Late father's example drives Chansi Stuckey as he starts new coaching role at Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND — There were times in his formative years when Chansi Stuckey couldn’t understand why his father was so accommodating to others.
Growing up in the Middle Georgia town of Warner Robins (pop. 76,000), Notre Dame’s new wide receivers coach took note early on of his father’s magnetism. R.C. Stuckey Jr., who died on Jan. 13 at age 92, just seemed to have that kind of personality.
“Everywhere we went, people gravitated to him,” Chansi Stuckey said. “He couldn’t go anywhere that we didn’t have to add another 30 minutes into it because someone was going to stop him and talk to him. He commanded that type of (respect).”
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It could be at one of the many ball fields Chansi Stuckey dominated on his way to a standout football career at Clemson and later four seasons in the NFL. Or it could be at a school event at Northside High, where Chansi played quarterback and also distinguished himself in the classroom.
Or, most certainly, it could be on Sundays at Reid’s Church of God and Christ – next door to the family’s home – or Fairview Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
One day, Chansi Stuckey, the youngest of R.C.'s four children, decided to voice his youthful frustration to his father. He wanted to know why he had to share the man’s kindness with so many friends and neighbors.
“I was like, ‘Dang, why do you speak to everybody?’ “ Chansi recalled. “And he was like, ‘Why not?’ “
At that moment, the young man finally understood. He vowed to treat people in a similar fashion.
“I gravitated toward that,” said Stuckey, now 38 and raising young son Aiden with wife Summer. “I just love people – talking to people, having the opportunity to serve someone else’s vision.”
As he prepared to eulogize R.C. Stuckey Jr., at his memorial service on Jan. 22, Rev. Leon Williams called around to key members of his congregation and also spoke to several of his predecessors as presiding elder.
Failing health and the pandemic had limited the family patriarch from attending services in his final years, but the consistent theme from those conversations was that you could always count on Brother Stuckey.
“They all said, ‘If you assign him any duties, once you tell him what you need done, he would make sure it was carried out,” Rev. Williams said. “Brother Stuckey was a pillar of the church. He was a great part of Fairview’s success in those days, especially in building the new church that we’re in now.”
In those remarks to an overflow crowd at the Robinson Funeral Home, the church pastor also drew upon his many personal interactions with R.C. Stuckey Jr. Even as arthritis took its toll on his knees and glaucoma left him legally blind, his mind and his curiosity remained sharp.
“I was amazed by his knowledge of current events,” said Rev. Williams, who is 65. “For a man of his age, he was well, well abreast of these things. It was like talking to one of my peers.”
Their visits started out, Rev. Williams said, as part of his pastoral duties. They would pray together, laugh together and try to make sense of a troubled world together.
Over time, the dynamic shifted.
“At first I would call him every now and then and check up and see how he was doing,” Rev. Williams said. “Eventually I started calling him as a friend, as somebody to talk to, because I loved to talk to him. He was just an easy, nice man to talk to.”
R.C. Stuckey Jr., it seemed, had perspective to offer on almost any subject.
Raised in rural Irwinton, Ga., as the oldest of nine children in a sharecropper’s family, his formal education was halted in the eighth grade because his father lacked the funds to send him to the local high school.
That didn’t stop him from continuing to attend the eighth grade for three more years or returning to night vocational school, along with his first wife Mattie, and receiving his diploma in his late-30s. He subscribed daily to The Macon Telegraph, watched Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News and watched CNN until his final days.
One of the first Black employees at Robins Air Force Base, he spent more than 30 years working in the supply and water works departments. He assembled boxes, drove a forklift and assisted technicians with sewage and water treatment.
For a quarter century, he held a second job with Macon Janitor Services, handling custodial and exterminator duties after hours. He would commute more than 75 miles roundtrip each day on country roads, rising at 5:30 a.m. and heading to bed soon after returning home at night.
On weekends, he still found time to tend to the family’s tomato garden, would whip up pear and fig preserves and kept a manicured lawn that was the envy of the neighborhood. He helped lay the bricks for two new churches, taught Sunday school, painted houses and took post-retirement work at a local grocery store.
He worked until age 83.
“He just never met a stranger, no matter what,” Tammie Printup, 59, said of her father in a phone interview. “He just engaged in conversation, and a lot of people gravitated to him for wisdom.”
His children watched closely as their father set an example that never fades.
“He was a man of discipline and integrity,” said Printup, who lives outside Atlanta and has worked in higher education. “He treated people the way he wanted to be treated. He always tried to do his best in everything, and he taught us the same thing. It’s very hard to find men of that caliber.”
Best of both worlds
Communication has long been one of Chansi Stuckey’s hallmarks as well.
Even before his playing career ended in 2011, Stuckey appeared on a cooking show for True Food Kitchen. He also found work on Nickelodeon and hosted Instagram shows targeted for foodies and coffee connoisseurs.
