Central Michigan finds success in 2019 season, still has room for improvement
Jim McElwain looked down at the microphone he was speaking into, cleared his throat and looked back up.
His Central Michigan football team had just been beaten by San Diego State, 48-11, in the New Mexico Bowl at Dreamstyle Stadium.
McElwain guided the Chippewas to an 8-6 record overall, a 6-2 mark in Mid-American Conference play, a MAC West Division title, an appearance in the MAC title game and a spot in Saturday's bowl game.
Following the 37-point defeat, McElwain said the 2019 season was absolutely a success in several ways for the program.
"Why wouldn't it be a success?" McElwain asked reporters after the bowl game. "We went to the MAC championship game when we were picked dead last with a bunch of guys nobody believed in."
Of course, the biggest turnaround in the country by winning seven more games than they did a year ago, the Chippewas found a lot of success in the 2019 season.
McElwain the program has made great strides since his hiring over a year ago, and he said those strides can continue when the team gathers again for a team meeting on January 12.
"We've got the parts, we've got parts coming in," McElwain said. "I'm excited about it."
Looking back at the beginning of the season, McElwain and company set a few goals.
At the end of the season, the team hit a number of those goals. One of those was to go undefeated at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
Win the division and advance to the conference title game.
Advance to a bowl game.
The list goes further for the Chippewas in terms of the goals they hit and the positives they can take away from the season.
Any team is that is turning itself around like Central Michigan is, there are bound to be setbacks and failures.
Sophomore defensive end Troy Hairston said failure and success coexist. But how those handle failures is what makes them successful.
"We're going to fail," Hairston said. "It doesn't matter that it happens, it matters how you respond to it. It's all about getting better. No matter how successful you were this season, it should never be enough. It isn't enough, we're going to keep pushing forward next year."
Sophomore running back Kobe Lewis reached a personal goal to hit the 1,000-yard plateau on the ground. He made it happen with a 66-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against the Aztecs.
Lewis said it's important for the team to continue to strive for continued success and attempt to hit loftier goals.
"No matter how successful our season was, there's always room for improvement," Lewis said. "We want to better. It could be a goal for us to get ranked next year, so it's always about improving."
Looking back at the season, McElwain said he was proud of his players for growing as much as they did from the beginning of the season to the end of it.
He said much of the team's growth came from each individual taking accountability of himself and holding his teammates accountable.
"We made it a long, long way believe me," McElwain said. "I think more than anything it was empowering our players to make choices."
The Chippewas will be able to take a breather and some time off before spring ball begins.
CMU played 10 games to open the 2019 campaign, which was the longest stretch in the country. After the 10 games, the team had two bye weeks in between two games to help decide the conference division.
Then, the Chippewas played in the conference title game in Detroit before having two weeks off and playing in the bowl game – essentially another bye week.
Going into his senior season, Hairston is slated to be one of the top guys leading the way on the defensive front. He said he is already excited to jump back into the swing of playing the game he loves.
"I'm looking to play football," Hairston said. "I don't care who it is, who our opponent is, I'm going to do what I can to play football. We've been through a lot as a team and we believe in who is leading us."