Athletic Director Michael Alford dishes out expectations for CMU football season

Athletic Director Michael Alford watches CMU face off against Toledo on Nov. 23 at the Glass Bowl Stadium.

All the boss wants is simple: Improvement. 

Central Michigan Athletic Director Michael Alford always claims that he wants student-athletes to leave the university with "rings and degrees."

Right now, the rings, referring to championship rings, might have to be put on hold.

After a tumultuous 2018 season, Alford said that his expectation for first-year coach Jim McElwain is to rejuvenate the program and set it on the right tracks. 

"As long as we see improvement in the weight room and practice, you'll see improvement week by week," Alford said at Mid-American Conference Football Media Day at Ford Field. "You're going to see an exciting brand of play, and you'll see smiles on the kids' face because they're having a good time."

McElwain, again well-documented, has been all over the country in terms of coaching. He has proved that he can put a struggling program back on the course it needs to be to achieve success. 

The year before he took over at Colorado State, the Rams went 3-9 in 2011 and lost their last eight games. 

When McElwain put the program in his hand in 2012, Colorado State went 4-8 but defeated arch-rival Colorado. The theme of improvement is evident in McElwain's coaching history. The 2013 season saw even more success, going 8-6 and defeating Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl. Finally, 2014 was arguably the best year of the McElwain era for the Rams, going 10-3 and finishing second in the Mountain West Conference Mountain Division to Boise State.

Then at Florida, McElwain took the Gators, who were still reeling from a rough era under Will Muschamp, from a mediocre team to a double-digit win program.

Florida went 10-4 that season and won the Southeastern Conference East Division, which helped earn McElwain SEC Coach of the Year honors. The 2016 campaign saw the Gators win the East again and finish 9-4.

Bottom line, teams that McElwain takes over improve steadily and do so rather quickly. Alford, who worked with McElwain while the two were at Alabama, said that McElwain builds programs around a positive culture, and that positivity usually translates to wins.

"He talks to the student-athletes and their families so they know the expectations from him," Alford said. "They know there's accountability on their end but they embrace that and they want that accountability." 

McElwain's approach to the positive culture has been trying to build excitement to start the season and keeping the energy throughout the season. Most, if not all, players would say that "Coach Mac" has brought new lifestyle to the program. 

During spring camp, the players were jumping at the bit to get the season started, even though it was four months away. McElwain said at MAC Media Day that the players are putting the past behind them.

"Our players are ready to get back and say, 'You know what, that was just a blip in the record,'" McElwain said. "It's going back to that history and success we've had, the guys are excited to get back out there and get after it." 

While Alford said he does not have any win-loss record that he expects from the team, he only wants two things.

Improvement, and McElwain delivering on a humorous promise.

"(McElwain) has joked and we joked that he'd double the win total from last year," Alford said with a smile and a chuckle. "So that's the expectation."