After retirement, he quickly transitioned into a studio analyst role at “Jets Nation” on New York’s SNY cable channel. He also took acting lessons, both in New York and in Los Angeles, and even got his foot in the Hollywood door thanks to former Clemson teammate Jock McKissic.
If you watch closely and look for the guy in the yellow jersey, you might catch Stuckey as an extra in “The Wedding Ringer,” Kevin Hart’s 2015 romantic comedy.
“It will be the blink of an eye,” Stuckey said with a laugh. “There’s a football scene where they’re playing in the mud. I had a little afro. I had the makeup at the trailer, all that stuff. It’s one of the great experiences of my life.”
In those seven years away from football, Stuckey also seriously pursued ministry as a vocation. There was a time when he and wife Summer thought that would be their primary mission.
“I was on the path to be a pastor,” Stuckey said.
On a whim in January 2019, Stuckey and McKissic decided to drive up to Santa Clara, Calif., to attend Clemson’s 44-16 win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who had been Stuckey’s position coach during his playing career, welcomed the two ex-Tigers as family.
They went to the pregame meal, hung out in Swinney’s hotel suite with him and his family and had prime seats for the game. Not long after that, Stuckey talked with his former coach about the next step in his post-playing career.
“That was one of the key conversations that coach Swinney and I had,” Stuckey recalled. “I said, ‘Hey, coach, I’m supposed to be a pastor. I feel like the Lord is really leading me.’ “
Swinney convinced his conflicted friend there was room in his life for football and ministry.
“(Swinney) said, ‘Hey, you get to do this and coach football. It’s the same thing, “ Stuckey said. “You have a group of men that you get to lead, people you get to affect on a large-scale level all the time. It doesn’t mean you have to be in a church. That really resonated with me. He was like, ‘This is what I do every day.’ That was when everything clicked for me.”
Stuckey accepted a position at Clemson as a graduate assistant before moving into an offensive player development role in 2020. He jumped to Baylor in 2021, where he coached wide receivers on a Sugar Bowl-winning team and continued to find ways to blend his faith and his coaching talent.
That productive position group jumped off the screen as newly promoted Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman studied Oklahoma State’s defense in advance of a New Year’s Day loss in the Fiesta Bowl. Upon parting ways with Del Alexander after five seasons, Freeman added Stuckey’s name to offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ list of candidates.
That gave Swinney another chance to brag on one of his favorite protégés, but not until after flashing some of that classic Dabo humor during the call with Rees.
“It was almost like, ‘How the heck did you find him?’ ” Rees recalled.
Among the traits Swinney brought forth in that recommendation were Stuckey’s commitment, work ethic and ability to connect with young players.
“If we have a top recruit on campus, we want him with this guy,” Swinney said. “He’s ready.”
The power of Stuckey’s personality quickly overwhelmed any concerns about his thin coaching résumé.
“Coach Swinney’s a receiver coach by trade,” Rees said. “Stuck’s played for him. Stuck was there with him. There’s a good foundation set in terms of who he’s learned from and the experiences he’s had.”
On one of their first tandem recruiting trips once Stuckey was hired in mid-January, Rees found himself mesmerized by the effortless warmth this relative coaching neophyte could exude.
“I was at a table with him and a family,” Rees said. “I was a bit blown away by how impressive he was, just talking to everybody, including everyone, being able to relate to different personalities on the table. He was outstanding.”
It isn’t hard to figure out how R.C. Stuckey Jr.’s youngest child would be an ideal dinner guest.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people in my time – in the military, people with different churches,” Rev. Williams said. “This man was like nobody else. Brother Stuckey knew what he was talking about, but he was ‘regular people.’ ”
Chansi Stuckey was among those to speak at his father’s funeral. Stuckey shared with the 90-some mourners in attendance, including his mother Cynthia, the role his father played in raising him to respect others.
“Dad was a very good athlete,” Tammie Printup said. “He would have coached Chansi as far as mental toughness and being a person of integrity. He helped him to make great decisions and not be bothered by the world.”
On one of his final trips home, Chansi Stuckey decided to do something to surprise his father. He rented a Tesla and delighted in the nonagenarian’s reaction.
“It was just the craziest thing,” Stuckey said. “He just could not figure out where the motor was. He was like, ‘You say it’s a battery under the car? You plugged it in? What’s going on? ‘ “
Smiling at the memory, Stuckey called that “the coolest thing” he could remember doing for his dad.
“He was born in 1929,” Stuckey said. “He had seen so much through his lifetime. He was born so early that cars have changed so much. It meant so much to him that he had lived so long and got to experience life in an electric car.”
The patriarch’s sense of wonder never left him.
“To the day he died, he was super coherent, super smart and people loved him,” Stuckey said. “His funeral was outrageous – all these people calling. He impacted so many people, so many lives.”
On Jan. 12, Chansi Stuckey accepted his new position at Notre Dame. His father died the following day.
“As he passed away," Stuckey said, "it was just like, ‘Hey, he’s done all he could do.’ “
Staff writer Mike Berardino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.