GOODFRIEND: Why Vanderbilt should hire Jamey Chadwell as its next head football coach

Chadwell’s No. 13 Coastal Carolina team is currently 10-0 behind his triple-option hybrid offense.

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Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell is shown during a game. (Getty Images)

Betsy Goodfriend, Deputy Sports Editor

Vanderbilt football will always have to do more with less. It’s an unfortunate reality of playing in a conference with big-time football programs like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. 

It’s difficult—but not impossible—to recruit players willing to take on the workload of one of the nation’s best universities while playing in the top conference in college football.

It’s difficult—but not impossible—to set a standard of making a bowl game each year. Not every team in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) is unbeatable.

So why do we act like Vanderbilt should settle for less instead of trying to do more with less?

Athletic director Candice Storey Lee fired Derek Mason on Nov. 29 because she was done settling for less.

You know who else is done settling for less?

Jamey Chadwell.

Chadwell’s Coastal Carolina team was picked by the league’s head coaches to finish dead last in the Sun Belt Conference this year. Those coaches saw a starting offensive line without a single player over 300 pounds, headlined by a 5’9” center. They saw a program that went 6-18 in its previous three years in the Sun Belt after moving up from the FCS level in 2017.

But Chadwell was having none of it.

He believed in his team and his innovative offense to push the Chanticleers to their best season in their 18-year history.

Chadwell’s hybrid scheme works by balancing the triple option run game and a spread passing attack. The offense is nearly evenly split, with an average of 228 rushing yards per game and 212 passing yards per game this season. 

Here’s the genius in his offense. He uses the triple-option to dominate the time of possession. Opposing offenses can’t score if they don’t have the ball, and Chadwell makes sure to maximize the time his offense is on the field. Keeping his offense on the field allows his defense to stay fresh and lets his team stay competitive against more talented teams. At the same time, the opposing defense gets worn out from having to defend three possible options who can run the ball on any play. A tired defense has trouble covering the field sideline-to-sideline when Chadwell switches it up and runs spread passing plays.

The big question is “will this offense work in the SEC?”

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes. 

Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech teams were the ones that no one in the ACC wanted to face with their triple-option offense. It’s hard to prepare to face a triple-option team with a week of practice, and Vanderbilt, like Georgia Tech under Johnson, could catch some teams off guard with the base triple-option offense. I don’t think the spread attack will work quite as well in the SEC with its more disciplined defenses, but the spread can still be an effective tool to catch the defense sleeping for a few big plays each game.

Behind his offense, Chadwell has built winners as a head coach at Division-II North Greenville University, FCS Charleston Southern University and FBS Coastal Carolina. None of those schools were football powers at their respective levels when he arrived, but all had seasons with double-digit wins by the time he left—or in the case of Coastal Carolina, right now. 

I watched Saturday’s top-25 matchup between Coastal Carolina and BYU, and I have never seen players have more fun than Chadwell’s players did that night. Part of that comes from winning, because winning will always be more fun than losing. And part of that comes from Chadwell and the culture he’s built in his second season as the full-time head coach. Chadwell served as Coastal Carolina’s interim head coach in 2017 before replacing former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Moglia as the full-time head coach in 2019.

Is he perfect? No, but no candidate Vanderbilt could reasonably hire would be. 

As Charleston Southern’s head coach, Chadwell was suspended for a game in 2016 after he contacted prospective athletes on social media.

Chadwell’s Charleston Southern program also had to vacate two Big South conference championship seasons for violating NCAA rules. The violations included bookstore staff allowing players to use their scholarship money on non-academic items and the athletic department certifying athletes in 12 sports (including football) who were not academically eligible. 

However, Charleston Southern admitted in the NCAA decision that it was the athletic department’s failure to train staff members on academic certification rules and scholarship stipulations that led to the charge of failing to monitor the program, not any direct actions by Chadwell.

All that’s to say, Jamey Chadwell fits the criteria Candice Storey Lee mentioned she was looking for in a head coach better than anyone else who has been mentioned as a candidate. And with just one minor NCAA infraction to his name, he would be cleaner than most SEC head coaches.

She’s interested in an offensive-minded head coach. Check. Chadwell’s Chanticleers average 37 points per game, good for 21st in the country. His offense is difficult for other teams to prepare to face, and that could help Vanderbilt pull off a few upsets in the SEC.

She wants someone with head coaching experience. Check. Chadwell has been the head coach at four universities at three different levels of the NCAA. He’s turned around programs without a history of success, and Vanderbilt desperately needs a turnaround artist to right the ship.

She wants someone who can build a community. Check. The mullets and WWE-style celebrations at Coastal Carolina may not transfer over exactly the same to Vanderbilt, but Chadwell’s teams are fun and tight-knit, which is what Vanderbilt needs in order to rejuvenate the current roster.

There’s a reason Chadwell is one of the hottest head coaching candidates on the market, and Vanderbilt shouldn’t squander a rare chance to hire a guy who checks every box and can build an exciting program on West End.