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CMU welcomes home John Bonamego as next football head coach

28th coach in Central's history, first alum to lead the Chippewas since 1951-66

Contact: Heather Smith

​Central Michigan University announced today that Detroit Lions special teams coordinator John Bonamego, who played at CMU during the mid 1980s, is the 28th football head coach in Central Michigan history. He is the first CMU alum to lead the football program since Bill Kelly in 1951-66.

Bonamego met with the team this afternoon. He will be introduced to the campus and community Monday at 2:30 p.m. during a press conference in the atrium of the CMU Events Center.

“John has all the traits we wanted,” CMU Director of Athletics Dave Heeke said. “He has an extraordinary passion for Central Michigan. John knows how fantastic this university and community are, and he understands the responsibility that comes with being our head coach.

“John fully embraces the championship culture we’ve built here at CMU. Creating an exceptional experience for all our football student-athletes is a top priority for him. John has worked with some of the top coaches in football, and those individuals hold him in high regard. He knows what it takes to build a successful program and will do that here at Central Michigan.”

Bonamego, a Paw Paw native, was a wide receiver/quarterback as a Chippewa. He was a walk-on who earned varsity letters in 1985-86 and twice earned the Iron Man Award as the defensive scout team player of the year.

Bonamego has spent the past two seasons as the special teams coordinator of the Detroit Lions. Last season, he helped the Lions win 11 games for the first time since 1991 as they qualified for the playoffs.

“Since I left CMU in 1987, my dream job was to be the head coach of the Central Michigan football program. Today, that dream came true,” Bonamego said. “During my time here, I had some of the best experiences of my life and I expect to make many, many more in the coming years. The Mount Pleasant community is a very special place and my family and I are excited to be a part of it.

“It’s clear to me that this program has a very solid foundation. We will work every day to achieve the championship level,” he said. “Our team will compete with a strong passion and work ethic in everything we do, from on the field, to in the classroom and in the community. It’s a priority that we help our student-athletes develop into great young men who will make an impact on those around them for the rest of their lives.”

Bonamego has 27 years of college and professional experience, highlighted by 16 years in the NFL as an assistant, primarily as a special teams coordinator. Some of his career highlights include:

  • During his two seasons with the Detroit Lions (2013-14) he helped punter Sam Matrin record the Top-2 single season marks for net punting average in team history with a 40.4 in 2013 and 40.1 in 2014.
  • As the special teams coordinator in Jacksonville in 2012, he was instrumental in the development of rookie punter Bryan Anger. Anger set franchise records for punting average (47.8) and net punting average (40.8), with both totals leading all rookie punters.
  • He was a part of the NFC South champions in 2011, serving as the assistant special teams coordinator for the New Orleans Saints. The Saints went 13-3 that year, advancing to the divisional player round.
  • From 2008-10, Bonamego served as the special teams coordinator for the Miami Dolphins. During his time there, he developed young specialists including kicker Dan Carpenter, punter Brandon Fields and kick returner Ted Ginn, Jr. Carpenter was selected to the 2009 Pro Bowl after making 25 of 28 attempts. Fields set a franchise record for net punting average (39.9). And Ginn became the first NFL player in 42 years to have two returns for touchdowns in the same quarter. The Dolphins won the 2008 AFC East crown as they put together the biggest turnaround in NFL history.
  • Bonamego spent the 2006-07 seasons as the New Orleans Saints special teams coordinator. The Saints won a division crown in 2006 and advanced to the NFC Championship game. Bonamego was part of one of the most important games in NFL history: the first post-Katrina game in the Superdome. Steve Gleason blocked a punt vs. Atlanta that was recovered for a touchdown in the first quarter and New Orleans also blocked a field goal later in that opening game.
  • He won a pair of NFC North titles during his time at Green Bay from 2003-05. The Packers went 10-6 in both 2003 and 2004 to capture divisional crowns. The club had four game-winning field goals in 2004, the most by the team since the 1970 merger.
  • Bonamego’s first stint in the NFL was from 1999-2002 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. For the first three seasons, Bonamego worked as the assistant special teams coach under legendary NFL special teams coach Frank Gansz and was promoted to special teams coordinator in 2002. In his first season as special teams coordinator, the Jaguars were ranked third by the universally respected Dallas Morning News special teams rankings. The Jaguars advanced to the AFC Championship game in 1999 after winning the AFC Central title.

Bonamego earned his degree in health fitness from CMU in 1987 and turned to coaching immediately. He received an honorary doctorate degree from Central Michigan after serving as a commencement speaker in May of 2009.

He was an assistant at Mount Pleasant High School in 1987 and was a player/coach for a football team in Verona, Italy that same year.

He got his start in college coaching as an assistant at Maine from 1988-91. He then went to Lehigh in 1992, and spent five years as an assistant with Army from 1993-98.

During his time at Army, the Black Knights beat Navy five of six times. They also went 10-2 in 1996, the only 10-win season in school history. Army played Auburn that season in the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl and finished in the top 25 in both polls.

Bonamego and his wife, Paulette, have three children, Javier (17), Giovanni (13) and Bellina (10). 

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