After 1-11 season, CMU fires coach John Bonamego
Central Michigan football capped the worst season in the program's history with an ugly performance against Toledo on Friday, in a game featuring one big brawl and another minor skirmish as the frustrations of a long, brutal season boiled over.
Then, just hours after the Glass Bowl — a 51-13 whipping in Toledo — coach John Bonamego was told he was being fired.
Bonamego had just concluded his fourth season. The first three, he took the team to bowl games. The fourth, though, was a disaster.
"That's not for me to decide," Bonamego told reporters afterward, including CM LIfe's Evan Petzold. "I'm not a quitter. I've never quit. I'd like to have an opportunity to finish what I started. We've got a lot of young players on this football team, but clearly, this season was not good enough.
"I would tell you that there isn't a person on the planet that's more disappointed than I am, and you know, our staff and our players.
"But again, that's not for me to decide."
It was for athletic director Michael Alford to decide, and Alford let Bonamego go shortly before 9 p.m.
"Making a leadership change is a difficult decision, especially when you know that coach has given his all to CMU," Alford said in a statement. "After conducting a 360-degree evaluation of the program, it was clear that a change is needed if we are going to compete for and win championships.
"We greatly appreciate all that John has done for his alma mater and wish him the best moving forward."
In a letter Friday night from Alford to members of the football team, Alford said there would be a meeting Monday morning to discuss the future of the program.
Central Michigan finished the season 1-11, the most losses in program history and the fewest wins. The program also had one win in 1935, on a seven-game schedule; it also had one-win seasons in the late 1800s and early 1900s, most of those on a three-game schedule.
Since the program became Division I in 1975, it had two-win seasons twice (1997, 2000) and three-win seasons four times (2001, 2003, 2010, 2011). The Chippewas finished Mid-American Conference play this season at 0-8.
Bonamego, 55, a Paw Paw, Mich., native and former Central Michigan football player, was named head coach in 2015, after a two-year stint as the Lions special-teams coordinator. This was his first head-coaching job, at any level, in a career that spans high school, college and the pros — and dates to 1987.
After a late-in-the-game resignation by Dan Enos in January 2015 — he left to join the staff at Arkansas as offensive coordinator — Bonamego was hired one month later by then-athletic director Dave Heeke. Before he even coached a game, Bonamego was diagnosed with tonsil cancer, which he has since beaten.
He was 7-6 in his first year, 6-7 in the second and 8-5 last season. He took his teams to the Quick Lane, Miami Beach and Famous Idaho Potato bowls.
After veteran quarterback Shane Morris graduated following last season, the Chippewas never found stability at the position this season. The Chippewas turned to their fourth quarterback of the season Friday, freshman George Pearson; on his first collegiate pass, he threw a pick-six.
Central Michigan is 128th out of 129 FBS teams in total offense, hampering a Chippewas defense that actually was quite stout.
"There are positives. It's hard to see them right now; you have to really look to see them and you have to want to see them, frankly," Bonamego said Friday. "We're 1-11. A lot of these games were very winnable; this one wasn't. We got run out of the stadium today. But there's three, four, five games this season that we were in and we absolutely could've won and should've won."
Seven of Central Michigan's losses were by 11 points or fewer, but it also lost to rivals Eastern Michigan (17-7) and Western Michigan (35-10). The Chippewas' only victory was over Maine, an FCS team.
Eastern Michigan picked up its seventh win Friday in a 28-20 victory over Kent State, and Western Michigan got its seventh earlier in the week, 28-21 over Mid-American Conference West Division champion Northern Illinois.
That means for the first time the Eagles and Broncos both will be going to a bowl in a season in which the Chippewas are left at home.
Bonamego earlier Friday in Toledo was asked if he's thought of leaving his job.
"No. Asking me right now, no," said Bonamego, who just signed an extension last December that was to run through 2022, and was to pay him just less than $700,000 a year, before an annual $50,000 retention bonus. "Again, I've never quit anything in my life, but quitting and being asked to leave are two different things.
"I don't know if I'm in the right mind frame to answer that question, or if it's fair to answer that at this point in time."
Cory Hall, Central Michigan's defensive backs and defensive recruiting coordinator, will take over leadership duties in the interim, Central Michigan announced.