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Where Central Michigan's Jim McElwain stands in college coaching carousel


Head coach Jim McElwain and his players wait to take the field to face Wisconsin Sept. 7 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

Jim McElwain's name is out there.

That's because he's been successful in his first season as Central Michigan's head coach.

McElwain is currently 8-5 with a Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year honor, MAC championship appearance and spot in the New Mexico Bowl against San Diego State. His accomplishments followed a 1-11 record in 2018 under former coach John Bonamego.

An impressive turnaround in Mount Pleasant has caused people across the country to take notice.

While Memphis probably isn't in the mix for McElwain, the other remaining Division I Football Bowl Subdivision openings are at Boston College, Fresno State and New Mexico.

As Power Five jobs have been filled, the growing consensus is that McElwain will return to coach Central Michigan in the 2020 season, according to sources close to the program.

However, that's not to say a different opportunity that entices McElwain could open up in the head coaching carousel.

Remember PJ Fleck after the 2016 season?

The Western Michigan coach was set to return to Kalamazoo for the 2017 season before Tracy Claeys was fired at Minnesota on Jan. 6, thus opening the door for Fleck to step in.

Fleck signed a five-year, $18 million contract to join the Golden Gophers. 

He added a one-year extension on Nov. 21, 2017 that lengthened his contract through the 2022 season. The new deal gave him an annual salary beginning at $3.5 million per year that increases $50,000 each year.

A similar situation could occur for McElwain, but at this moment, he's likely locked in for Year 2 at the helm.

McElwain's name first appeared Dec. 4 in a report that he was an emerging candidate for the head coaching job at Missouri, where Barry Odom was fired Nov. 30 after four years.

Central Michigan's coach shot down the rumor that same day.

"I don’t have any idea where any of this is coming from," McElwain said. "It has nothing to do with that, but here’s the good thing: When people are putting things out there, that means your team is doing well.”

The Missouri job eventually went to Appalachian State's Eliah Drinkwitz.

During his weekly media availability Dec. 4, McElwain also said he hadn't thought about returning to the Power Five level. After a loss to Miami (Ohio), 26-21, in the conference title, McElwain committed to coaching in the bowl game for the Chippewas.

McElwain keeps a close circle. If there was a specific school he was interviewing with, only three or four people would know about it.

Central Michigan athletic director Michael Alford said following the regular season finale, a 49-7 win over Toledo, that he has a transparent relationship with McElwain.

"Coach and I have a great relationship and talk frequently about all types of situations," Alford said Nov. 29. "We have a great relationship."

But other programs have certainly shown interest, and McElwain's agents are doing their jobs.

Due to his team's performance at Central Michigan – a mirror image of McElwain's abilities as a coach – his name has appeared in consideration for other jobs.

That also makes sense with McElwain's background in the Mountain West Conference and SEC at Colorado State (2012-14) and Florida (2015-17), respectively, along with spending time as an assistant at Louisville (2000-02), Michigan State (2003-05), Fresno State (2007), Alabama (2008-11) and Michigan (2018).

New FBS coaches for the 2020 season include Greg Schiano (Rutgers), Jimmy Lake (Washington), Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss), Mike Norvell (Florida State), Sam Pittman (Arkansas), Drinkwitz (Missouri), Ricky Rahne (Old Dominion), Jeff Scott (USF), Marcus Arroyo (UNLV), Steve Addazio (Colorado State), Willie Taggart (FAU), Shawn Clark (Appalachian State) and Jeff Taylor (UTSA).

In McElwain's case, the 57-year-old won't be at Central Michigan forever.

As for now, the chatter throughout the head coaching carousel means the Chippewas are headed in the right direction.