A lot of residents in Mt. Pleasant, myself included, were surprised, shocked and even angered at former Central Michigan Chippewas head coach Dan Enos' departure after the Bahamas Bowl with National Signing Day coming up. It was an abrupt end to a shaky tenure at the helm of Central Michigan football, to say the least.
Enos was hired to succeed Butch Jones, who brought the program to prominence, and was touted for his offensive acumen and recruiting prowess, but delivered a 26-36 record in his five years, and couldn't reel in any big recruits.
There was a lot of controversy towards the end of his reign, including the arrest of Rawls hours before the nationally-televised Syracuse game, and arguments with media towards the end of the season, culminations of similar behaviors that had occurred in his five years, most notably with the dismissals of Andrew Flory and Austin White in consecutive seasons for felonies.
In Enos' place comes a pure tabula rasa for the Chippewas. John Bonamego is a purebred Chippewa, having played quarterback and receiver in his university days. As a matter of fact, he had previously stated his dream job was to someday coach the Chips. Boy, did he go after it. Coming out of undergrad, Bonamego applied to every FBS school available as a GA... well, except for the Western Michigan Broncos and Eastern Michigan Eagles. Bonamego, the former special teams coach for the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints has applied for the position every time it has become available since he started his coaching career in the early 90's.
There are certainly expectations for Coach Bono as he starts his turn manning the East sideline of Kelly/Shorts Stadium. But in order for Coach Bono to win over the Chippewa faithful, he's going to have to make a few changes.
1. Stoke Passion
Under Enos, the team took on a personality of professionalism bordering under arrogance. CMU became the New England Patriots without the results; vanilla and secretive, but unable to produce and constantly received bad media. You should never be in control of a program where it feels like there's always a 50/50 chance of a player getting suspended/arrested/dismissed or there be the result of an ugly loss on Saturdays.
The Chips always performed, but there were times where they looked relieved to be off the field, rather than being anxious to get back on. What fun is it to watch a team that doesn't want to be on the field?
This isn't to say any Chippewa hates playing football. There are exigent reasons behind that statement, to be explained later. But Coach Bono's first step for success is top get the players involved and excited to play the Chippewa Brand of football. Being an alum of the program himself, this should be easy to do. A loose locker room with the right leadership should inspire an excitement for the game that hasn't been seen in Mt. Pleasant in awhile.
2. Involve the community
The Chippewa faithful have been tested the last five seasons under the supervision of Dan Enos. There were a lot of promises that were never quite met, and that meant a lack of involvement from the community. While the football team steadily improved on the field under Enos' direction, two 3-9 seasons after the dizzying run of success under Butch Jones and Brian Kelley did two things: doom coach Enos to excessively demanding expectations for a first-time head coach, and turn the crowd against the team when they stagnated later in his tenure. "FIRE ENOS" chants and signs were extremely popular, and student sections were often empty or half-full by the third quarter of most home meets, win-or-loss.
Coach Enos certainly didn't help his team's on-the-field woes with his off-the-field behaviors. Coach Enos rarely, if ever, engaged with the public and was at times combative with local media, including some of our own guys here at the Belt. That combativeness hasn't stopped since arriving in Arkansas; Enos has blocked various reporters that covered CMU football in Mt. Pleasant, myself included.
Coach Bono already has done a wonderful job with reaching out to the community, as he has inserted himself into the student section at basketball games, taught crowds the traditions, and participated in multiple university activities, including "scouting" the student combine I participated in. Coach Bono has been active in the Mid-Michigan area, as well as the state of Michigan, as he has toured the state meeting with alumni and recruits, and done charity work with the Mt. Pleasant Area Schools and Special Olympics of Mid-Michigan.
3. Hit the recruiting trail hard
Now we get into the areas that will be interesting to watch. Coach Bono's last experience with scouting and recruitingwas at Army in 1998. Obviously, Army is a special situation, as they have to recruit around the nation in order to find recruits that are both willing to play football and be an Army officer.
Dan Enos was hired as a recruiting whiz, but failed to strike on most of the prospects he did bring in. A lot of the successful players were leftovers from the Butch Jones regime, including Titus Davis, Jahleel Addae, and Zurlon Tipton.
Coach Bono will have his work cut out for him, as he must outwit master recruiter PJ Fleck of rival Western Michigan for the key in-state recruits that will build the program back into prominence. If Coach Bono cannot recruit well, he will quickly find himself in the same position as Coach Enos, former Chippewa or not. The 2016 recruiting period has already gone pretty well for Coach Bono thus far, as he just wrangled up a 3* defensive end that will try and do some recruiting for him.
4. Make Chippewa football exciting
Dan Enos ran a pro-style offense at CMU, and it was sort of bland to watch, in honesty. It was very reliant on the playmakers on offense, and on defense, the 4-2-5, while creating interesting looks and the occasional big play, gave up a lot of yards.
At the spring game, the Chips looked to be running an up-tempo offense, closer to what Jones and Kelly ran in their years in Mt,. Pleasant, and it seemed to work very well, as Cooper Rush threw for over 100+ yards and 3 TDs. Bonamego also seems to be trying to address problems in the run game by returning to a more traditional 4-3 defense, which should benefit the development of the offensive line, while allowing playmakers that were previously limited in the old defense an opportunity at extra snaps.
Bonamego will definitely let the team be loose and aggressive, and that could be just what the crowd needs to get involved in the team again. I've certainly read enough "We should run an up-tempo offense like in the glory Days!" Facebook posts to fill a copy of Crime and Punishment to be fully confident in that statement.
This one is pretty damn simple. Fans will be accepting of a rough first year, as Dan Enos left the Chippewas in a bad position with his sudden departure. However, the more success that Coach Bono has on the field, the easier it will be for the fans and team to get behind him, and that will certainly make life easier for the seasons ahead.
I, for one, am looking forward to the potential effect that a man fulfilling his lifelong dream will have on driving the team forward as a unit. If everything goes right, it should be a Beautiful Day for Coach Bono and his guys in Maroon and Gold.