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Chad Staggs looks over the line at Coastal Carolina University football practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. Photo by Janet Morgan / janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama | Coastal Carolina has had quite a three-year run in football.

Following three consecutive losing seasons in their first three years in FBS from 2017 to 2019, the Chanticleers have gone 31-7 over the past three seasons and spent 24 weeks ranked in the AP or Coaches Poll Top 25, rising as high as No. 9 during an undefeated regular season in 2020.

They have won a Sun Belt Conference championship, claimed two Sun Belt East Division titles, played in three straight bowl games and earned the program’s first bowl victory.

But major changes are coming to the team this offseason, and despite all of the recent success, the CCU program may be about to reboot.

Coaching changes

The biggest changes are likely coming to the coaching staff.

Jamey Chadwell, the head coach for five of his six seasons at CCU, left for the head job at Liberty on Dec. 4 and was replaced that same day by N.C. State offensive coordinator Tim Beck.

Some assistants may be retained by Beck, some may not, and some may choose to go elsewhere.

CCU associate athletic director for media relations Kevin Davis said Wednesday that the school would not announce coaching changes until Beck completes his staff, and Davis was unsure when that will be.

“I think there’s a large portion that will probably move on, the exact number I’m not sure,” said Chad Staggs, who was CCU’s acting coach in Tuesday’s 53-29 loss to East Carolina in the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl and has been CCU’s defensive coordinator for the past four seasons.

“Coach Beck has been working hard at trying to interview coaches and see who he wants to keep,” Staggs continued. “It’s been a crazy transition with all that and the transition of the interim coach with the sitting head coach there, which is probably unheard of a little bit, and trying to work together with him and do the best I could to help keep the program where it was in recruiting. I don’t know an exact percentage but I know there is probably a large percentage that will go to another place.”

Staggs was asked in Tuesday’s postgame news conference about his future with the program, or where he might be coaching next season if he leaves CCU.

“You probably know about as good as I do,” Staggs said. “I was trying to get through this game, trying to do the best I could for these players. I think that was my No. 1 goal. I really tried to not even think about anything since we been here [in Birmingham]. There’s a lot up in the air and I wish I knew a lot of those answers myself. I wish I could answer them for you but I truly don’t [know].”

Staggs has coached alongside Chadwell for a total of 12 years, including Chadwell’s former stops at North Greenville, Delta State and Charleston Southern. He was also the defensive coordinator at Furman for two seasons in 2017-18.

Six of CCU’s 10 assistant coaches have worked under Chadwell at his previous stops. Only offensive line coach Bill Durkin, a holdover from Joe Moglia’s staff, defensive backs coach Bryant Foster, tight ends coach Cody Ladutko and inside linebackers coach Aaron Fierbaugh did not coach at one of Chadwell’s previous stops.

Staggs, co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Newland Isaac and defensive line coach Skylor Magee have been with Chadwell at all four of his stops prior to Liberty.

The other coaches are co-offensive coordinator Willy Korn, who along with Isaac has been integral to the success of Chadwell’s triple-option spread offensive scheme, Malcolm Dixon (wide receivers) and Josh Miller (outside linebackers). Isaac won the American Football Coaches Association 2021 FBS Assistant Coach of the Year award.

Roster changes

The roster is also undergoing a transformation.

The Chants are losing three key players to the NCAA transfer portal in quarterback Grayson McCall, who hasn’t named his landing spot, outside linebacker/defensive end Josaiah Stewart, who is transferring to Michigan, and center Willie Lampkin, who is moving on to North Carolina.

Three more players are chasing pro careers in defensive lineman Jerrod Clark and cornerbacks Lance Boykin and D’Jordan Strong. Only Strong has expended his eligibility among those six players.

There are also a few more players in the portal including defensive back Manny Stokes Jr., defensive lineman Travis Geiger and true freshman Bryce Archie, a heralded QB recruit this season who has a big arm and is also a pitcher on the CCU baseball team. Archie was thought to potentially be the future of the QB position.

The heir apparent to McCall at QB is Jarrett Guest, who generally struggled in place of him this season when McCall was injured.

