not come up, required the administrative and logistics side of things to really all come together.”
With an undefeated regular season, CCU, ranked #9 in the AP Poll, was primed for its December 19, 2020, Sun Belt Conference Championship game with Louisiana, when COVID-19 reared its ugly head and the game was canceled, with no time left to reschedule the game. The Conference declared the two division champions, East and West, as “co-champions.”
“The University of Louisiana was not undefeated,” says Hogue, with just a touch of angst in his voice. “They lost to us [October 14, 2020, final 30-27]. The reason we were named co-champions was a decision made by the league before the season even started, taking all the contingencies into play regarding missed games, etc. Unofficially, we view ourselves as the champion because we beat our opponent in the regular season on their home field and we had an undefeated regular season. Though we came up short in the [FBC Mortgage Cure] Bowl game vs. Liberty [Dec. 26, 2020, Final 34-37 OT], it was our football program’s first undefeated regular season, and hopefully not our last.”
America’s favorite pastime plays a huge role in CCU athletics as well, and head baseball coach Gary Gilmore has created a lasting legacy for the school. Though football has been stealing the headlines lately, few local sports enthusiasts, casual and rabid, can forget the 2016 World Series Baseball Championship won by CCU against some of the biggest legacy schools in the nation.
“We’ve had a lot of high points in a variety of sports,” says Hogue, “but when you look at the program here, our 2016 Baseball World Series win and our 2020 football season virtually tie for the two of the most important athletic milestones in the school’s history.”
The 64-team, double-elimination College World Series (CWS) is a daunting challenge, with enormous pressure, especially for a first-timer to Omaha, the city that traditionally hosts the CWS. Coach Gilmore, 63, who has now been head coach of the baseball program for 25 years, led his team to victory in a series of squeakers, becoming the first team since 1956 to win the title in its first appearance, a remarkable achievement by any measure.
Gilmore’s role in the 2020 baseball season was curtailed as he underwent cancer treatments, which he says are “going well.” Back in the saddle and with his disease well-managed, he plans to continue to coach into the foreseeable future. He told The Sun News earlier this year that, “if this Covid mess has taught me anything, it’s that I get a real bad batch of cabin fever really fast. So being outside and being in and around baseball in a functioning capacity is very huge in my life right now.”
“A national championship–and I personally don’t get caught up in the labels,” muses Hogue, “is really dependent on what kind of value and success are you getting for the investment and energy you put in. When you ask the question that way, CCU is near the top of the list. In fact, we’ve been judged to be the top of the list. The Texas A&M Sports Masters Program has what they call a ‘Sports Lab’ and they do an Excellence in Management Cup, where they take all the Football Bowl Subdivisions (FBS) universities and data of wins and losses versus money spent on athletics, and we’ve won that cup, having been ranked #1 in one year, #2 in another, and always near the top. The key to remember is that you’re not always going to reach that level, but pursuing it is paramount.
“When we won the National Championship for baseball, that was the first time we got to Omaha, and it was the first time we’d won it, but 2016 was not the first year we talked about Omaha being the goal,” he adds. We talked about in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Our baseball program has been in the top five or six in the country for overall winning percentages and total wins over the past 20 years. That’s right alongside of what people [would consider] from legacy schools.
“We view ourselves as a major brand name in college athletics,” continues Hogue. “Do we have the deep history because we’ve been around for 200 years? Obviously not. Do we have that long, thick record book? No. But in terms of what we’re trying to achieve and how we view ourselves, we want to continue to expand as one of the major brands in athletics. We want to become the preeminent program in the league, across the board. The Sun Belt is competitive and strong in many sports. If we’re good in the Sun Belt we feel like that gives us a launching pad nationally.”
What about the ladies?
“We have a strong legacy in women’s sports,” says Hogue. “We just won the Sun Belt Championship in women’s golf, we’ve had Olympians–Amber Campbell is an [three-time] Olympian from our women’s track and field program. Our volleyball team has been nationally ranked and we started women’s lacrosse in 2013. There are ebbs and flows, but we’ve always been competitive. We fully fund all of our sports, men’s and women’s, in terms of scholarships. We’re offering in the neighborhood of $5.6 to $5.7 million in athletic scholarships each year.”
“Gary Gilmore has had a chance to go to other [bigger] schools, but he is an alum of Coastal, and his passion and love for Coastal is strong,” says Hogue. “He’d say, ‘Why do I want to go to these other places and get in the meat grinder? Let’s do that here.’ Our football coach, Jamey Chadwell, was a hot commodity after the season ended, and still is. We’re excited to see what the future holds.”
