JMU selects Bob Chesney to lead football program

Holy Cross head coach Bob Chesney looks on during the first half of a college football game, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm) (Mary Schwalm, (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm))

HARRISONBURG, Va. – James Madison Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne has turned to Bob Chesney to be the ninth head coach in the history of JMU football.

Chesney spent the last six seasons as head coach at Holy Cross, guiding the Crusaders to a program-record five consecutive Patriot League Championships, an overall record of 44-21. He has 14 years of head coaching experience ranging from Division I FCS to Division III.

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“My family and I are excited for this opportunity to join the James Madison family and to lead this football program,” Chesney said. “I’ve watched the JMU football program rise to one of the top in the FCS before then transitioning to the FBS level in truly unprecedented fashion. This program has such rich tradition, and the culture of the program expectations are firmly planted. I understand the responsibility that comes with leading the James Madison football program and am ready to hit the ground running to take it to even greater heights. I want to personally thank President Alger, Jeff Bourne, Board of Visitors Rector Maribeth Herod and the hiring committee for this opportunity. Many folks in JMU Nation have already reached out with their support. The passion at JMU is unmatched, and we can’t wait to be a part of the community in Harrisonburg. Go Dukes!”

In 2022, he led Holy Cross to its third undefeated regular season and an FCS quarterfinal berth for the first time in nearly 40 years, finishing #6 in the final AFCA Coaches Poll. HC’s stretch run from 2021-23 were the team’s best three-year run since the 1989-91 seasons, going 29-8.

While at Holy Cross, Chesney recorded wins in back-to-back seasons against FBS opponents, defeating UConn, 38-28, in 2021 and Buffalo, 37-31, in 2022. During the 2023 campaign, the Crusaders dropped a pair of three-point contests to Boston College and Army West Point.

His 2023 squad featured a pair of Walter Payton Award finalists in quarterback Matthew Sluka and receiver Jalen Coker and a Buck Buchanan Award finalist in Jacob Dobbs. Dobbs additionally was a finalist for the prestigious Campbell Trophy, while Sluka was voted Patriot League Player of the Year.

Chesney is a three-time Patriot League Coach of the Year (2019, 2021, 2022) and twice was named the New England Football Writers Coach of the Year (2021, 2022). He was additionally honored as the AFCA FCS Region 1 Coach of the Year following Holy Cross’ historic 2022 season.

He takes over a JMU program that made a historic transition from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision, going 19-4 over the past two regular seasons. JMU finished atop the Sun Belt Conference East Division standings in both years with a combined 13-3 conference record, and the Dukes received a bid to the 2023 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl for the program’s first bowl game in program history. JMU has also sustained success spanning more than two decades, finishing with at least a .500 record in 21 straight seasons and finishing with a winning record in 10 straight.

“We were methodical and intentional in casting a wide net to identify the next head coach of James Madison football, and I confidently believe that we found the total package in Bob Chesney,” Bourne said. “Ideally, we wanted a proven head coach with a track record of winning football games, both with frequency and against tough competition. We sought someone who would lead our young men to maximize their potential in all facets of life, including their off-the-field pursuits and academic success. We prioritized someone with experience at managing all facets of a modern Division I football program and particularly with ties to the East Coast. We also desired someone who would connect with our staff, would resonate with our fan base and would relish the opportunity to be a JMU Duke. Bob Chesney checks all those boxes and more.”

About the Authors:

Eric is no stranger to the Roanoke Valley. He is a Roanoke native and proud graduate of William Fleming High School.