BIRMINGHAM — Smooth sailing is not the best way to describe the end of the season for the Coastal Carolina football team.

The Chanticleers were thrashed by James Madison in the regular season finale and manhandled by Troy in the Sun Belt Conference championship game. Head coach Jamey Chadwell and quarterback Grayson McCall - perhaps the two biggest pieces of the puzzle to becoming one of the premier Group of Five teams in the country over the past three seasons — announced they were leaving. McCall will play in the Birmingham Bowl but is expected to leave afterward. And a couple of other key players – Edge defender Josaiah Stewart and offensive lineman Willie Lampkin — are not expected to play in Tuesday's bowl game at Protective Stadium after entering the transfer portal.

The returning players are also anticipating what life will be like under new head coach Tim Beck, who comes over after serving as the offensive coordinator at North Carolina State.

That's a lot to take in for a team that will play Thursday's game under interim head coach Chad Staggs, who has been the team's defensive coordinator since 2019.

So, with all the distractions, what would it mean for a team that is 9-3 this and 31-6 in the past three seasons to win a bowl game?

"I've thought about that a pretty good bit," Staggs said. "I think it would just show the character of the players. Obviously, I'd be excited about it. It's a bowl win. If you were a part of the team last year, you know how awesome that is to hoist a bowl trophy, celebrate at midfield, take pictures, cigars, start flying, and all those kinds of things. But, I think peel all of that back, and you kind of look at the adverse situations these guys are in, and they just kept their direction forward and kept working. They did it for each other."

McCall is at the forefront of everything that Coastal Carolina has done in turning the young program into a consistent winner. He was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year the past three seasons, accounting for 9,072 yards and 94 touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Indian Trail, North Carolina native led Coastal Carolina to its biggest wins and best season.

Staggs said he did one more important thing. He stayed to the final game of his final year in Myrtle Beach.

"I think that's a story in college football that's probably untold a little bit," Staggs said. "I think I've spoke on this before, but you got a Grayson McCall that has all kinds of things in front of him, financially, whether it's in the portal or NFL. When he went to the portal, he said, 'I'm playing in the bowl game.' So, any team that's interested, he's laying it out there. He's playing for his brothers. I think that is unspeakable in college football right now if you think about it. That shows the type of team we have, the love the players have for each other."

Truth be told, life would be a bit easier on the East Carolina defense if McCall had opted out of the bowl game. East Carolina linebacker Myles Berry, who is third on the team with 60 tackles, is happy that McCall will be on the field at Protective Stadium.  

"I was excited," Berry said when asked what he thought when learning that McCall would play. "I want Coastal Carolina to be at full running, full strength. I want all their best players on the field, so we can really showcase a great game. I didn't want them to be with their backup. I want him to play, and I'm ready for the matchup."

Berry said he's well aware of just how talented McCall is at quarterback.

"I'll put him in the top five of the quarterbacks we've faced," Berry said. "He's a great thrower. He manages the game. He knows how to win games. We're just going to have to force him to make tough decisions, get him behind the sticks and then get off the field on third down."

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