Editor’s note: This continues a regular feature on DawgNation called “Throwback Thursday.” It offers the chance to revisit the recruiting stories of former UGA greats. The last few installments were on 1988 All-American RB Tim Worley, all-time punt returner Damien Gary, crowd favorite RB Musa Smith, all-time leading receiver Terrence Edwards and tackling machine Tony Gilbert. This week’s feature catches up with a great Bulldog in the trenches from Savannah.
That’s the way folks around Savannah Christian address their head football coach when they need to get a word in.
That’s Donald Chumley to the rest of the world. The former UGA standout is the head coach at a private school powerhouse that has won 80 percent of its games on his watch.
Look around the walls of his office and you’ll see treasures from a Savannahian who starred at nearby Groves High and wound up at UGA. There are pictures of big games and spring football and postseason honors.
There’s also a plaque signifying Chumley earned the “Meanest Mother” award during his years at UGA. Anyone who has ever strapped on a helmet would appreciate an award like that.
The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder was committed to Clemson but wound up at UGA. How did that happen? His answer to that question will be hard to forget.
“My Daddy told me point-blank and said ‘Son you can go to Clemson if that’s what you really want to do’ and I’m thinking I guess that’s it,” Chumley said. “I wasn’t really sure, though. Most high school kids aren’t really sure when having to decide between Alabama and Clemson and Georgia and LSU and big schools like that.”
But his father Lanier Chumley added one last detail about that decision.
“He said ‘Son you just remember you can go to Clemson but you can drive to Georgia or you can walk to Clemson’ and I kind of knew right then which school I would go play football for.”
That’s why he bypassed Clemson and the chance to play for Danny Ford back in 1981. Ford had him all but reeled into the boat.
“It was important to me to have my Daddy’s support and that’s why I ended up driving to Georgia rather than walking to Clemson,” Chumley said.
Chumley got to know Ford well. Chuck Reedy also recruited him heavily.
“Georgia had just won the national championship,” Chumley said. “But Clemson knew how to recruit you and recruit you well. I can tell you that. But my Dad was a lifelong Georgia guy and loved Georgia. I fell in love with the recruiting process like a lot of guys did. I got to know those coaches real well and it is a lot of pressure for a young guy.”
Chumley is 104-26-1 in his 11 years at Savannah Christian. His teams have played for the state title on three different occasions. The Raiders won it all in 2011.
The defensive captain of the 1984 team said the biggest thrill of his recruiting process was a phone call.
“The big moment for me was when Bear Bryant called my house,” Chumley said. “I can remember my Dad picking up the phone and I went to grab the phone. But my Dad was talking to coach Bryant on the phone. It was just after Alabama had lost to Notre Dame.”
Chumley was getting boxed out by his father to the phone. He wanted to talk to coach Bryant, but not before his father had his say.
“My Daddy told coach Bryant “I really think you should have punted on that last down” and I’m going my Daddy is on the phone telling coach Bryant what to do and he should have punted,” Chumley said. “Coach Bryant was special. He just went right along with what my Daddy said.”
Chumley has a bit of advice for recruits that play for him. He’s got players at Louisville and Minnesota. He’s also sent players to Georgia and to Wake Forest in his career. UGA target Demetris Robertson plays for him now. Robertson is a 4-star prospect and he’s rated as the No. 2 athlete in the country in the Class of 2016.
“The only thing I ever have to tell those young guys is if they have the option that staying in-state carries them a long way,” Chumley said. “I ask them about where they want to live after college. That’s what they need to think about because football is a small window. I want them to picture where they see themselves living after college. If it is in their home state, then that’s what they need to be thinking about.”
Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.