'You just love playing for him' — Crusaders cherish their football coach, Bob Chesney
Fourth-year coach has been nominated for Eddie Robinson Award
Telegram & Gazette
WORCESTER — Benton Whitley and Tenio Ayeni were Holy Cross freshmen in 2017, a tumultuous season during which coach Tom Gilmore was fired midyear and, at the end of it, one that left Whitley and Ayeni wondering about who would guide the program into the future.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” Whitley, a fifth-year star defensive lineman, recalled before Monday’s team meetings.
Whitley’s apprehension quelled quickly the first time coach Bob Chesney, who spent the previous five seasons at nearby Assumption, walked into Doran Auditorium at the Luth Athletic Complex to meet his new players.
“He introduced himself, gave us a plan and embraced us as his team immediately,” Whitley said. “That really made us want to play for him, and it’s been like that ever since. You just love playing for him, and you love playing for Holy Cross. That’s a big reason why we’re successful, too.”
This season, the 44-year-old Chesney led Holy Cross to its third straight Patriot League championship. The Crusaders (9-2) earned their first home playoff game since 1983 and will face Sacred Heart in a first-round FCS tournament matchup at noon Saturday at Fitton Field.
“It’s been a little while,” Chesney said Tuesday, “but we’re finally back. Getting Holy Cross to a point it hasn’t been to in almost 40 years is exciting.”
Including his great run at Assumption, Chesney has guided his teams to five league titles and six NCAA postseason appearances in the last seven seasons.
“He has taught us that the energy, the enthusiasm and the attention to detail cannot be off in the slightest,” said Ayeni, a fifth-year wide receiver who has caught five touchdown passes this year. “He really started that type of culture at Holy Cross, and it’s been a wonderful thing to go through. Every single day is another exciting step to take with the team, with your brothers, with our coach.”
Earlier this week, the Patriot League named Chesney its 2021 Coach of the Year. He is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, presented to the FCS coach of the year.
Bob Chesney's energy, enthusiasm and attention to detail has keyed the resurgence of Holy Cross football.
Chesney was a captain, all-conference safety and religion major at Dickinson College in his home state of Pennsylvania. After serving as an assistant at Norwich, Delaware Valley, King’s College and Johns Hopkins, Chesney took over at Salve Regina and, during his three seasons, led a Seahawks revival.
At Holy Cross, he has elevated the program with his vast knowledge, intricate preparation and collaboration with his assistants, meticulous analysis and intense practices, by demanding excellence of his players, his staff and himself, and as a superior motivator.
“He makes every player want to be their best,” sophomore quarterback Marco Siderman said.
Coach is an effective motivator
Chesney’s pregame speeches are epic.
“He really knows how to get us going,” senior defensive lineman Dan Kuznetsov said. “He’s full of raw emotion and passionate about what he’s saying. He would run through a wall for us, which makes us want to run through a wall for him.”
Chesney is a gifted, natural and compelling speaker, and draws inspiration for some of his messages by reading, listening, watching and learning.
“I always try to find something that adds value to how I’m trying to reach the guys on the team,” Chesney said. “Some of it works, some of it doesn’t; some of it’s applicable, some of it isn’t. I just try to keep a bunch of things either in my head or on note cards for when it comes time, and if I find something that I like that could come in handy if we’re in this situation or that situation.
"There are things that I experience and see and try to hold onto that maybe reach me in a personal way or motivational way, and extend that to our team as I see fit or as I see needed.”
One book that Chesney cited was “The Messiah Method: The Seven Disciplines of the Winningest College Soccer Program in America.” It is about the success of the Messiah College men’s and women’s soccer teams that combined to win 472 games over a 10-year span.
“As I read it,” Chesney said, “they talked about reaching greatness and maintaining greatness and holding onto it, and the challenges. There’s a lot in there that I’ve looked at or thought about or used in my own way to reach our guys.”
Two weeks ago, when Holy Cross was playing at Fordham, Chesney was working out in the hotel gym. A Peloton user did not have headphones, so Chesney could hear the virtual instructor.
“I thought, ‘Man, she’s bringing the juice to this thing,’ ” Chesney said, “and as I started to think about it, I was like, ‘What if she just didn’t have a good day and didn’t feel like bringing that much emotion and that much juice to her job?’ She probably wouldn’t have a job very long.
“I started thinking about it,” Chesney said, “because it’s something we talk about as coaches — we have to be Mickey Mouse at Disney World. You can’t walk in and see Mickey Mouse walking around with his head down and kicking rocks and having a bad day, sitting in the corner somewhere. It has to be your best foot forward all the time. These players deserve it.”
As Ayeni said, “there’s never any fake juice” with Chesney. “It’s real, and that drives the kids on our team,” Ayeni said.
“We ask a lot of our guys,” Chesney said. “In meetings, they have to stay engaged, and we have to be the world’s greatest professors. We have to reach each and every one of them after a full day of school. Then, we have to find a way to get on that field, no matter what they’re going through physically or emotionally, and make sure they’re giving us everything they got, and, in turn, we, first, have to give them everything we’ve got.”
On the bus ride home from Bucknell last weekend, Chesney sat with junior linebacker Jacob Dobbs, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year. Dobbs told Chesney he did not want this season to ever end.
“It took me back to the moment in college when we were playing 12 or 13 games, and we could have played a hundred and never would have been tired of being around each other,” Chesney said. “I think that is something when we first took over here did not necessarily exist. I think when the season was over, guys were excited for it to be over, and that was heartbreaking when I first got here.
"Now, to watch this and hear the comments and to feel it is what I take the most amount of pride in, regardless of a win or a loss record.”
—Contact Jennifer Toland at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jentandg.