Elliot Uzelac did impressive work as head football coach at Benton Harbor. He took over the program less than a week before football practice was to begin in August 2015, then guided the Tigers – who had lost 68 of 72 games the previous eight years – to their first winning season since 1989 and first state playoff appearance.
Uzelac, the former head coach at Western Michigan and former assistant at Michigan and Ohio State, took that job at age 74, saying he was bored of retirement. He then guided Benton Harbor to an unbeaten regular season the following year, then 5-5 in 2017 before stepping down in June 2018.
Uzelac is at it again, accepting the head coaching job at Berrien Springs, where the situation is much better than when he took over at Benton Harbor.
In fact, Berrien Springs has earned six straight state playoff appearances, including a district championship in Division 5 in 2016. Berrien Springs had its first unbeaten regular season in 15 years last fall before a 16-12 predistrict loss to Kalamazoo Hackett.
Berrien Springs has showcased some talented players and teams in the past, including tackle Phil Paea, a two-time Detroit News Dream Team member who went on to play at Michigan following the 2016 season.
“That Benton Harbor thing, that was probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Uzelac said Wednesday after meeting with the Berrien Springs players for the first time earlier in the day.
Uzelac said Berrien Springs is building a new football stadium with an adjacent practice field.
“Then, in a couple of months, they’re putting in a brand new fieldhouse and attached to it is a weight room, approximately 3,800 square feet,” said Uzelac, who lives in St. Joseph and will make the 20-minute commute to Berrien Springs each day.
Benton Harbor, by the way, wasn’t the first program that Uzelac dragged out of the basement. While at WMU, he guided the Broncos to a 7-4 record (6-3 MAC) in 1976, following a 1-10 record the previous season, earning the MAC Coach of the Year award.
Berrien Springs will open the 2020 season with a road game against, ironically, Benton Harbor.