'Proven winner' Jim McElwain takes Central Michigan job

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Jim McElwain

Central Michigan didn't look far for its new head football coach.

Former Florida head coach Jim McElwain is leaving Michigan after one season as wide receivers coach and is heading to Mount Pleasant.

The university made the hiring official Sunday afternoon. There will be a press conference on campus at 11 a.m. Monday.

McElwain was at Michigan for one season after three seasons as head coach at Florida, where he went 22-12. Prior to that, he posted a 22-16 record as Colorado State’s head coach for three seasons.

"Coach McElwain recruits outstanding student-athletes and gets the best out of them. He motivates his players and holds them accountable," athletic director Michael Alford said in a statement. "He expects them to practice hard, win, go to class, graduate and be strong members of our community.
"I've seen firsthand that Coach Mac is a proven winner."

McElwain, who had a one-year contract at Michigan that paid him $300,000, replaces John Bonamego, who was fired after a 1-11 season. Bonamego was working under a five-year contract that paid him nearly $700,000 a year.

Bonamego had a 22-29 record in four seasons at CMU before he was fired following the regular-season finale at Toledo on Nov. 23. Barely a week later, Alford found his replacement.

McElwain, 56, has a long background in offense, which Alford identified as a big priority as he went searching for his first big hire since becoming AD in the summer of 2017. Central Michigan's offense was awful in 2018, nearly last in the Football Bowl Subdivision, as it struggled to find any consistency at quarterback. The Chippewas finished 128th out of 129 teams total offense.

McElwain has been an offensive coordinator at three stops, including Alabama, Fresno State and Montana State, and also has coached quarterbacks at multiple stops, including in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. He also coached receivers and special teams at Michigan State from 2003-05, and has coached at Eastern Washington and Louisville in a career that dates to 1985.

"My wife and I relish the opportunity to come to a place with such great tradition and pride," McElwain said in a statement. "It was that rich tradition that really drew us to CMU, with legendary coaches like Roy Kramer and Herb Deromedi and championship teams. We want to continue that tradition and build on it."

His Florida head-coaching career came to an end in somewhat controversial fashion, following October 2017 comments he made about his family receiving death threats after the Gators started the season 3-3. According to ESPN, he offered no further details to school officials, who then started considering firing him for cause. McElwain was fired the following week after a 42-7 loss to Georgia, and received a $7.5-million buyout.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh hired him in March, and on Sunday called him a "great fit" for Central Michigan.

As a head coach, he is 44-28, and is a two-time conference coach of the year, in the Mountain West in 2014 and the SEC in 2015. He led Florida to SEC East titles in his first two seasons. He's the second Michigan assistant to make the jump to head coach under Harbaugh, joining recently fired Maryland coach D.J. Durkin. Pep Hamilton, the passing-game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Michigan, is reportedly under consideration to become Maryland's new coach.

Alford wasn't expect to look far for his new coach, though many suspected he'd look to the west, at Ferris State coach Tony Annese, another offensive guru who has the Bulldogs in the Division II semifinals. It's not clear if Annese and Alford spoke.

But Alford and McElwain have a history, having crossed paths at Alabama in 2008, when McElwain was the offensive coordinator and Alford was involved in marketing. McElwain was on Nick Saban's staff for two national championships at Alabama.
This is the second time in the last two decades that Central Michigan has turned to a member of Michigan's staff, having hired offensive coordinator Mike DeBord in 2000.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984