Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego has been relieved of his duties effective immediately, according to a Central Michigan University Athletics press release issued Friday night.
The move comes hours after the Chippewas suffered a 51-13 loss to the Toledo Rockets on the road to complete a program-worst 1-11 single-season record by winning percentage, including an 0-8 conference record and zero wins against FBS-level competion. CMU’s lone victory in 2018 was a 17-5 triumph over the Maine Black Bears.
The 2018 season is the first time CMU failed to attain bowl eligibility since 2011 and the first time the team missed a bowl since 2013.
“After conducting a 360-degree evaluation of the program, it was clear that a change is needed if we are going to compete for and win championships,” athletic director Michael Alford said in the press release. “We greatly appreciate all that John has done for his alma mater and wish him the best moving forward.”
Former Oregon State interim head coach Cory Hall, in his first season as CMU’s secondaries coach, will be given the interim head coach tag until an new candidate is hired.
Bonamego, in four full seasons as head coach, went 22-29 and led the Chippewas to three straight bowl appearances in what can largely be described as an unexpected tenure.
Bonamego took over a Central Michigan football program in turmoil after the sudden departure of head coach Dan Enos, who resigned without warning and accepted a position as offensive coordinator at Arkansas in January 2015, just two weeks before National Signing Day.
A former walk-on wide receiver and quarterback from Paw Paw, Michigan, Bonamego was coached by legendary CMU coach Herb Deromedi, who helped lead CMU to its only national championship in 1974.
In an emotional press conference, Bonmego described applying for the position every time it came open and describing the CMU job as his “dream job”. At the time of his hiring, “Coach Bono,” as he was affectionaltely called, was the first alum to be hired as football coach since Kenneth “Wild Bill” Kelly (1951-1966), for whom part of CMU’s home football stadium is named.
Bonamego’s coaching career started as a player-coach for one season in Parma, Italy, before returning to the home of his alma mater to be an assistant at Mt. Pleasant High School. Bonamego had tenures at Maine (1988-1991), Lehigh (1991-1995) and Army (1996-1998), acting as assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator at West Point during their only 10-win season win in program history prior to this year in 1996, a year which saw Army ranked in the Top 25.
From there, Bonamego would go on to make a name for himself in the professional ranks, totalling 16 years as a special teams coordinator for New Orleans (twice), Jacksonville (twice), Miami, Green Bay and Detroit. Bonamego is perhaps most famously known as the coach in charge of special teams when Steve Gleason blocked an Atlanta punt for a touchdown in the Saints’ first game at the Superdome post-Katrina.
The CMU post was Bonamego’s first time as a head coach, and there were questions of if he could hack it due to a lack of experience. It certainly did not help that Bonamego himself was facing personal issues, as he was diagnsoed with and sought treatment for tonsil cancer prior to spring camps in 2015. The program also suffered the loss of beloved cornerback Derrick Nash to leukemia just a week after Bonamego’s diagnosis.
Despite all the adversity and lacking a whole recruiting class, Bonamego and his squad surpassed all expectations and finished the 2015 season 7-5, including a 6-2 conference record to clinch bot a part of the MAC West division title and a bid to the Quick Lane Bowl.
2016 saw Bonamego’s squad record one of the biggest victories in program history, upsetting the then-#22 ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater thanks to the infamous Untimed Down. The 2016 Chippewas would finish 6-7 and advance to the Miami Beach Bowl.
2017 was perhaps Bonamego’s most successful year, as the Chippewas finished 8-5 with a 6-2 conference record and an appearance at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
2018, however, was a season of lows. After graduating well over half of their previous offensive production, the Chippewas struggled to get anything going on the offensive side of the ball, due both to injury and plain ineffectiveness, ranking a paltry 128th of 129 eligible programs in total offense. CMU rotated between four different quarterbacks during the season (Tony Poljan, Tommy Lazzaro, Austin Hergott and George Pearson) and had to deal with multiple injuries along the offensive line and to star running back Jonathan Ward, who totalled just 212 yards one year after a 1,000+ yard rushing campaign.
A national coaching search will take place starting immediately, with DHR International in charge of the evaluation process. The hiring process will be overlooked by first-year athletic director Michael Alford. Alford’s last stop prior to Central was at Oklahoma, where he served as associate athletic director under Joe Castiglione.
One of Alford’s first moves as athletic director was to extend Bonamego’s original contract through 2022. According to USA Today’s FBS coaching salary database, Bonamego is owed a $1,125,000 buyout as of December 1, 2018. His contract is ranked 100th amongst eligible coaches.
It is unknown at this time if Bonamego will be paid his expected buyout or if a reduced amount has been negotiated between both sides.