Turning around CMU: ‘We’re here to get a lot better’

NCAA Football

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Jim McElwain stood on the second floor of Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids awaiting questions from the media.

Wearing a welcoming smile, his excitement was visible as he said he couldn’t be more thrilled to be in West Michigan. He was set to address Central Michigan University alumni in the region for the first time.

No matter where he goes, the new head coach of Chippewas football has noticed one particular thing: the fans’ love for their school. They have welcomed with open arms the man appointed to turn around the CMU football program.

“The people in Mount Pleasant, the alums, around the state, there’s a real passion for the Chippewas,” McElwain said. “It’s something you feel.”

Since being hired Dec. 2, 2018, McElwain has had nothing but support from the school. CMU President Bob Davies, Athletic Director Michael Alford and others in the program have bought into everything he is about.

One of those traits includes living in a barn.

“It doesn’t get any better (than living in a barn),” McElwain said. “My mom a long time ago used to say, ‘You didn’t shut the door, do you live in a barn?’ Now, I actually live in one.”

It is just another part of what McElwain is presenting himself as: someone who is trying to have fun while making a difference for the players going for him.

CMU is coming off a 1-11 season, a school worst. The only win came against Maine, which isn’t a Football Bowl Subdivision team.

Alford fired former head coach John Bonamego after four years with the Chippewas. McElwain, who was with Michigan as a wide receivers coach in 2018, talked with Alford and felt it was a great fit for both parties.

McElwain is now challenged with turning around a football team that he claimed “isn’t happy” with the way last season ended. He even made a promise to Davies after being hired.

“I told the president I’d double the win total,” McElwain said, laughing. “Here’s the one thing, I know I don’t have a lot of patience with the record. Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve been able to go out and get some things done. That only happens if you have the support of the people behind you. I told the guys, we’re not here just to get a little bit better, we’re here to get a lot better.”

He plans on doing that not with just anybody, but rather with players who want to play for Central Michigan. McElwain is preaching to all of his incoming recruits the importance of playing for a team rather than themselves.

One player he pointed out as a leader is Kalil Pimpleton, a graduate of Muskegon High School who transferred from Virginia Tech following the 2017 season.

“I love to talk about that guy,” McElwain said. “He’s the guy you want to be with every single day. His energy, his personality, his smile. If I’m having a bad day, he’s a guy I’m calling into my office to make it better.”

McElwain will also be the first head coach to have his team run out on Kelly/Shorts Stadium with the brand new Chippewas Champion Center behind him. The facility cost $32 million. McElwain said it tripled the size of the locker room. CMU athletics spokesman Rob Wyman added that construction of the new video board began Wednesday.

McElwain said the stadium remodel mirrors the direction the program is heading.

“It’s something everybody that’s a Chippewa is going to be proud of,” McElwain said. “It’s something that when you move forward and see growth, it tells you the direction of a program.”

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