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Jim McElwain avoids definitive answer regarding future at Central Michigan


Jim McElwain claps his hands to encourage his team during CMU's 38-21 victory over Albany on Aug. 29 in Kelly/Shorts Stadium. 

When first-year Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain was hired in December 2018, the move took people by surprise.

A former Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year and SEC Coach of the Year coming to coach the Chippewas? That doesn't always happen.

Well, to be frank, it's never happened.

But having a coach around with that pedigree also raises questions.

How long will McElwain stay? Is this just a stepping stone? Will he jump at first sight of a higher paying job?

When asked if he would remain longer than a year, McElwain didn't give a definitive verbal answer.

"This is a great place," McElwain said on Nov. 13 before playing Ball State. "We've made some great friends and the people in the community, not only us but the whole staff. I can't tell you how proud I am of them and what they've really done to invest in us and our players. 

"In the community, it's fun to go to work when you have people like that."

Instead of giving a "yes" or "no" response, McElwain talked about his friends, coaching staff and the community in which he works.

McElwain was also asked about other coaching jobs that might open up around the country, and he was questioned if those would be appealing to him or if he's heard from any programs.

Again, he didn't give a definitive answer on his level of interest. However, said that he hasn't heard from anyone to this point in the 2019 season.

Just like with the question about staying longer than one season, McElwain spoke about the community, administration and coaching staff in response to potential offers to pull him away from Central Michigan.

"I'm very fortunate to be here," McElwain said. "The people have been really supportive – the town and, obviously, the administration. I think that's one of the things, people are doing their job in all aspects, but this has been great."

McElwain has turned Central Michigan's football program around in 2019. Following a 1-11 season without a Mid-American Conference win in 2018, the Chippewas are now 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the conference.

While the team doesn't control its destiny at the moment, there is still a chance to win the MAC West Division title and make a trip to Ford Field for the MAC Championship game.

The turnaround was unexpected and highly impressive, and it all relates to the leader – McElwain.

But McElwain wasn't quick to take all the credit, as he mentioned that his coaching staff and players have been the biggest contributors to the turnaround.

McElwain even made a comment about trying to retain the assistants on staff, something that could shed some light on if he'll return for the 2020 season or go elsewhere.

“It’s going to be a huge thing trying to retain great coaches and people in the organization," McElwain said on Nov. 18. "We’ve got a fantastic staff."

Signing a deal that's worth an approximate total of $3.4 million over five years with the Chippewas, McElwain will earn at least $640,900 in his first year as the football coach. 

McElwain's contract ends in 2023. He makes $400,000 per year as a base salary but automatically receives a $50,000 annual retention bonus and $190,000 of additional compensation per year, which grows each season he stays in Mount Pleasant. 

Going along with his $640,900 guaranteed pay, McElwain is given the chance to make $380,000 in bonus money – meaning he could have earned $1,020,900 total in 2019.

Obviously, that won't be the case.

To put the situation in perspective, McElwain was making $4,218,200 in the 2017 season at Florida with a $750,000 annual retention bonus. If McElwain would've stayed with the Gators for his entire seven-year contract, he would've accumulated a base amount of $29,249,059.

But that makes sense, especially since Power Five contracts are more lucrative than the roughly $640,000 per year that Central Michigan pays.

McElwain also earned $300,000 in the 2018 season as the wide receivers coach at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh. Then, he made the jump back to a head coaching position. 

To conclude his answer to the question regarding moving to a different university, McElwain offered up a joke about the unseasonable weather – snow in mid-November. 

"Winter might have come a little early," McElwain said. "Other than that, I think there were a whole bunch of places where winter came early."

If McElwain leaves Central Michigan before his contract is up, here is a breakdown of how much he would owe the university:

  • In 2019-20, McElwain owes CMU $1,200,000
  • In 2020-21, McElwain owes CMU $1,000,000
  • In 2021-22, McElwain owes CMU $800,000
  • In 2022-23, McElwain owes CMU $600,000
  • In 2023-24, McElwain owes CMU $400,000