JMU Mourns the Passing of Hall of Fame Football Coach Challace McMillin

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Challace McMillin with Charles Haley and former Pulaski County Cougar Gary Clark.

HARRISONBURG, Va. – Challace McMillin, the first head coach in the history of James Madison football, an ardent supporter of a well-rounded experience for student-athletes and a fixture of JMU Athletics for nearly 50 years passed away suddenly on Sunday at the age of 77.

McMillin, who launched the JMU football program from the ground up in 1972, led the Dukes for 13 years (1972-84) and was inducted into the JMU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1994. Following his tenure as head coach, McMillin continued to serve the department as a sport psychologist and was a JMU professor. He remained a regular visitor to campus, JMU Athletics and the football team until the time of his passing.

“JMU Athletics would not be what it is today without Challace McMillin,” JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne said. “He started our football program from scratch, recruiting young men from the campus class registration lines. He built the program quickly, coaching young men to success on the field, leading them to various individual achievements and professional opportunities and caring for JMU student-athletes outside of competition with attention to their academic and mental health. He always had a smile on his face and a positive attitude and made life better for everyone he came across. He will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

In his 13 years at the helm, McMillin oversaw the program from day one and built it up once again when the university began awarding scholarships. In 1975, in just the fourth year of existence, McMillin guided JMU to its only unbeaten season, as the Dukes finished 9-0-1 and won their first conference championship. The following year, he led JMU to a No. 1 ranking in the first Division III poll.

McMillin completed his JMU career with a 67-60-2 overall record and was three times named the state’s top football coach, earning Richmond Touchdown Club Coach of the Year in 1975, 1978 and 1982.

He coached numerous distinguished players to the National Football League, including Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Haley, Gary Clark and Scott Norwood. The Gilt Edge, Tenn., native additionally led track and field and cross country programs and was a member of the JMU kinesiology department. JMU football’s Special Teams MVP award is also named after McMillin.