Chesney fit the profile of what athletic director Jeff Bourne sought in the search -- a proven winner with head-coaching experience.
"We were methodical and intentional in casting a wide net to identify the next head coach of James Madison football, and I confidently believe that we found the total package in Bob Chesney," Bourne said in a statement. "Ideally, we wanted a proven head coach with a track record of winning football games, both with frequency and against tough competition."
Chesney emerged in recent seasons as one of the top FCS coaches in the country, leading Holy Cross to four FCS playoff bids in his six seasons there as head coach. That included four consecutive outright Patriot League championships from 2019 to 2022, and he has also won the Patriot League Coach of the Year award three times.
Chesney has won big at every stop of his coaching career, as he won more than 70% of his games as the head coach at both Division III Salve Regina (2010-12) and Division II Assumption College (2013-17), two smaller schools in New England.
Chesney led Holy Cross to the program's first-ever FCS playoff win in 2021 and led Holy Cross to win over UConn, the program's first win over an FBS school since 2002.
In 2022, Holy Cross went 11-0 in the regular season, the program's first undefeated regular season since 1991. They advanced to the FCS quarterfinals before losing to South Dakota State, the eventual champion. Holy Cross also beat FBS school Buffalo in 2022.
James Madison followed the hiring blueprint that brought them Curt Cignetti, who left the school for Indiana after an 11-1 season in 2023. Cignetti had been a successful coach at both Elon and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Cignetti led James Madison to anomalous success for a program transitioning to FBS, as the team's only loss this year came in overtime to Appalachian State on Nov. 18.
Chesney will take over a program with great expectations, as the Dukes won a pair of FCS national titles in 2004 and 2016. They proved immediately competitive in the Sun Belt this year, winning the East Division with a 7-1 career record.
"My family and I are excited for this opportunity to join the James Madison family and to lead this football program," Chesney said in a statement. "I've watched the JMU football program rise to one of the top in the FCS before then transitioning to the FBS level in truly unprecedented fashion. This program has such rich tradition, and the culture of the program expectations are firmly planted. I understand the responsibility that comes with leading the James Madison football program and am ready to hit the ground running to take it to even greater heights."