COLUMN: Heeke must hire Bonamego-like volleyball coach
It is not often an athletics department finds itself looking for two head coaches after two resignations in a year.
On Jan. 22, former Central Michigan football coach Dan Enos informed Director of Athletics Dave Heeke of his decision to accept the offensive coordinator position at Arkansas.
Now Heeke is tasked with replacing volleyball coach Erik Olson, whose resignation will be effective on Dec. 31 after being on paid leave since Oct. 6.
It is an unusual scenario for Heeke, but if his eventual volleyball hire is anything like his football hire, then CMU should be in good shape.
After searching the coaching ranks and undergoing interviews to find Enos’ replacement, Heeke hired John Bonamego, who was applying for the job for a third time.
Bonamego bounced around the NFL as a special teams coordinator, most recently with the Detroit Lions, and his only head coaching experience was as the junior varsity coach at Mount Pleasant High School in 1987.
It was an unexpected and surprising hire. It offered much skepticism from Chippewa fans. Then, “Bono” made his presence known, and quickly.
He went into the student section and cheered at basketball games. He said he wanted Kelly/Shorts Stadium to have the loudest, most raucous fans and be the “Death Valley of the (Mid-American Conference).” He organized question and answer sessions while buying Little Caesars Pizza for students and faculty.
On the field, he guided an expected fifth-place football team in the MAC West into co-division champions. And he also defeated tonsil cancer and showed resiliency in the process.
Heeke must find a coach who fits the qualities of Bonamego for his volleyball team.
The volleyball team, despite its talent, has underachieved. It has missed the MAC Tournament for three consecutive seasons. There are 12 teams in the MAC and the Chippewas have finished in the bottom four three years in a row.
McGuirk Arena has been anything but a “death valley.” The team’s home matches bring in some fans and parents but the student section continuously lacks students.
When Olson faced investigation for allegedly engaging in “unprofessional behavior towards the athletes,” it further clouded the disarray surrounding the program, a program in adversity.
Heeke has a chance to change the culture and to hire someone who can overcome adversity.
But CMU does not necessarily have to travel far to find a good candidate. It didn’t with Bonamego.
The Chippewas should hire someone under the radar, whose personality will shine with fan engagement and results on the court.
Former Associate Head Coach Theresa Beeckman could have been a prime candidate, but it was announced that she would not be returning in 2016.
She calls herself “a player’s coach,” but a 5-7 record as Olson’s interim replacement, including 1-6 in the team’s final seven matches, may have contributed to Heeke going in a different direction.
Assistant Coach Adam Rollman arrived before last season and could be seeking the head coaching position. He currently oversees the team while Heeke searches for a replacement.
Bonamego had zero head coaching experience before he was hired. Rollman also has no experience. Someone familiar with CMU, like Bonamego, could be a perfect fit.
Heeke’s volleyball program has been marred by losing seasons and transfers (six since 2012), and a coach who was ultimately responsible for both of these things.
It could be better to get away from the past and bring in a new face to lead the program.
Whoever the next coach is will have talent to work with. He or she will have 2016 junior outside hitter Jordan Bueter, who was named All-MAC honorable mention this past season. Soon-to-be sophomore libero Jamison Wolffis will continue to improve and could be one of the best liberos in school history.
The new coach will have to replace two middle blockers, but soon-to-be junior Paige Carey had a breakout season. Setter Kathia Sanchez will return for her senior year after recording over 1,000 assists.
The next coach should be able to take a bottom-feeder and turn it into a contender, as Bonamego did. The next coach should bring an electric atmosphere to McGuirk Arena on weekend nights in the fall.
The next coach does not have to buy pizza for the fanbase. But he or she needs to restore the culture of the program and win quickly, just like Bonamego.
The pieces are there. Now CMU has to put the volleyball puzzle together.
Olson could not accomplish that. Maybe somebody like John Bonamego will.