CONWAY — It all started in Caryville, Tenn., population 2,297.
More specifically, Maverick Stadium would ultimately host the dreams of one of today’s hottest college football coach commodities in the country.
Jamey Chadwell was Anderson County High School’s quarterback, playing in the bright orange shadows of the likes of Peyton Manning and Todd Helton just 18 miles down the road in Knoxville.
Caryville hosted just two exits off I-75, with a Red Roof Inn one of the town’s staples, a local magnet for those simply passing through.
The spotlight wasn’t built in for Chadwell, there weren’t going to be college scouts fighting for position in the stadium bleachers.
But pomp and circumstance was never Chadwell’s style, earning his chance to play QB at East Tennessee State.
After injuries kept him off the collegiate field for the most part, instead wearing a headset on the sideline, the coaching bug was a full-blown outbreak before he even stepped off campus at ETSU.
“I guess you could say my coaching career started pretty early because I was on the sideline quite a bit,” said Chadwell, now the third-year head coach with undefeated and 15th-ranked Coastal Carolina.
Inside, Chadwell knew it was his destiny — he was following in his father’s footsteps, his coach in both baseball and football at Anderson County.
While it might not be high school football like his dad, he was offered the opportunity to join the ETSU staff the spring of his senior year.
He stayed for four years, ones that would shift his life off the football field.
ETSU offered him something even more important — his soulmate, or in this case, his Solmaz.
Solmaz Zarrineh was an athletic trainer at ETSU while also earning her Master’s degree at the school when she first met Chadwell in 2003.
“I was working with the football program at that time, and I just happened to see him and we became friends,” Solmaz said. “We started talking, we went to FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) together, and it just kind of flourished from there.”
Solmaz is originally from Iran, and escaped from the country during the Islamic Revolution of 1979 when she was just 3 years old, ultimately settling in Athens, Tenn.
Solmaz grew up in an Islamic family, but her family didn’t practice. Her senior year of high school, Solmaz converted to Christianity after her friends encouraged her to come to church throughout her youth.
Faith is something that brought Chadwell and Solmaz together.
“So I really focused on expanding and learning more and focusing on the religion,” Solmaz said. “That’s where Jamey and I kind of started as well and we focused our friendship there through FCA once we were friends.
“Religion and Christianity are a big part of who we are and something that we try to really focus our marriage on and raise our children in the world as well.”
Being from two countries on opposite sides of the world and coming from very different backgrounds, the Chadwells never thought early on that this is the course their lives would take.
“I never imagined I would be married to a football coach, as he, I’m sure, never imagined that he would be married to a Middle Eastern girl,” Solmaz said. “He always jokes about he married the only person from the Middle East that didn’t have any oil in the family, so (that’s) his witty personality.”
Chadwell and Solmaz have now been happily married for 15 years with three children — an 11-year-old boy, Jameson; a 7-year-old girl, Sahel; and a girl who just turned 6, Soraya.
While being the wife of a college football coach has its perks, it also presents many challenges.
“Well, it’s not all glamor,” Solmaz said. “It’s hard because we’re both making a lot of sacrifices; he misses out on a lot. People joke about how you’re a single parent during football season, and I try not to think of it that way because he does get to come home, even though it may be midnight, he does get to come home and we do get to see him and everything.”
Solmaz believes seeing her husband’s success is well worth the sacrifices both of them make.
“It’s definitely been an adventure,” she said. “We move from place to place and it’s hard every time we move, but it’s also an exciting time because it's like an adventure; you move from one place to another place and you get to meet all these new people.
“Just seeing how hard that he’s worked to get to where he is, it’s been pretty amazing and I couldn’t be prouder of all that he’s accomplished.”
As an economics major at ETSU, coaching wasn’t going to make Chadwell rich, making just $8,000 in those early years.
It didn’t matter to Chadwell, although one important family member offered her two cents.
“My mom told me not to be a coach, because it’s hard, blah blah blah, because she lived that. But me and my brother are both coaches, so that’s what I wanted to be early,” Chadwell said.
As many college football coaches do, his career path has looked like a great ping-pong ball match, with his rising stardom taking him to various schools over the next decade.
From 2004-2008, it was Charleston Southern as an offensive assistant.
In 2009, he headed to North Greenville University as the head coach, accumulating a 20-14 record over three seasons, including a trip to the NCAA Div. II playoffs in 2011, where they lost to Delta State in the quarterfinals.
The victors would actually hire Chadwell as their head coach in 2012, finishing in a disappointing 3-7 record.
His stay at Delta State was short-lived, as Charleston Southern offered its head coaching position in 2013, a role he’d keep until 2016.
The match seemed perfect, with the Buccaneers winning the Big South in 2015 and 2016, pushing Chadwell’s record in the Football Championship Subdivision to 37-14 over four years as a head coach.
But, 18 victories from 2014 and 2015 had to be vacated due to an NCAA rules infraction that eventually led to a two-year probation that began in Oct. 2018.
Chadwell had used ineligible players, and 34 scholarship players had used money to buy things other than books, including jewelry, clothing and computers.
Yet, despite the violations, Chadwell has found a way to glean the positive out of what became a negative situation.
“I think anytime you go somewhere where you’re trying to change a culture, you’re trying to take a place that has maybe not been consistent winning year in, year out, you try to make it into that,” he said.
“You have to get young people to buy into a vision, and we didn’t have tons of resources there at that time, and so it’s not like you were selling tradition, you weren’t selling all these great facilities, you were selling, really, your vision, and the culture you want and how you can get young people to buy into a common purpose.”