Guest completed just 46.3% of his passes this season (25 of 54) for 438 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Beck hasn’t entirely given up on retaining McCall’s services. He said last week that he has spoken to McCall about his planned transfer but hasn’t pushed him to stay at CCU.

“I want what’s best for him. I want him to make the best decision for him and his family, whatever that decision is,” Beck said. “I know we’re all going to support him, whatever that is. I just sure hope it’s staying here, no doubt. I’d love to have him back for sure.”

The 2023 QB is expected to have a number of talented skill players on offense. Dynamic receiver Jared Brown is the 2022 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and will be joined by rising senior Tyson Mobley, and running backs Braydon Bennett, Reese White and C.J. Beasley are also expected to return.

Inside linebackers Shane Bruce and TJ Killen are expected to be the strength of the defense.

The players are still in a feeling-out process with Beck.

“He’s talked to us a few times,” said Bruce, a redshirt sophomore. “I think we’re going to get to know him a little better when we come back in the spring, but right now he seems like a good coach and a good guy so we’ll see what happens going forward.”

Those planning to remain in teal, bronze and black in 2023 know the team is going to look vastly different.

“It’s hard to say goodbye to a lot of the people I’ve spent most of these years with,” said White, a senior who plans to return for a fifth season. “I’m just grateful to have had the opportunity to experience these memories I’ve had with them. I’m looking forward to making some more memories with whoever comes in. I’m glad to welcome them to the family that we’ve had.”

Preserving the new standard

White arrived at CCU in 2019, when the Chants went 5-7 for the second consecutive year following a 3-9 mark in the program’s first season in FBS in 2017. They were 6-18 in the Sun Belt in those first three seasons, and have gone 20-5 in the conference over the past three years, including this year’s championship game.

“[When] I got here things were a little bit rough,” White said. “I was blessed to get the opportunity to see the growth of the program and the growth of everything that we preach to each other. The experiences that I’ve had over the past years . . . I can’t really speak on it. I love it. I’m looking forward to another year.”

Whether the program regresses or continues to flourish, the precedent has been set and the foundation laid.

In addition to the success on the field, Coastal had consistently large crowds in 2022 with an average announced attendance of 17,168 over seven home games and sellouts of the 20,000-seat Brooks Stadium for three games, including a school-record crowd of 21,224 against Appalachian State on Nov. 3.

In 2018, CCU’s average attendance was 10,463.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve done,” Staggs said. “I wish we weren’t on a three-game losing streak with me as the head coach of the last one. But if you look at a three-year run, if you go recruiting around the country or go traveling around the country, Coastal’s a national name now.

“To do that for the school, enrollment and all that kind of stuff for the school, and watching people wear Coastal gear all over the place in Conway and Myrtle Beach now it’s a lot different than in 2019. I’m very proud of those moments. I’ll probably look back on it maybe when I’m old and retired and tell some glory stories, but I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished here.”

Coastal’s players and reworked coaching staff will try to uphold the standard that has been created over the past three years.

“The last three years have been the best three years of my life and I don’t plan on that changing next year,” Bruce said. “I think a lot of things around the program are going to change, but I think us as players, we’re going to come back with the same kind of mentality we have the past three years. I’m just excited and looking forward to it.”

The first of many?

The Birmingham Bowl matchup was the first ever between Coastal and East Carolina, and could be the precursor to a series of games between the schools.

The pairing would make sense, with both programs in comparable Group of Five conferences and their close proximity all but guaranteeing well-attended games with each fan base likely traveling en masse to road games in Conway and Greenville, North Carolina.

“It’s a no-brainer to me. I think it would be financially beneficial to both universities if you could make it work,” Staggs said. “I know there is a lot more that goes into scheduling out-of-conference opponents than, ‘Hey we’re close let’s play.’ . . . But I could see that being a good financial gain for both universities from a fan base and create a little rivalry in terms of the location.”

Each school’s non-conference schedules are set for the next two seasons – though non-conference games can always be subject to change – and both schools have at least one non-conference opening in 2025.

“Coastal is newer to FBS so I think that’s why you haven’t seen a matchup between the two schools before,” ECU coach Mike Houston said. “I think regionally it makes sense moving forward, and it’s two great conferences, the American and Sun Belt, so I would be shocked if you don’t see a series somewhere down the road.”

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