Q&A: Bonamego speaks at MAC Media Day
CANTON, Ohio — A new quarterback, offensive coordinator and system are some of the changes in store for the Central Michigan football team as it enters its third year under head coach John Bonamego.
After a 6-7 2016 season, which ended with five losses in the last six games, the Chippewas approach 2017 with mixed expectations surrounding the program.
Central Michigan Life caught up with Bonamego on Wednesday during MAC Media Day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame to talk about the upcoming season.
CM LIFE: What are your expectations for the season?
BONAMEGO: I feel like our tradition in football sets the expectation for us. Our expectation is to compete for, and win, a MAC title. That won’t ever change. That’s what makes being a part of CMU football different than some other places. That’s what makes it a fun place to coach. It’s one of the things that attracts players to us. The bar is set high, it remains high, and it’s a big responsibility to live up to that standard.
What’s the biggest difference between this year’s team and your first two at CMU?
Teams are groups of people. You change a group by
one person and you change the dynamic of the group. I think that the messages
that they’re getting from myself, and the coaching staff, on a daily basis, take a while to sink in. Sometimes you got to learn some hard lessons. I
really want to believe that this group of seniors is going to be
special. I like the way they carry themselves. They do a great job of
communicating with themselves, the underclassmen and up the chain of command. When
you have a team of 100 players and a staff of 15 coaches, trainers and strength
coaches, not everyone is going to see what you’re doing all the time.
It’s how do you handle conflict. Winners bring it up the chain of command. Losing teams let it fester and it becomes cancerous.
Obviously, losing 55-10 to Tulsa in the Miami Beach Bowl was a tough end to the season. How does a team move past that and start a new season?
You have to start off (talking about) what happened.
When we came back from Winter Break, that was the first thing I challenged them
with. These are guys that are well led. They aren’t going to have a lot of
distractions. It’s on the players to manage themselves and be responsible. I’m
really excited about our senior leadership this year. They’re now going into
the third year in our system and our culture. I really feel like the culture is
changing and it’s starting to take root.
When you have leadership in your locker room, that’s really impactful because it comes from their peers. With those expectations, the players have set, and how they’ve really dug their heels in, that makes me really excited for the season.
How is the competition for starting quarterback developing? What is your perspective?
We’re in a great position. Tony
(Poljan) had an excellent spring. Having Shane (Morris) come in adds another
quality player at that position. I wish we had that same dynamic at every
position on both sides of the ball. Competition is great for the football
team. It breeds success.
The third guy, that nobody talks about, is Tommy Lazarro. Tommy had a good spring. Each of those kids all have a different skill set and all bring something a little unique and different. Whoever is in there will be able to cater to the offense and their strengths.
You play four of your first six games on the road. The Chippewas have only five home games. What’s your opinion of the schedule?
Some years it works in your advantage, some years it doesn’t. We would prefer to have six (home) games every year. This year it just didn’t work out. There’s nothing we like more than playing in front of our home crowd and for our student body. We’re going to need help from every able-bodied Chippewa fan within the state to get into the stadium this year.
What is (new Western Michigan coach) Tim Lester like? How important is it to turn the rivalry around and win this year?
I don’t know that the rivalry could be more heated. I think Tim coming into it as a new coach, having played at Western, has a much better understanding than someone who’s coming from a place who hasn’t been in it.
It is the biggest game of the year. There is no game more important on that schedule than Eastern and Western.
You were picked by the media to finish in fifth place in the MAC West Division. Do you think that is fair? Do you agree or disagree?
I’ll give you the same answer every year: I don’t really care. It could be first, but you got to play the games. They got the poll out, but I don’t see anyone going home with the trophy today.
That’s going to be given out at Ford Field in December. We hope to be there.