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Commentary: The Plucky Chanticleer

Commentary: The Plucky Chanticleer

Michael T. Benson. Provided.

Today, many pine for the “good ol’days” when America’s second-most watched sport (college football is behind only the NFL in viewership) focused on regional rivalries and tried to reduce time away from campus for student-athletes. Coastal Carolina University is a proud member of the newly-reconstituted Sun Belt Conference that has schools in 10 geographically contiguous states. We are in the eastern division with six other institutions, five of which can be reached economically by bus in ½ day: Marshall, James Madison, Old Dominion, Appalachian State, Georgia State, and Georgia Southern.

When Coastal added football just over two decades ago, the university was committed to seeing the program flourish in the football-crazed Southeast by funding a full allotment of 63 Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) scholarships and building a facility that would subsequently be expanded. And our community was all in as well. That first game in our inaugural season, a 21-14 win over Newberry College, resulted in students carrying off the goal posts, leaving the administration with an unexpected expense of replacing them so the home schedule could continue. Coastal’s first coach, Dave Bennett, posted a 63-39 record that included four Big South Conference championships and two FCS playoff appearances.

The meteoric rise of the program under our second coach, Joe Moglia, mirrored his own career prior to coming to Coastal Carolina — not in football but in finance. The former CEO of TD Ameritrade, Moglia had coached at Lafayette and Dartmouth in his early 20s, but put his coaching aspirations on hold at the end of the 1983 season. In order to support his growing family, Joe joined the Merrill Lynch MBA training program, which consisted of 26 trainees: 25 MBA graduates and one football coach. After 17 years at Merrill Lynch, Moglia become CEO of Ameritrade in 2001 (which later became TD Ameritrade) taking client assets from $24 billion to over $300 billion during his seven-year tenure.

The results of Moglia’s Coastal coaching record were just as remarkable as his run on Wall Street: 56-22 in six seasons, four conference championships and four playoff appearances, and the 2015 Eddie Robinson Award given to the outstanding FCS coach in America. It was recently announced that Coach Moglia’s book, 4th and Goal, will be turned into a movie of his life’s story. In the midst of his tenure as head coach, Moglia and my predecessor— Dave DeCenzo — helped Coastal make the quantum leap from FCS to Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Demonstrating his mastery of succession planning, Moglia also hired the head coach of a program who consistently beat him — Jamey Chadwell of Charleston Southern University — to join his staff and take over when he retired.

All Coach Chadwell has done in the past two seasons is go 22-3, host ESPN College GameDay on campus (a lead-in to our defeating BYU 21-17), propel Coastal to the 12th ranked team in the 2020 College Football Playoff final regular season poll, and win the AP College Coach of the Year Award — only the third coach from outside the Power Five conferences to do so. Coach Chadwell, most importantly, helps his student-athletes graduate and runs a program focused on life lessons and core values that will live well beyond his players’ careers in Conway, South Carolina.

One would be hard-pressed to find a program that has advanced farther or faster than Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers sprung onto the national athletic scene in 2016 but not for football. Rather, our fearless baseball team defied all the odds — defeating St. Mary’s College, NC State, LSU, Florida, Texas Tech, TCU, and Arizona — en route to a first-ever national championship for the university.

It wasn’t until the COVID-shortened football season of 2020, however, that America was fully introduced to the origins of our Coastal mascot, the carefully-choreographed post-game locker room celebrations, and the teal turf inside Brooks Stadium that pays homage to our beach setting just 11 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

In the mid-1960s, just a few years after our founding, an English faculty member suggested a feisty barnyard rooster from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as the country’s only Chanticleer mascot. The look of Chauncey the Chanticleer has evolved after five decades, but Coastal (along with the Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz, for example) is in that rare company of institutions that boast a singularly unique mascot.

On Sept. 3, 2022, the Coastal Carolina University Chanticleers will host the Black Knights of Army in the first-ever meeting between our institutions. With that night’s kickoff, we will usher in the 20th anniversary of our Division I football program. A bit of historical context is worth noting: Our inaugural season, 2002, marked the bicentennial of West Point’s founding as the country’s oldest service academy.

In 2023, we open the season in the Rose Bowl against UCLA, the first-time ever our team has played on the west coast.

Twenty years ago, our campus had 5,980 students. This fall, we are welcoming our largest freshman class ever — over 2,700 — with a total population in excess of 10,000. Students make their college choice for myriad reasons: Location, academic programs, cost, size and feel of a campus, and family/friends. But we’ve got something else going for us at Coastal Carolina as evidenced by our going toe-to-toe at the highest level against storied programs at some of the country’s finest institutions: the plucky Chanticleer.

And he’s something all college football fans can rally around, especially those who love to root for an underdog.

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Michael T. Benson is president and professor of history at Coastal Carolina University. His most recent book, Daniel Coit Gilman and the Birth of the American Research University, will be released in October by Johns Hopkins University Press.