Three Takeaways from JMU Football Head Coach Bob Chesney’s Opening Press Conference

By Bennett Conlin

JMU held Bob Chesney’s introductory press conference Tuesday, as the school’s new head football coach spoke to the media for the first time.

While nothing groundbreaking ever gets shared doing an opening press conference, it often sheds some light on how a coach wants to model their program. It’s clear Chesney wants to build upon JMU’s stellar recent history. 

“I am here to advance it and accelerate it,” Chesney said about JMU’s football program. 

Here are a few quick takeaways from Chesney’s opening press conference, which left most JMU fans pleased. 

Nails public-facing image

Some fans have created a revisionist history of Curt Cignetti’s JMU image as entirely a “cranky old man” persona, when in reality those same fans adored Cignetti’s Sun Belt persona and accompanying results. Cignetti had plenty of fun, engaging moments at JMU, including his 2022 postgame press conference after demolishing Coastal Carolina or his November appearance on the Pat McAfee show. 

Still, an initial impression of Bob Chesney suggests his public-facing image is more polished than Curt Cignetti’s image. Chesney seems like a natural relationship builder. That could pay significant dividends in future years. 

Chesney’s potential to build relationships with former players, key donors, etc. could be an area he helps accelerate the program. Cignetti thrived building successful teams year in and year out. Chesney’s ability to win over key people outside the locker room could help make JMU more nationally relevant, if it’s able to make major strides in NIL and other areas. 

“Winning” the press conference is NOT everything. Fans, donors, players, and others care more about on-field results than media engagement, but Chesney certainly owned the press conference. If he can also win games consistently, the sky’s the limit for JMU’s program under his watch. 

Unanswered staff, recruiting questions

Chesney didn’t share many specifics about hiring staff members at the press conference, other than saying he wants competent coaches who connect the best and develop good overall staff chemistry. It’s unclear which Holy Cross coaches might be on their way to Harrisonburg.

It’s certainly possible he retains some coaches from JMU, with four coaches still working with the roster ahead of the bowl game. Among the most notable still in Harrisonburg are offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski and safeties coach Marcus Hall-Oliver. Wroblewski is a longtime coach with great experience, and Hall-Oliver is the team’s recruiting coordinator, which adds to the potential value of keeping him on staff. 

Chesney’s staff is a major question mark that should be answered in the coming weeks. It’s normal for a new head coach to avoid specific coaching staff questions at an opening press conference.

Another question facing Chesney is his recruiting strategy and use of the transfer portal. He mentioned wanting to build on JMU’s success. That starts in 2024. 

Can Chesney retain some of the many talented Dukes in the portal? Can he keep a good number of committed high school recruits? Will he be able to bring in elite players from the portal to fill needs on the roster?

Answers to those questions will be more relevant to JMU’s success than anything Chesney said Tuesday. 

Bowl game involvement

Chesney’s exact involvement in the bowl game has yet to be specifically shared. 

He’ll be at JMU’s practices leading up the bowl game against Air Force on Dec. 23, a process he called “invaluable.” He’ll evaluate the roster during those practices, while also implementing some of his own drills. He won’t alter specific schematics. 

It’s unclear what his role might be on game day, however. That’s an unanswered question with about 10 days left until the game.

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