No expectations: Central Michigan coaches discuss state of team as finale approaches
Jim McElwain, Charlie Frye and Robb Akey have a journey that is intertwined with one another, as each man has crossed paths with one or another for the better part of the last three decades.
As fate would have it, the three ended up at Central Michigan after the worst season in program history just a year ago when the Chippewas finished 1-11 and winless in Mid-American Conference play.
Just a year later, Central Michigan is within striking distance of winning the MAC West Division championship and earning a berth into the MAC Championship.
McElwain, the first-year head coach at the center of the Chippewas' turnaround, which includes the highest win differential in college football from the 2018 season. The team is currently 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the MAC.
"I'm disappointed in how we played in some ball games and we'll talk about that at the end of the season," McElwain said. "Yet, they've come a lot farther than a lot farther than many thought they would. I've said it a lot, I really like these guys.
"They've committed to a higher expectation of themselves. It's fun to be around a group like that."
With all three coming in this season, back in January, none of them had expectations for the team for the 2019 season. Mainly because they did not know the players that they were involving themselves with.
Yes, the coaches were able to see the guys' abilities on the field and learn tendencies. Off the field, however, the coaches felt like they needed to win the trust of the players by first giving their trust as coaches to the players.
"We didn't know what to expect, and that's one of the things I think is pretty cool for this team and coaching staff, we're here together," Akey said. "We chose them they didn't necessarily choose us, but we all got started together. But there was no history, I didn't get a chance to meet them until we got together for that first meeting."
On the defensive side of the ball, Central Michigan had a number of questions — especially in the secondary with the losses of Sean Murphy-Bunting and Xavier Crawford to the NFL Draft. The defensive line was a question, too, with key losses throughout.
Akey, the defensive coordinator, said that he has been impressed by watching the progression of his defense week after week.
"I like the fact that we're doing a lot of things that people said we couldn't do, but we're not done yet," Akey said. "You can't really like where you're at until you're done with all of it. Are we making progress? Yes. I would like to see them be more consistent and that's what I told them after practice."
Central Michigan's offense last season was the second-worst in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision as it turned 255 yards per game.
Coming into the season, Frye was tasked with turning around what was a stagnant offensive unit just a season ago.
When Frye came in, he said that he did not have expectations for the team and he has seen teammates take accountability by checking one another and pushing the tempo.
"Expectations can create barriers," Frye said. "I'm more, 'What's possible for this unit? What's possible for this team?' I'm more of empowering the guys."
Before the Chippewas' regular season finale against Toledo at noon Nov. 29 in Kelly/Shorts Stadium, the team ranks 33rd in terms of yards per game (446.3) in one of the biggest statistical turns in the FBS, as well.
Frye said all of the credit belongs to the players on the field who go out and take care of business when called upon.
"It's not about the plays," Frye said. "It's about the players going out and executing and do what they're supposed to do. That's what the game is about."