Team preview: Central Michigan

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(All information as of June 20, 2007)


When there is a coaching change in the MAC, it usually means one of two things -- a program has
sunk to the bottom of the barrel or it's coming off a great season.

Chalk one up for Central Michigan in the latter category as the Chippewas lived a very charmed life in 2006. The season went so well that head coach Brian Kelly left for the Big East and the Cincinnati Bearcats after CMU claimed its first MAC Championship since 1995. Kelly was out the door so fast he didn't even wait around to be part of the program's 31-14 GMAC Bowl victory over Middle Tennessee.

The Chippewas dipped into another Big East program's coaching staff to find Kelly's successor, enticing Butch Jones to leave West Virginia and return to Mount Pleasant, where he served as an assistant for seven years.
The place was not quite the same as when Jones left it. The Chippewas were lucky to maybe draw 7,000 for a home game a few years back -- when three- or four-win seasons were the norm.

About 7,100 CMU faithful turned out for this year's spring game, looking to get a sneak peak at Jones and the returning champions in action. Jones even let a few of them call some plays during the game.
"It's been great coming back and seeing the excitement," said Jones, who spent one season working with Kelly at CMU and helped recruit several current players.

Some of them are returning, but the Chippewas do have a few holes to fill on both lines if they want to keep this thing going for more than one season.

Tackle Joe Staley was a first-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers, while center Drew Mormino (sixth round to Dolphins) and defensive end Dan Bazuin (second round to Bears) are also off to the NFL.
Further hindering Jones' first practices as head coach were a host of injuries to key players that kept them on the sidelines and out of pads. The Chippewas already had a small senior class with only 12 veterans, but the injuries forced the team to rely even more on younger players in the spring.

No matter what the obstacle was in the offseason, none of it seemed to bother Jones.
"Change can be good," he said. "We're not just here to build a team, but [continue] building a program."

That mission should continue with 2006 MAC Freshman of the Year Dan LeFevour back to run the show.