He leans back in his office chair, dressed in a gray Charleston Southern T-shirt and navy blue basketball shorts as he casually fidgets with a ripe orange he tosses back and forth.
“Come on in,” CSU football coach Jamey Chadwell says, opening the door to his spotless back corner office.
He is enveloped by stories.
A baby blue canvas hangs on the wall with a picture of Jamey and his son in the background to celebrate Chadwell’s first Father’s Day.
Colorings from all three of his children line his door: those of bears, strawberries and crosses all delicately taped around his HEAD FOOTBALL COACH placard.
There’s a racquetball hanging from a thumbtack just in case he wants to play one day, though he hasn’t played in some five years.
And of course, there are countless pictures of his wife from their 13 years together at functions, anniversaries and vacations.
But the decor and all of the pictures only tell a sliver of the whole tale.
To fully understand how the fiery Chadwell got here, in this job, at this school, is to first get a glimpse of where he came from. It’s to explore what life was like before he took a CSU team that went 0-11 in 2011 and flipped it into a 10-3 team in 2013, his first year on the job.
It’s to know what life was like before he arrived at CSU and transformed the Bucs, who play Saturday against Kennesaw State with another Big South Conference championship on the line, from irrelevance to conference powerhouse.
His story begins on a 22-acre family farm in Caryville, Tenn., a tiny town north of Knoxville that from end to end takes up fewer than 6 square miles.
“There’s nothing much there,” Chadwell said. “Not a lot of people get out.”
Leaving the farm
Life on the farm was simple — the same every day — and peaceful.
Before he ever learned how to run a shotgun offense or defend a crosstown rival’s triple-option, Jamey Chadwell spent his time mastering the basic tenets of livestock and agriculture. He learned how to bail hay. He was taught how to garden, break beans and shuck corn. His earliest memories are of helping with the animals on the farm: cattle, chickens, pigs.
Four generations of family lived on the farm at one point of his childhood, so lessons were passed down and family time reigned supreme every day with no exceptions.
“Our house was on the far end. Grandfather’s mother was in the middle house,” Chadwell said.
“And then my grandfather and (grandmother), or Papaw and Meemaw as we called them, lived at the top of the farm.”
Every single night for dinner, Jamey and his family would travel up to Papaw and Meemaw’s, where a home-cooked meal awaited them, along with several rounds of card games.
On Sundays, the Chadwells went to church together and would frequent La Fiesta, the local Mexican restaurant with “an unbelievable” Sunday buffet that Chadwell still patrons whenever he is home for a visit. He’s a sucker for the queso.
Outside of La Fiesta, the town didn’t offer much restaurant-wise — there was a Cracker Barrel and a couple of fast-food chains — or entertainment-wise. There was one strip mall, a local movie theater that only charged $2 and a lake he loved in the summer time.
But there was also the football field.
“My dad was a high school football coach and so I can remember vividly, as early as about 2 years old, going to his practices and being on the sidelines with him during games,” Chadwell said. “I remember he always used to pick grass and kneel down. And so I started doing that as a child.”
By virtue of being a high school coach in the state, Jamey’s father would receive tickets to Tennessee’s games. Sometimes teenage Jamey would tag along, traveling the 30 miles from the farm to Knoxville, where he’d cheer for the Volunteers and his hero, quarterback Heath Shuler. Chadwell would later name his first child Jameson Heath in homage to Shuler.
It was a simple lifestyle in eastern Tennessee, one the boy from Caryville loved.
He missed it when he went to college two hours away in Johnson City, where he played quarterback for East Tennessee State and fought a heavy dose of homesickness.
“It was rough,” Chadwell said. “You missed being up there and playing the cards, seeing the family and being there every day.”
East Tennessee State would both give generously to Chadwell, and take harshly from him. The school gave him the opportunity to live out a dream of playing college football but saddled him with an ankle injury that required surgery as soon as he arrived.
It gave him his first job in coaching as an assistant but then left him temporarily unemployed when the program was cut in 2003.
“I would have stayed at that place forever,” Chadwell said.
But in a sense, it did give him forever. It gave him Solmaz.
'A kid at heart'
Solmaz Zarrineh was an athletic trainer and graduate student at East Tennessee State earning her master’s degree.
It was a fall day in 2003 and the football team was doing conditioning drills as she stood on the sidelines.
An assistant coach caught her eye — the “Southern boy” who “just seemed like a kid at heart.” She leaned over to her best friend.
“I’m going to marry that man one day.”
A week later, Chadwell spoke to her for the first time when she was helping weigh the players as part of her trainer duties. Soon, they began to nurture a friendship at Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Chadwell asked her on a date.
He took her to dinner at Bennigan’s in Johnson City, the first of many meals they’d share together.
“I can’t remember what we ate but it wasn’t spaghetti because you never wanna go spaghetti on the first date,” Chadwell joked. “And you know when you’re trying to impress somebody you get dessert, too: ‘Oh yeah, get dessert!’ even though you don’t have money to get dessert.”