Chadwell was well-liked by many in the Charleston Southern athletic community, including head men’s basketball coach Barclay Radebaugh, who is going into his 16th season with the team.
“I’ve been in Div. I athletics for 33 years, and Jamey’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around regardless of sport,” Radebaugh said. “He has an amazing ability to bring the best out of everybody. Jamey has the ‘it factor.’
“Whatever that is in coaching, Jamey has that.”
Radebaugh recalled the incredible buzz that Chadwell generated throughout the community, and not just on campus.
“He brought energy, he brought positivity to the whole campus and certainly great positivity to our athletic department in general,” Radebaugh said.
“He really set the stage for a lot of our teams to do well.”
It’s that positivity that attracted former Coastal Carolina football coach Joe Moglia to Chadwell.
Moglia brought Chadwell to Conway to be his offensive coordinator in 2017 — a year that Chadwell would also unexpectedly become the interim head coach when Moglia had to step aside due to health concerns.
“I was doing something that would be positive for my health for the next 20 years or so,” Moglia said.
And 2017 wasn’t any ordinary year for CCU, it was its first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Sun Belt Conference.
Better competition. Higher expectations. Thrust into the spotlight.
Chadwell was having to roll with the punches.
“That was a tough situation, it was challenging,” he said. “And so not really knowing that team that well because you just got there, to be honest; you didn’t recruit any of them, you’re trying to build relationships, so it was a tough challenge.”
It ended with a 3-9 record.
“I thought he really did a wonderful job under the circumstances taking over the program that year,” Moglia said.
Though it was the toughest year of Chadwell’s coaching career, he believes that he learned what it was going to take to find success if he was ever to be given the reins again.
After Moglia led the team to a 5-7 recond in 2018, the long-time coach announced that he was permanently handing the program to Chadwell in January 2019.
Was Moglia OK? Was he sick? The questions undeniably ran through Chadwell’s mind.
Ultimately, Moglia was just fine, he just felt it was time to step aside.
That gave Chadwell full permission to let his emotions take over.
“There’s an excitement about getting the opportunity at head coach in the FBS,” Chadwell admitted.
Chadwell knows he is fortunate to be an FBS head coach so early in his career.
“When you start coaching, I’ll be honest, I was not like, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get to this level,’ it sort of worked out,” he said.
The marriage has worked out quite well for both sides, with Chadwell following up a 5-7 campaign in 2019 with an undefeated start to the 2020 season, sitting at 8-0 and ranked ahead of teams such as Oklahoma, Texas and Auburn.
While that’s all fine and good — and the CCU athletics department has estimated that it has received more than $50 million in earned media exposure due to the success — Chadwell knows that predicting such a dramatic move forward ultimately took buy-in from every member of the team.
Even his peers didn’t give him much of a chance this season, predicted to finish dead last in the East Division.
“Well, we believe in what we do, our staff does, and so I had no doubt that we would get it going in the right direction just because at other places, that’s happened,” he said. “You’ve got to have patience, but it happens when your players buy into what you’re doing.
“Sometimes that takes a year, sometimes that takes two, sometimes it takes three; it’s all about the players and their buying into what you’re doing.”
The belief has led to eight nationally televised games for CCU, including a defining win over Sun Belt rival Appalachian State on Saturday.
It has allowed senior Teddy Gallagher to find plenty of screen time, both to show off his mullet, as well as his ability to shut down offenses from his middle linebacker position.
Gallagher points right at Chadwell for making players’ dreams a reality.
“He changed the culture from when we first got here. Just the love that everyone has for each other, the love that the coaches have for the players, the players have for the coaches, all, I think, stems from the culture Coach Chadwell has brought here,” said Gallagher, a stalwart of a defense that limited App State to just 6 points in the second half on Saturday.
Spending his game nights in the trenches, senior offensive lineman Trey Carter has enjoyed the Chants’ rise, as he remembers the times where CCU struggled to hold its own.
"We were down in the gutter for a while, but he's done a great job just harping on our fundamentals and stuff like that; doing the right things on and off the field; and obviously he's been a huge, huge part to our success,” Carter said.
Coastal Carolina Athletic Director Matt Hogue, with the school for the past six years, has seen first-hand how Chadwell bonds with his players, pointing to the coach’s ability to connect with young athletes that are away from home for the first time and need direction.
“I think that’s really one of those things that’s a special skill that some people possess, and that’s the one thing I’ve noticed is just the connection with the team,” Hogue said. “I think nowadays that’s as important as any aspect to a successful team.”
That success has brought so much attention — including a multi-minute segment on the uber-popular ESPN College GameDay — that there are swirling rumors that Chadwell could be a target for the University of South Carolina head coach opening.
After the Gamecocks jettisoned Will Muschamp due to a 28-30 record over 4-plus seasons, the allure of bringing in a coach that inspires his players to find success on and off the field could be enticing for the brass in Columbia.
Just don’t expect to see Chadwell get caught up in the rumor mill.
“Well, I think, first of all, it is a rumor so you take it for what it’s worth,” Chadwell said.
“Any time that there’s a rumor out that your name is mentioned for other positions, I think that’s a compliment to your players, your staff — because that means you’re doing well and somebody’s noticing that.”
Chadwell said he has told his team that they are, in fact, just rumors — indicating that USC has yet to even reach out.
“I’ve told my wife, if we had money for every time there was a rumor that I might be getting a job, I said we wouldn’t have to coach; I’d already be rich,” Chadwell said.
But his wife knows that Chadwell will always be that small-town boy with big-time dreams.
“No matter what level he is coaching, we will continue to be the same people we were that grew up in the small towns of Athens and Caryville.”