JMU picks Elon’s Cignetti to replace Mike Houston as head football coach


HARRISONBURG, Va. (WAVY) — JMU has taken from within the Colonial Athletic Association to select its next head football coach, just not the one many believed it might be.

Just over two months after Curt Cignetti’s Elon Phoenix came to Harrisonburg and stunned the then No. 2 Dukes in front of a packed Family Weekend crowd, JMU announced he’ll take over following the departure of the highly successful Mike Houston. 

JMU announced the 36-year coaching veteran’s six year contract late Friday afternoon.  He’ll be the eighth head coach in JMU’s history.

Cignetti led the Phoenix to a 14-9 record and two FCS playoff appearances in his two seasons at Elon, and was the only coach to beat former JMU head coach Mike Houston in Harrisonburg during Houston’s three year span with the Dukes.

The Phoenix lost in the first round of the playoffs this year to No. 12 Wofford, 19-7. JMU lost in the second round of the playoffs on the road at Colgate, 23-20, amid swirling rumors that Houston was about to depart the program.

Cignetti has a 67-26 record overall in his eight years as a head coach and spent six years at Indiana (Pa.) before joining the Phoenix in 2017.

Before then, Cignetti was a recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach at Alabama from 2007-2010 after having the same position at North Carolina State from 2000-2006. He also was the quarterbacks and tight ends coach at Pittsburgh from 1993-1999, where he’d previously served as a grad assistant in the early 1980s. He’s also had stops at Temple, Rice and Davidson. 

“I respect and understand the tradition of James Madison football and the great things that have gone on here in its growth and development, said Cignetti in a press release Friday afternoon. “We’re going to have high goals and expectations and a blueprint to become the best we can be, there will be no self-imposed limitations on what we can accomplish. I’m anxious and eager to meet the players when they return on January 7th and just can’t tell you how excited I am to be the head football coach at James Madison.”

The announcement came after late reports that the Dukes were looking to possibly hire Maine head football coach Joe Harasymiak, who led the Black Bears to a CAA title in 2018. Maine faces Eastern Washington on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the FCS semifinals. 

Other possibilities included former JMU and Virginia Tech coach Bryan Stinespring (a JMU alumnus) and former 2014 JMU co-offensive coordinator and current University of Texas wide receivers coach Drew Mehringer.

Houston is now the coach at East Carolina after a dramatic series of events that saw the University of North Carolina at Charlotte both offer and later retract a head coaching position to Houston. He led the Dukes to a 37-6 record, a 2016 FCS national championship and a 2017 title game appearance in his three years in Harrisonburg. 

The Dukes will play at Elon on Sept. 28, 2019. 

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