They split a fancy piece of chocolate cake, and so began their relationship.
Soon, the country farm boy from East Tennessee would learn the life story of the woman he’d one day marry. Solmaz hailed from a Muslim family in Iran but moved to the United States when she was 3.
She spoke no English when she started kindergarten in Athens, Tenn., so her teacher would stay after school with her every day for extra help. She’d explain to Solmaz that in the United States, it is custom to write left to right instead of right to left, as is the norm in Iran.
Then, 5-year-old Solmaz would go home and take over the teacher role so her parents could learn, too.
“They didn’t speak English,” she said. “I grew up at a very young age because my parents were very dependent on me.”
At around 16, when she was a junior in high school, Solmaz decided to convert from Islam to Christianity. With the Christian faith being such a large part of both her and Chadwell’s lives when they met, their relationship started off on common ground immediately.
On the day he proposed as an assistant at Charleston Southern, Chadwell took Solmaz — whom he nicknamed “Maz” or “Mazzy” — to Folly Beach to see a school of dolphins. He popped the question by the lighthouse, and a stunned Solmaz hardly believed her naturally sarcastic beau.
“He was never one to want to get married and so I wasn’t expecting it,” she joked. “When he actually proposed to me I said, ‘Shut up, you’re lying. Get up. This is not funny.’ A lot of people remember that day and the emotions and everything they felt, but I thought it was a joke so I don’t even remember what he said to me.”
They married in 2005, at, of all places, The Citadel Beach House.
“I bet they’d be happy about that,” Chadwell laughed of getting married in that specific location, of course referring to his well-documented history with CSU’s rival. Chadwell's CSU teams are 4-0 against The Citadel.
Solmaz hasn't been to Iran since she was a teenager but is hopeful she can get back to visit family in the near future.
"I’d love to go back. I’ve made a list of 40 things I want to do before I turn 40 and that’s one of them," she said. "Jamey’s not very keen on me going back just with everything that’s going on there right now."
On the move
Football has taken Jamey and Solmaz all over the place: three different cities, three different head coaching gigs for Chadwell, and the birth of their three children.
On July 30, 2009, at 10:17 a.m., Solmaz gave birth to their first child, Jameson. Exactly 30 days later, Chadwell took the field at North Greenville for his first game ever as a head coach.
On Jan. 13, 2013, at 5:46 p.m., their second child, Sahel, was born in Memphis. Chadwell and Solmaz drove two hours after her water broke so that their daughter could be born in Tennessee. Four days after he left the hospital, Chadwell was on the move to Charleston for the CSU head coaching job, while Solmaz, 3-year-old Jameson and 4-day-old Sahel stayed behind in Cleveland, Miss., for two more months, the site of Chadwell’s Delta State job.
“Those (moments) are hard,” Chadwell said. “That’s the hard part (about coaching).”
And on Nov. 20, 2014 at 4:58 p.m., their third child, Soraya, was born. She’ll be 2 on Sunday.
In Solmaz and the kids, Chadwell has a refuge when the frustrations of being a Division I football coach take their toll.
On some Saturdays, depending on game time, he likes to pass the time before kickoff by watching Jameson’s soccer games. There, he doesn’t think about CSU’s budget difficulties or subpar facilities.
On the October Saturday when Chadwell was suspended by the school for an NCAA violation that involved impermissible contact of a recruit by one of his assistant coaches, Solmaz and the girls took him to the pumpkin patch at West Farm Corn Maze. It was time together they don’t often get during football season.
If he is the fiery, sometimes controversial sparkplug, Solmaz is the calming force that keeps him balanced.
In an industry defined by uncertainty — anything can happen at any moment — Chadwell cherishes his family.
Several reports have linked Chadwell to the head coaching job at Georgia State next season, though nothing has been confirmed.
Should he go, so too will Solmaz and the kids. So too will the pictures in his office and the stories he’s brought with him thus far.
“He’s the only person on the planet that was willing to let me play for him,” said former Clemson quarterback Willy Korn, referring to when he was looking for a new school that would let him play quarterback after his injuries. Korn now coaches with Chadwell as the Bucs' wide receivers coach.
“I’ve been hired by three people in my life: a D-I sports training place, Jersey Mike’s — I had an illustrious career at Jersey Mike’s — and coach Chadwell. That kind of tells you how big of an impact he’s made.”
A new beginning at a new place would mean new stories if he ever leaves CSU. But it will be the old stories — life on the farm, marrying Solmaz, becoming a father — that will always make Chadwell who he is, and define him wherever he goes.
“The things that apply here in terms of the investment in young men and the way that he genuinely cares for them ... those things and those principles are gonna play anywhere in the country,” said CSU assistant coach Mark Tucker, who’s known Chadwell since he first got to East Tennessee in 1997.
“His ceiling is wherever God wants to move him.”