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Petzold: Jim McElwain deserves to win MAC Coach of the Year. Here's why


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Head coach Jim McElwain attends the Mid-American Conference's media day July 23 at Ford Field.

Jim McElwain is no stranger to awards.

He earned Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year in 2014 with Colorado State, and he later added SEC Coach of the Year to his resume in 2015 while at Florida.

Why not make it three Coach of the Year awards in the last six years?

The first-year Central Michigan coach deserved his Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year honors. He was awarded Wednesday, Dec. 4 as MAC Coach of the Year. 

McElwain inherited a dysfunctional program from former coach John Bonamego, who was fired Nov. 29 just hours after the conclusion of his team's 1-11 season in 2018.

The only recruits that McElwain brought in were quarterbacks Quinten Dormady (graduate transfer), David Moore (NJCAA), Daniel Richardson (true freshman) and a few others from the transfer portal.

Besides that, he's been forced to work with what he was given. 

McElwain made it clear that the players deserve the credit for the success due to ridding themselves of selfishness and coming together as a team.

"It's nothing I did," McElwain said. "I've got no magic formula. They made a choice, and it's a personal decision for each one of us."

The Chippewas were 0-8 in the MAC last season, and Bonamego was fired even after posting an 8-5 record with a 6-2 mark in the conference just one year prior. 

McElwain has the Chippewas at 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the MAC with one game remaining in the regular season. Right now, Central Michigan is in the hunt for a MAC West Division title and opportunity to play in the MAC Championship game.

Plain and simple, that's why McElwain should be the MAC Coach of the Year recipient.

McElwain's offensive and defensive coordinator, Charlie Frye and Robb Akey, respectively, agree. Akey went as far as to say his coach "absolutely" deserves the award.

Frye: "He's the best. He makes it about the players. Everything that he does is player-centric. He knows it's about them and makes it about them. Everything we do is for the kids."

Akey: "We were supposed to be dead last. We came rolling in this door, and they said, 'Y'all are going to be last, last, last.' Didn't win a game in the conference last year, and look where we are at now. You look at these guys here, they look like seasoned veterans. You look at what our offense has done, and they were not in any category last year. They are leading them this year. The bottom line is wins and losses. We've got more, and they had less."

The case for McElwain

Since the Coach of the Year award began with Miami's Bo Schembechler in 1965, the coach that wins the award has had a winning record all but four times.

In 50 of the 54 seasons (93% of the time), the coach has had a winning record.

The only times that wasn't the case was Kent State's Glen Mason in 1986 (5-6 overall, 5-3 MAC) during his first season, Ohio's Jim Grobe in 1996 (6-6 overall, 5-3 MAC) during his second campaign, Buffalo's Turner Gill in 2007 (5-7 overall, 5-3 MAC) in his second year and Eastern Michigan's Ron English in 2011 (6-6, 4-4 MAC) during his third year at the helm.

Only one coach, English in 2011, has had a .500 or worse record in the conference.

Playing the odds and checking out McElwain's current 7-4 overall and 5-2 conference record, he's checked the most important box – a winning record.

Chippewa winners from the past

There has been three Coach of the Year winners from Central Michigan since the program joined the MAC in 1975.

Herb Deromedi was the first Chippewa coach to win the award in 1980 when his squad went 9-2 overall and 7-2 in the MAC.

Deromedi did it again in 1990 with an 8-3-1 overall and 7-1 conference mark. Toledo, however, finished the year with the same conference record but a 9-2 finish. In the head-to-head against the Rockets, Central Michigan pulled out a 13-12 victory.

Advantage Deromedi on that one.

It's worth noting the Chippewas got an extra game due to an appearance in the California Bowl against San Jose State that ended in a 48-24 loss.

In his first year as the head coach in 1994, Dick Flynn captured a 9-3 record, 8-1 mark in the MAC and the Coach of the Year honors. The second-best team was Bowling Green (9-2, 7-1 MAC).

Like the 1990 season, the Chippewas were the only school in the conference to make it to a bowl game. It was a 52-24 loss to UNLV in the Las Vegas Bowl.

That was then; this is now.

Turning around a program

There hasn't been a MAC Coach of the Year from Central Michigan in 29 years.

Of course, it would make sense to check that 2009 season when the Chippewas went 12-2 overall and 8-0 in the conference.

Shouldn't Butch Jones have been named Coach of the Year?

Without a doubt.

But that's not how it happened that season, as the award was given to Temple's Al Golden, who turned the program from a 5-7 team in 2008 to 9-4 and 7-1 in the conference in 2009 – his fourth year as the coach.

Golden getting the Coach of the Year honors in 2009 shows the value that's placed on turning a program around. For McElwain, it makes his case seem to be a no-brainer.

Again, Central Michigan went from a 1-11 team under Bonamego to 7-4 (currently) with McElwain at the helm.

Here's one final example, and it's a near-perfect relation to what McElwain has gone through in Mount Pleasant.

Western Michigan finished 1-11 overall and 1-7 in the MAC during the 2013 season in Fleck's first season. The following year, Fleck got the Broncos to 8-5 overall and 6-2 in the conference.

Of course, Fleck won Coach of the Year.

McElwain has done something pretty similar but in just his first year.

That's even more impressive than Fleck's accomplishment.

Central Michigan has one more game in the regular season. In a noon Nov. 29 game against Toledo at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, the Chippewas have a shot to finish the regular season at 8-4 and 6-2 in the MAC.

It also serves as McElwain's last opportunity to put a stamp on his resume for the Coach of the Year award.

If McElwain can help Central Michigan secure a victory over Toledo for the first time in nine years, there's no reason why he shouldn't be given the honor.

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