Friday, December 26, 2008

Chippewas Make Motown Their Expressway To Success

Editor's Note: Content updated at 5:00pm on December 28 to correct references to Butch Jones, mistakenly identified as Butch Davis.

DETROIT -- The catcalls, snickers and jokes remain, but if accepting a bid to the Motor City Bowl means Central Michigan University is playing football every year after Christmas, CMU coach Butch Jones welcomes all barbs.

Jones guided the Chippewas on Friday night in a hard-fought 24-21 loss to Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in front of 41,399 at Ford Field. The Owl win was the 12th edition of the annual game, which has more than earned its' keep in 12 years of successful pairings. The Rose Bowl it's not, but the Motor City Bowl (MCB) is no Cherry Bowl, the ill-fated game that managed just two turns in the mid 1980s in the Pontiac Silverdome. In 1984 Michigan State helped bring around 70,000 into the 'Dome for the inagural game but the Spartans dropped a 10-6 decision. The next year the game was broke before kickoff and Cherry Bowl unceremoniously fell from the vine of college football bowl games.

MCB immediately struck an alliance between two neighboring conferences, the Mid-American Conference and the Big Ten. Aside from revenue giant sports football and basketball, the two conferences are competitive in many sports, the rare upset on the gridiron or hardwood notwithstanding. But Motor City Bowl has helped the MAC -- a bowl-starved conference -- attain a footing among major college football's elite, and perhaps no school or coach has been a better beneficiary than CMU and Jones.

Jones has succeeded former CMU coach Brian Kelly's success without missing a beat, in part because the Chippewas have made the Motor City Bowl a three-year tradition that means more than simply playing a football game on Boxing Day. In short, it allows the Chippewas to be a major player within recruiting circles that encompass metro Detroit's talent-rich, three-county footprint. "Without a doubt, the access created by playing a bowl game in our backyard, so to speak, is priceless," Jones said. "Our staff made a commitment to recruiting Michigan, and our success is predicated on how well we recruit Michigan. Playing in the Motor City Bowl has made such a huge difference in our program's success in recent years."

To wit, the Chippewas boast 16 players from the tri-county area, including seven from Oakland County. Three players hail from Lake Orion, a runner-up in this year's MHSAA Division 1 football finals. There's four players from Detroit's proper and three from Warren's De LaSalle High, making CMU's roster one stocked from all corners of Michigan and fortified with a large bounty from metro Detroit. Playing in the Motor City Bowl three straight years has contributed to Central's success on signing day.

Like Florida Atlantic, a school with hardly an ounce of name recognition in major college football just a handful of years ago, the Chippewas are a rare story that few schools could even hope to emulate today. In the early 1970s, Central Michigan and fellow in-state rival Eastern Michigan University were powerhouse NAIA schools who made the leap from small-time Christian athletics to Division-I status. While Eastern struggled in the late 70s and early 80s, Central Michigan flourished and thrived under a former Oakland County coach, Herb Deromedi. When Roy Kramer left CMU in the late 1970s, the former Royal Oak High grad and Kimball High coach began a 20-year reign in Mt.Pleasant that landed him in the college football hall-of-fame.

However, a not-so-rare story followed Deromedi's departure. The Chippewas struggled to regain that winning form. After Kelly quickly made CMU successful again, he was poached just as quickly by Cincinnati. Enter Jones, with an already strong acumen for recruiting and chalkboard strategy. Add CMU's trifecta of bowl appearances in Detroit and the Chippewas have re-chartered their path for annual success.

"We're very proud to represent our conference and our state in Detroit," Jones said."If being successful means coming to the Motor City Bowl three straight years, I'll take that success every day of the week as opposed to staying home for the holidays."

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due August of 2009 from Arcadia Publishing.

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