‘Hey dad, hey coach’: For the love of the game

Jake and his dad after last year's state championship.
Staff Writer

Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer and his daughter/player Blair often had people marveling — or at least wondering — how they balanced on-court interaction with everyday dinner-table conversations.

Those relations are hard enough in a normal family, especially where teenagers are involved, much less ones where sports and winning at the highest levels combine in the dynamics.

West Point High football coach Chris Chambless knows a little about the challenge. And this year, he and his oldest son Jake, and to a lesser degree, younger son, Bo, will confront it first hand.

The Green Wave have won two straight Class 5A state championships. Many people already are predicting they’ll win a third, even though Chambless lost two dozen seniors, including 12 who signed scholarships of some kind, to play at the next level.

Last year, son Jake, was the backup quarterback, playing often in the second half when the game already was well in hand. This year, he’s the projected starter with the pressure of dad and a 3-peat on him.

“Whew,” the elder Chambless says when asked about balancing dad and coach duties.

“You have to be careful that you’re not,” he starts again before pausing.

“You’ve got to be cognizant that everyone out there knows he’s my son, that you’re not treating him unfairly or with favoritism…or that I expect more from him…I catch myself sometimes, it’s unfair to him sometimes,” the veteran coach says, looking over at the 17-year-old sitting in a chair just a few feet away.

Jake’s perspective is similar and different at the same time.

“I act the same way with him as I do at home,” the rising senior says, subconsciously referring first to the football field and then home life.

“When he gets on to me, I feel it more…he pushes me harder than others. He expects me to do everything on my own, he wants my success to be on my own,” Jake adds as he dad struggles nearby with a TV remote trying to get the U.S. Open golf coverage on television.

Parents of teenagers understand the moment — sharp-tongued exchanges over things large and small. It’s no different for coach and son, although it can be worse with the pressure of winning, pressure that’s both internal and external from the community.

“I have to realize they want to win as much as I do,” the coach says of his family, his players and the fans.

And they have mechanisms in place, some by design and some by chance, to maintain civility and peace.

“I have a quick-temper with him. So it’s very rare you see us talking on the sideline. That may be different this year and we’ll see, but right now, we don’t talk much. But he’s the first person I go see after the game, I give him a hug,” Jake describes.

“Fortunately, I’m not a screamer on the sidelines, I don’t want to freak everyone out. And I am more defense-minded, I don’t get involved with the offense that much, either in practice or in games. So that’s fortunate,” the elder Chambless explains.

And through it all, the art of maturing, of growing up, takes shape. And in some ways, it’s as new an experience for dad as it is for son.

“It could be a little different this year. He’s going to be asked to do a lot more, to be a leader for the team and for two younger quarterbacks. There will be some awkward moments, bad things are going to happen. There will be chances to get frustrated with each other. It’s a matter of how we react,” dad says.

“But he expects me to hold him accountable.”

“When I was younger, it used to bother me more. Now, I expect him to yell at me. I know he’s trying to get the best out of me and to help me be the best I can be. I do appreciate that,” Jake responds.

Both have the benefit of another coach who also is a friend. Offensive coordinator Brent Morgan, a former Mississippi State player who has been on the staff nine years, is sounding board, mentor and at times, mediator.

“It said to me, ‘Y’all are just alike,’” Coach Chambless says of a conversation with his assistant.

“Coach Morgan is a huge role model for me, he’s had a big impact on my career. He’s the one who calms me down,” explains Jake, who admits to being a bit “high strung” at times. “He sits me down and talks to me. We can talk about anything.”

The two understand that like it or not, football in West Point is a job for the whole family. Visitors to the city on Fridays in the fall often marvel at how much of the city is painted in green, from storefronts to the shirts business owners and city leaders wear. That’s not lost on the interaction between father and son, player and each.

“Watching my dad, I see how he has to work during the summer. Growing up in West Point, football basically is a job. I know that when he gets on to me. I think I will be a better person learning about those kinds of expectations and responsibility and learning to try to handle them,” the younger Chambless says.

“For a coach’s son, for a coach’s family, it’s a job, too. He feels the pressure,” dad adds.

The two play golf and fish together as a way to be just father and son. But like most families, regardless of the career and athletics, that also is stressful and competitive.

“He got on my nerves so much the other day I had to get out of the golf cart and go ride with Bo,” Jake states, referring to his 14-year-old brother who will be a freshman this year.

The two are three years apart and as sometimes is the case, Jake and Bo have different personalities. The dad/coach understands it.

“Bo is more laid back, if he could fish every day, he would. When he was in the eighth grade, he told me he didn’t want to play football anymore. I said okay, but he was going to have to come to the field house and lift weights and run all summer. I believe every teenager, every young man needs to be pushed through something hard…it helps them to grow up,” the coach describes.

“Jake will express himself, say whether he thinks something is wrong or stupid. Bo hides his emotions more. He doesn’t want to let anyone down.

“I try to make it clear I am not going to make them play or do anything but naturally, I am going to be a little disappointed. I just have to be good about stressing that I am not going to hold it against them,” the elder Chambless continues.

Being able to win a state championship together has been special. It’s a moment not many fathers and sons can share.

But they also speak freely about their fondness for the family dinners after church on Sundays or trips to the “country” in Hamilton, Ala., where the coach is from.

Mom Elisha is a teacher at West Point High and has her own routine, although she also can’t escape the coach-dad-football triangle. And doesn’t want to.

“She’d tell you the same thing. She sees it,” Coach Chambless says.

The youngest daughter, 5-year-old Loxley, is just loving life right now.

Football is consuming them even during the summer. They play 7-on-7 every Monday and in tournaments. Summer drills and fall camps are just a few weeks away.

Jake is trying to balance those demands with it being his last summer at home, spending time with friends and being a teenager. Next summer, he may be playing football for some junior college or even four-year school.

Dad is trying to use some of the time to learn some things himself.

“There’s a line between punishment and discipline. Discipline is trying to change behavior. It’s tough when you know the person doesn’t grasp it yet. In my mind I shouldn’t have to explain. But that’s not always the right approach. Sometimes they just don’t understand until they get older,” the coach says of himself.

“I call it being squared away. These little things where the light goes off when you understand something. I remember growing up and I didn’t want to listen and then the light would go off and I would get it. That’s the goal.

“I need to talk more, to communicate more. I don’t communicate enough,” the coach advises, half speaking to himself.

In a way, Jake agrees, noting he now talks to his mom about some thing more than his dad. But he acknowledges, “I know where they are coming from. They are really trying to get me to learn. They don’t want me to grow up too quick but they do want me to grow up.”

Their experiences and relations may be comforting and familiar to some, foreign to others.

They will even argue playing dominoes.

“We’ll accuse the other one of cheating and storm off to our rooms,” dad exclaims.

And every day is a learning experience.

Jake also plays baseball and is a pitcher. During a summer league game the other day, he was struggling a little on the mound.

“Come on, time to bow up,” his dad said from the stands, thinking he was being encouraging.

Back came the dreaded stare. Many parents have seen it.

“I know he’s just being dad and wants the best…but still…” Jake concludes, his voice trailing off. “It’s what I love and expect though.”