JMU football hires Elon’s Curt Cignetti as next head coach

Posted at 4:56 PM, Dec 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-14 17:16:47-05

HARRISONBURG, Va. ( –  James Madison Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne awarded Curt Cignetti a six-year contract to be the eighth head coach in the history of the JMU football program on Friday.

Curt Cignetti. (Courtesy: JMU Athletics)

Cignetti has climbed the ladder throughout a 36-year football coaching career that has included multiple Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) stops and a 67-26 record (.720) in eight years as a head coach, six at NCAA Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania followed by the last two at Elon.

“After a thorough and extensive search, it was the clear choice for the search committee to appoint Curt Cignetti as the next head coach at James Madison,” Bourne said. “In our discussions, he impressed with both his deep knowledge of the game as well as his intel regarding the current state of our program at JMU. He has recruited some of the best to ever play the sport at the FBS level. During his head coaching stints, he brought immediate improvement to both Elon and IUP and changed the trajectory of those programs. Above all, he cares about his student-athletes and their success in all facets of their collegiate experience. Curt Cignetti is the total package to lead James Madison football to even greater heights.”

Most recently, Cignetti paced the sidelines as head coach at Elon, amassing a 14-9 record in two seasons after inheriting a program that went 12-45 in the previous five campaigns. The Phoenix qualified for the FCS Playoffs in both 2017 (8-4) and 2018 (6-5) to attain just the second and third Division I playoff appearances in program history (2009).

The Phoenix achieved a six-win turnaround in Cignetti’s first season, going 8-4 after a 2-9 ledger the year prior. Cignetti was named Colonial Athletic Association Coach of the Year as Elon finished second in the CAA, at 6-2, dropped a tough 28-27 decision to Furman in the First Round of the FCS Playoffs and finished 20th in the national rankings.

In 2018, Elon went 6-4 in the regular season before dropping a 19-7 decision at #12 Wofford in the playoffs to finish 6-5. Elon’s other losses came to FBS South Florida and against three CAA teams that qualified for the playoffs. All three losses also came after injuries impacted key performers at quarterback and running back. Elon’s season was highlighted by the ninth-ranked Phoenix winning at No. 2 JMU 27-24 in October to achieve the program’s first-ever win over an FCS top-five opponent and becoming the first CAA team to beat the Dukes following a streak of 22 straight JMU wins over league foes.

“I’d like to thank President Alger, Jeffrey Bourne, Charlie King, Roger Soenksen and Mike Battle for extending this opportunity to become the head football coach at James Madison University,” Cignetti said. “I respect and understand the tradition of James Madison football and the great things that have gone on here in its growth and development. 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.”
Walking in the footsteps where his father coached for 20 years, Cignetti earned his first head coaching job at IUP and went 53-17 in six seasons with three appearances in the Division II playoffs and four top-25 finishes in the national rankings. The Crimson Hawks went 33-11 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference after going 4-10 in the two seasons prior to Cignetti’s arrival. IUP was 4-3 in its three NCAA appearances during his tenure and finished as high as 12th in the 2016 final rankings.

Curt Cignetti. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

An offensive-minded assistant coach at the FBS level for 27 seasons, Cignetti was an original member of Nick Saban’s first coaching staff at Alabama, filling the role of recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach for 2007 through 2010. He was part of a staff that returned the Crimson Tide to national prominence, going 12-2 in their second season in 2008 while Cignetti concurrently compiled the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class. Alabama went undefeated as national champions the following season in 2009, the only undefeated final record during Saban’s run in Tuscaloosa, pending the conclusion of the 2018 campaign. Alabama went 10-3 in Cignetti’s final season before he earned his first head coaching job at IUP.

Cignetti joined the staff at Alabama after spending seven seasons (2000-06) as the recruiting coordinator at North Carolina State while also coaching tight ends from 2000-02 and 2005-06 and quarterbacks during the 2003 and 2004 campaigns. NC State qualified for five bowl games during that time, including the 2002 Gator Bowl, when the team set a school record with 11 victories. One of his last recruits before moving to Alabama was quarterback Russell Wilson, who played at NC State before moving on to Wisconsin as a senior.

The first recruiting coordinator role for Cignetti came during a seven-year stint (1993-99) at Pittsburgh. He also coached the Panthers’ tight ends and quarterbacks at various times under College Football Hall of Fame head coach Johnny Majors. Cignetti began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Pitt during the 1983 and 1984 seasons and was part of the team’s Fiesta Bowl participant his first year. He coached quarterbacks and receivers at Davidson in 1985 and was the quarterbacks coach at Rice (1986-88) and Temple (1989-92).

A quarterback letter winner at West Virginia, Cignetti is a 1982 graduate of WVU with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He is married to the former Manette Lawer. Curt and Manette have three children: Curtis John, Carly Ann and Natalie Elise, who was an honorable mention All-American in volleyball at IUP.

The sport of football runs deep in the Cignetti family. His father, Frank Cignetti, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame after playing at IUP and compiling a coaching record of 199-77-1 at West Virginia (1976-79) and IUP (1986-2005). The field at IUP is named in his honor (Frank Cignetti Field @ George P. Miller Stadium). Nick Saban coached under Frank Cignetti before later employing Curt Cignetti at Alabama. Curt’s younger brother, Frank, Jr., currently serves as quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers and has also held positions with the Giants, Rams, 49ers, Saints and Chiefs.

Cignetti’s hiring follows a thorough search process by the hiring committee of Bourne, Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Charlie King and Faculty Athletics Representative Roger Soenksen. The search commenced after Mike Houston departed to accept the head coach position at ECU. Houston coached JMU to a 37-6 record in three seasons.

Curt Cignetti’s Coaching Career

1983 Graduate Assistant Pittsburgh
1984 Graduate Assistant Pittsburgh
1985 Quarterbacks/Wide Receivers Davidson
1986 Quarterbacks Rice
1987 Quarterbacks Rice
1988 Quarterbacks Rice
1989 Quarterbacks Temple
1990 Quarterbacks Temple
1991 Quarterbacks Temple
1992 Quarterbacks Temple
1993 Quarterbacks/Tight Ends Pittsburgh
1994 Quarterbacks/Tight Ends Pittsburgh
1995 Quarterbacks/Tight Ends Pittsburgh
1996 Quarterbacks/Tight Ends Pittsburgh
1997 Quarterbacks/Tight Ends Pittsburgh
1998 Quarterbacks/Tight Ends Pittsburgh
1999 Quarterbacks/Tight Ends Pittsburgh
2000 Recruiting Coord./Tight Ends NC State
2001 Recruiting Coord./Tight Ends NC State
2002 Recruiting Coord./Tight Ends NC State
2003 Recruiting Coord./Quarterbacks NC State
2004 Recruiting Coord./Quarterbacks NC State
2005 Recruiting Coord./Tight Ends NC State
2006 Recruiting Coord./Tight Ends NC State
2007 Recruiting Coord./Wide Receivers Alabama
2008 Recruiting Coord./Wide Receivers Alabama
2009 Recruiting Coord./Wide Receivers Alabama
2010 Recruiting Coord./Wide Receivers Alabama
2011 Head Coach Indiana (Pa.) 7-3
2012 Head Coach Indiana (Pa.) 12-2
2013 Head Coach Indiana (Pa.) 9-2
2014 Head Coach Indiana (Pa.) 6-5
2015 Head Coach Indiana (Pa.) 9-3
2016 Head Coach Indiana (Pa.) 10-2
2017 Head Coach Elon 8-4
2018 Head Coach Elon 6-5
2019 Head Coach James Madison