By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – There’s no doubt about how John Bonamego feels about his new job as the Central Michigan football coach.
“I cannot put into words how humble, grateful, and proud I am to be the head coach at Central Michigan University,” said Bonamego, a former CMU player, who was introduced to Chippewa supporters during a press conference Monday in the Anson Family Atrium in the Student Events Center. “For me this is not, never will be, and never has been, a job. For me this is the job.
“This is a place that, when I left a long time ago, it never left me. It has been a part of who I am, a part of everything I’ve done and I’ve passed it on with every player that I have ever touched. I’m very proud to be here and to call myself your football coach.
“I plan to win, win now, and to be here a very, very, very, very, very long time.”
Bonamego is a prime example of a combination of education, collegiate athletics, hard work and the pursuit of a dream, and his introduction to the CMU faithful and the media was at turns comical, sentimental and inspirational. At times, it was all three simultaneously, the story of a hardnosed yet personable 5-foot-10, 180-pound walk-on who earned two varsity letters striking a cord.
“Coach (Herb) Deromedi,” Bonamego said in a nod to the legendary CMU coach for whom Bonamego played in the mid-1980s, “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him, the influence that he has had on me, not only as a student-athlete, but on all of us who played for him.
“He has been a great mentor to me throughout my coaching career. I haven’t made a single move in this profession without consulting coach Deromedi. If I can do half as good of a job as he did while he was here I would consider myself successful.”
Bonamego, who earned his degree in health fitness from CMU in 1987 and was the school’s commencement speaker in 2009, has 27 years of college and professional experience, highlighted by 16 years in the NFL as an assistant, primarily as a special teams coordinator. Most recently, he spent two years with the Detroit Lions.
He left out nobody in his appeal to drum up support for the program.
“Our students, faculty, and staff, gosh it’s just great to be home,” he said. “I can’t wait to connect with our students, faculty members. I want you to feel like you are a part of this program as well, because, again, you are. Students, this is the first time I’m going to ask you and it won’t be the last, we’ve got to get you out of the dorms, out of the apartments, we’ve got to get you out of the parking lots and we need you in the stands on game day.”
Bonamego succeeds Dan Enos, who left on Jan. 22 to become the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. Despite the fact that Enos left less than two weeks before National Signing Day, the Chippewas signed nearly every player from whom they had received a verbal commitment.
That, Bonamego said, was a testament to the assistant coaches who remained after Enos’ departure.
“I think that there is a really strong foundation here, this program is in good shape, it’s in a position where we really to expect to win, and win now,” he said. “So again, thank you to that staff for doing that.”
As it typically the case with introductory press conferences, the question-and-answer session covered a wide range of topics, including:
• Bonamego’s move from an NFL coordinator to college head coach, and the fact that his only head-coaching post was in 1987, when he led the Mount Pleasant High School junior varsity team.
“Typically when you’re good at something you stay there,” Bonamego said. “The thing about special teams is that it never gets boring. There isn’t one thing that we do in the area of the kicking game that doesn’t translate directly to offense or defense.
“Other than coach (Brian) Kelly, I don’t think that any of the coaches we’ve had here have had previous (head) coaching positions at the college level. I know Butch (Jones) wasn’t, Dan (Enos) wasn’t, I know coach Deromedi was a very successful high school coach when coach (Roy) Kramer hired him here.
“Everybody’s got to have a first some time, when they start spitting them out already as head coaches than I guess I won’t have a chance.”
“It’s important,” Associate Vice President/Athletics Director Dave Heeke said, “to understand what it takes to be a head coach, and the skill set it takes to be a head coach. Head coaching is about leadership, it’s about organization and the ability to move people in the direction and that’s what you’re trying to do is identify people that have those skill sets and have those characteristics.
“There is a lot that is made with titles and positions and what you’ve done so to speak on paper but it’s about what you’re made of and the skill set that could make you head coach, the skill set that can make you be that leader and to move a program forward. There is no question that from what I have evaluated that that’s what John has with his multitude of experiences.”
“I plan to start and finish my head-coaching career at Central Michigan,” Bonamego said to applause.
• Bonamego on his offensive and defensive philosophies.
“We are going to build everything up from the fundamental level,” he said. “I am a firm believer that we want to be multiple, we want to be aggressive, we want to be fast-paced on offense. We want to give people different looks, we want to be able to work different speeds, whatever is conducive to the situation.
“We really want to be up-tempo. We need to score points, particularly in our conference. I believe in doing less better. It’s not about how many plays you have in your playbook, or how many plays you take into your game plan on any given day, or how many defensive blitzes you have or the coverage you play. It’s about the players, understanding where they fit in the defense and the offense and being able to execute on game day.”
• Bonemego on his love for CMU and its traditions.
“I love Central,” he said, “it’s part of me, it’s part of my history. As a kid growing up I was an Army brat. We moved everywhere. We lived down south, we lived in Georgia, we lived in Texas, we lived in Kansas, we lived in Michigan, we lived overseas in Africa, Italy, Germany.
“I’ve probably spent more time on this campus than any one place in my life. I had experiences on campus both as a player and as a student with faculty -- they were some of the best times of my life. … I grew up here. I went from being a young boy or a young man to leaving here a man with a clear vision, a clear goal, a clear destination, a career path that would lead me back here and I wouldn’t want to pass that up. I want every player here to have the same experiences that I had. I want our former players to be able to connect with our program and feel like they can always and will always be a part of this team.”
• Bonamego on what he would say to CMU’s rivals, particularly Western Michigan.
“See you on the field,” he said. “I’m a big believer in deeds not words. I think that when you win you say a little, when you lose you say less. As coach (Bill) Parcells used to say all the time, ‘This is a show-me game, it’s a show-me sport.’”
And John Bonamego showed plenty – all to the good -- in his first official act as CMU’s football coach on Monday.