2021 Football Season
“We have virtually most all of our football team back, with a couple of big exceptions,” says Hogue. “Tarron Jackson was drafted into the NFL by Philadelphia [Eagles], and CJ Marable signed as a free agent with the [Chicago] Bears—those are big shoes to fill.”
Marable was credited with 19 touchdowns in 2020, the third highest in CCU football history. The remarkable freshman redshirted quarterback, Grayson McCall (Sun Belt Player of the Year 2020), will return as a sophomore in 2021.
Coach Chadwell had been watching young McCall closely in the 2019 season. “We redshirted Grayson in 2019,” says Chadwell, “and we thought we had a chance for him to become a pretty good player. We made the decision that he would give us the best chance to win a championship. He has intangible qualities and characteristics beyond coaching: leadership, a swag and confidence that’s not cockiness. He believes in himself and the players believe in him. He’s still young and he’s still growing, but he never got a big head and handled the [success] pretty well.”
McCall and other key players will return for the 2021 season, thanks, in part, to a nasty virus.
“The NCAA gave everybody an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19,” explains Hogue, “so seniors who would have lost their eligibility are coming back, too. We’re bringing back a very competitive team.”
With the success of 2020, the road ahead gets tougher, not easier.
“They’re definitely out there circling us, right?” muses Coach Chadwell. “What you hope as a coach is that your team understands what it took to get where we are. It was less about the raw talent and more about the preparation and hard work. Our focus for 2021 is that we’ve got to do things better. When you climb to the top of the mountain, there’s somebody gunning to knock you off.”
The biggest challenge?
“Every game is a challenge,” answers Chadwell, “but the hardest thing about dealing with college athletics is what’s going on off the field. How are things at home? What’s going on with classes? With the girlfriend? So, our biggest competitor is us.”
“We have a serious chance to be ranked in the top 25 to start the season,” says Hogue. “We want to compete for the playoffs and the bowl games. We were ranked in the top ten by the College Football Playoff (CFP) ranking–that’s astounding. We want to keep doing that.”
“We have seven home games this year,” adds Chadwell, “and lots of opportunity to come see us play.”
CCU Alumni Athletic Greats
Here are a few of the notable CCU athletes with remarkable professional sports careers:
Dustin Johnson – Golf (#1 ranked PGA golfer in the world for 64 consecutive weeks)
Amber Campbell – Three-time Track & Field Olympian
Tyler Thigpen – Football, NFL (Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills)
Mike Tolbert – Football, NFL (San Diego Chargers, Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills)
Quinton Teal – Football, NFL (Carolina Panthers)
Jerome Simpson – Football, NFL (Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings, San Fran 49ers)
Josh Norman – Football, NFL (Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills)
Lorenzo Taliaferro – Football, NFL (Baltimore Ravens)
Denzel Rice – Football, NFL (Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns)
Matt Hazel – Football, NFL (Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts)
De’Angelo Henderson – Football, NFL (Denver Broncos, N.Y. Jets)
Alex Ross - Football, CFL, AAF (British Columbia Lions, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, San Diego Fleet)
Dave Sappelt – Baseball, MLB(Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox)
Tommy La Stella – Baseball, MLB (San Francisco.Giants, Braves, Chi Cubs, LA Angels, Oakland A’s)
Mickey Brantley – Baseball, MLB (Seattle Mariners)
Kurt Manwaring – Baseball, MLB (San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies)
Luis Lopez – Baseball, MLB (Toronto Blue Jays, Montreal Expos)
Taylor Motter – Baseball, MLB (Tampa Rays, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins)
Emily McColl – Women’s Soccer, 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, 2008 Summer Olympics (New Zealand)
Pedro Ribeiro – Soccer, (Vasteras SK)
Joe Anderson – Men’s Soccer, MLS
Cyprian Hedrick – Men’s Soccer, MLS
Scott Angevine – Men’s Soccer, MLS
Ashton Bennett – Men’s Soccer, MLS
Henrik Robstad – Men’s Soccer, MLS
Pedro Ribeiro – Men’s Soccer, MLS
Shawn McLaws – Men’s Soccer, MLS
Tobenna Uzo – Men’s Soccer, MLS
Tor Saunders – Men’s Soccer, MLS