Ex-Bo assistant Elliot Uzelac coaching again at 74

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Elliot Uzelac most recently coached at St. Joseph High from 2006-2010.

St. Joseph, Mich. -- One by one, people came up to Elliot Uzelac while he was working out Thursday morning at the South Shores Health and Racquet Club to congratulate him on being hired recently as head football coach at Benton Harbor High School.

Uzelac is back, coaching the sport he loves, at age 74.

"People think I'm crazy for doing this, but I'm hungry and I've never backed away from a challenge," said Uzelac, who accepted the job Wednesday, then met with the players that night. "I love coaching football, the competitiveness and working with kids. We're here to change the culture."

Uzelac, the former head coach at Western Michigan (1975-81) and Navy (1987-89), and assistant coach at Michigan (1982-86) under Bo Schembechler, last coached from 2006-2010 at nearby St. Joseph, guiding the Bears to a 45-13 record, including consecutive 9-0 records in 2007-08, taking over an 0-9 program the year before he arrived.

The challenge will be even tougher for Uzelac at Benton Harbor, which is coming off of consecutive 0-9 seasons and four straight 1-8 seasons before that. Benton Harbor's last winning season was in 1989.

"I met the kids and last night and they were excellent," said Uzelac, who grew up in Gary, Indiana, and started his coaching career as a grad assistant at Bowling Green 50 years ago. "We 're going to work hard to make sure the kids improve on the field and in the classroom. We're going to have four tutors available to the kids four nights a week all year before practice. We want them to be successful in everything they do."

Uzelac has most of his staff in place, including former Michigan offensive lineman Jerry Diorio as his defensive coordinator. Devonte Jones, Matt Mattox, Lyle Hayden and Kenny Jackson are assistant coaches.

Uzelac is thrilled that Jim Harbaugh is back at Michigan. He was offensive line coach when Harbaugh played for the Wolverines.

"Jimmy will do great at Michigan," Uzelac said. "He was a great player and fierce competitor. Michigan needs physical toughness and mental discipline, and Jimmy will make sure they get it."