CMU's Bonamego happy to return to Detroit for bowl

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Allen Park — John Bonamego was back at the Lions practice facility Wednesday morning, just like old times when he was special teams coach of the NFL team a year ago.

But, a lot has happened since Bonamego last roamed the sidelines at the practice facility and Ford Field. He became head coach at Central Michigan last winter, then was diagnosed with cancer (left tonsil) in the spring, leading to him traveling for daily treatments — eight weeks of chemotherapy and seven of radiation — during the summer in Ann Arbor, finishing the process in August with camp underway.

Well, you could say Bonamego has been rewarded, not only for his toughness, but also for his coaching in guiding the Chippewas (7-5) to the Quick Lane Bowl, where they will face Minnesota (5-7) Dec. 28 at Ford Field.

The Chippewas will showcase junior Cooper Rush (3,703 yards, 25 TDs) who has a chance to become the sixth quarterback in MAC history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. Rush threw for 493 yards and seven TDs in a 49-48 Bahamas Bowl loss to Western Kentucky last year.

Bonamego listened to his former boss, Lions coach Jim Caldwell, talk during his news conference, then chatted with him briefly before the Quick Lane Bowl news conference got underway in the same room.

“I realized the last time and the only time I was in this room was when Jason Hanson announced his retirement,” joked Bonamego. “It’s great to be back in Detroit so thank you to the Lions organization and thank you to Quick Lane Automotive. We're very, very excited to be playing in Detroit.

“A little perspective, this past week we knew we were going bowling, we didn’t know where. There was about four different locations that were being tossed around on where we could end up. I started taking some informal polls with some of our senior football players. It’s no secret seventy-five percent of our roster is all Michigan kids. When you’re looking at warm weather locations and that sort of thing I was pleasantly surprised that a number of players on our roster had Detroit being first choice.

“It’s important to be able to play in front of friends and family and that’s one of the things our program is built on, is family. We’re tremendously excited to have this opportunity to play a quality opponent like the University of Minnesota, a Big Ten team. It’s one of the ways we try to measure ourselves and we want to measure ourselves against the very best.”

CMU will enter the bowl game with momentum, winning five of its final six games to earn a share of the MAC West Division championship.

The Chippewas were competitive from the start. They opened the season going toe-to-toe with nationally-ranked Oklahoma State, actually holding a 13-10 lead in the third quarter before falling, 24-13. They also forced Syracuse to go overtime in a 30-27 loss and played with national power Michigan State for the majority of the game, trailing 17-10 early in the fourth quarter of an eventual 30-10 loss.

And, the Chippewas made Bonamego’s MAC coaching debut a memorable one with a 29-19 win over perennial conference power Northern Illinois at Kelly/Shorts Stadium a week after the loss to the Spartans.

“We definitely have a ways to go still, overall we can’t look at it and say it’s not a success, but we're not going to settle for mediocrity ever,” Bonamego said.

Quick Lane Bowl

What: Central Michigan (7-5, tied 1st Mid-American Conference West Division) vs. Minnesota (5-7, tied 5th Big Ten West Division)

Kickoff: 5 p.m., December 28, Ford Field, Detroit

TV: ESPN2

Tickets: Available at quicklanebowl.com or by calling 877-212-8898 or going directly to the Ford Field ticket office. Tickets begin at $29.

Series: Minnesota leads 1-0

Line: Minnesota by 5.5