Jim McElwain, Ex-Wolverine

Jim McElwain, Ex-Wolverine


December 2, 2018

Jim McElwain

Michigan wide receivers coach Jim McElwain will reportedly be the new head coach at Central Michigan. McElwain spent just one season in Ann Arbor after previously being the head coach at Florida and Colorado State, along with being an offensive coordinator at Alabama. Central Michigan fired head coach John Bonamego at the end of the season, a 1-11 year and the worst in program history (Bonamego was 7-6, 6-7, and 8-5 the previous three seasons).

McElwain appeared to do a good job as the wide receivers coach this season. I heard positive reports from behind the scenes about his personality. And on the field, his charges performed well. While they didn’t put up huge numbers, they generally caught the balls that came to them and created some big plays. Donovan Peoples-Jones was a third team all-conference player (39 catches, 541 yards, 7 TD), Nico Collins had a breakout season (33 catches, 552 yards, 6 TD), and freshman Ronnie Bell was a low-ranked prospect who came in and caught 8 passes for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns.

It’s unclear how much McElwain was involved in play calling, since Michigan did not name an offensive coordinator this season. It has been assumed that McElwain, Pep Hamilton, and Ed Warinner all had some say in game planning, along with head coach Jim Harbaugh. McElwain also has not been known as an ace recruiter, so he should not be missed too much in that respect, either.

It’s too early to tell who will emerge as a possible replacement. Graduate assistant Roy Roundtree (a former Wolverine wide receiver) came to Michigan this season to work with the position, but his resume is rather thin after one year at Michigan and previously having coached at Indiana State. I would be very surprised if Michigan promoted him to the open wide receivers coach gig, except perhaps as a short-term replacement through the bowl game and for recruiting purposes.

29 comments

  1. Comments: 997
    Joined: 1/19/2016
    je93
    Dec 02, 2018 at 1:16 PM

    Congrats to Mac. Who replaces him? I hope we go out and get an actual Coordinator (Clemson OC has been mentioned), someone to influence JH toward more use of our talented WRs, and a sense of urgency when called for

    • Thunder
      Comments: 2670
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Dec 02, 2018 at 1:27 PM

      Jim Harbaugh isn’t Clemson. Harbaugh has stocked this team with tight ends and fullbacks…and not many wide receivers. He’s also a guy who was huddling when down by multiple scores late against OSU. That’s just who Harbaugh is. I’ll believe in a change of philosophy when I see it.

      • UM_1973
        Comments: 61
        Joined: 10/14/2015
        UM_1973
        Dec 02, 2018 at 1:58 PM

        Thunder, in these days and age, is it possible to win using pro-style football? I think spread offense is easier to grasp and easier for a freshman to execute especially if you are able to recruit great athletes. Pro-style offense which Harbaugh likes takes time to master and require great players everywhere. It is very hard to insert a freshman WR and expect him to perform in a pro-style but Meyer made it so easy for a freshman WR to contribute in his spread offense.

        • Thunder
          Comments: 2670
          Joined: 7/13/2015
          Dec 02, 2018 at 2:12 PM

          Yes, I believe it’s possible to win running a pro-style offense. Alabama was doing it up until a few years ago when they brought Lane Kiffin in and started doing all kinds of jet sweep motions, spread sets, etc. You have to be really good on both sides of the football, though, and you need to adjust appropriately. Michigan’s lack of urgency against OSU was somewhat appalling. Lloyd Carr (and this is no joke) had a more effective 2-minute offense than Jim Harbaugh does. You need to be able to change tempos.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 3932
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Dec 02, 2018 at 8:43 PM

            Yes – the lack of ability to score fast when needed is something we’re seeing every year. It’s a real problem.

      • Comments: 997
        Joined: 1/19/2016
        je93
        Dec 02, 2018 at 2:31 PM

        Sure, but there was more creativity in 2015-16 with Fisch. I think he was able to nudge JH just enough, whereas Pep thinks just like him. It’s redundant
        I think introducing a different perspective is just what Harbaugh needs to clear the next hurdle

        • DonAZ
          Comments: 403
          Joined: 8/12/2015
          DonAZ
          Dec 02, 2018 at 5:41 PM

          That’s the legacy NFL influence, in my opinion. Both Harbaugh and Hamilton spent a good many years either playing or coaching in the NFL where that style was prevalent.

          Harbaugh would be well-served by bringing in someone more attuned to what wins in college today, and to name an OC and stop this “offense by committee” approach that seems to be in place right now.

        • Thunder
          Comments: 2670
          Joined: 7/13/2015
          Dec 02, 2018 at 9:45 PM

          Maybe, but that’s not what Harbaugh knows. I’m NOT a proponent of firing Harbaugh, but if we want Clemson’s offense or Washington State’s offense or Oklahoma’s offense, then we need to hire their coordinators or head coaches. Harbaugh would be out of his element. I’m not necessarily saying he can’t learn those things, but it’s like hiring Ken Niumatoloauloeaux to run an I-formation, pro-style offense. Why is Harbaugh here if he’s going to run some off-shoot of the Air Raid?

          I’ve seen a lot of this stuff about Harbaugh needing to hire coordinators from these high-powered offenses (Kliff Kingsbury comes to mind), and it would be an even weirder juxtaposition than when Nick Saban hired Lane Kiffin.

          • Comments: 997
            Joined: 1/19/2016
            je93
            Dec 02, 2018 at 10:50 PM

            But saban did hire kiffin, who opened up the Bama offense. While Saban may not like it, he’s sticking with a less conservative approach because he knows his D can’t hold up every time – it’s a long season

            I don’t think JH needs to overhaul the offense, but bringing in someone who has a different approach can be a very good thing

            • Thunder
              Comments: 2670
              Joined: 7/13/2015
              Dec 03, 2018 at 8:20 AM

              But Kiffin isn’t an Air Raid guy by trade. He’s a pro-style spread guy. So it wasn’t a giant change. And Saban is also a defensive guy (he coaches DB’s), so it’s not really stepping on his toes when somebody soups up the offense a little bit. Jim Harbaugh *is* the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, at least to an extent, so handing the reins over to Clemson’s OC (or someone like that) is a non-starter, IMO.

              • Comments: 997
                Joined: 1/19/2016
                je93
                Dec 03, 2018 at 8:36 AM

                No, Kiffin isn’t, but that’s what he was brought in to do, and did.
                Saban may not be an offense guy, but he’s heavily engaged in all three facets of the game; he’s regularly seen going after assistants

                JH doesn’t have to surrender the keys, I admit to being caught up in fan post-loss mentality, but he does need fresh perspective & input. He’s not going to out-talent & out muscle his way into & through a playoff anytime soon

                • Thunder
                  Comments: 2670
                  Joined: 7/13/2015
                  Dec 03, 2018 at 8:41 AM

                  I agree that he needs a fresh perspective, but he needs a Kiffin, not a Kingsbury. That’s all I’m saying.

                • Thunder
                  Comments: 2670
                  Joined: 7/13/2015
                  Dec 03, 2018 at 8:43 AM

                  I would like to see Harbaugh spend some time with the Patriots’ or Bills’ staff. I like what Brian Daboll is doing in Buffalo, but he just has very limited personnel at the receiver positions. And the Patriots have shown the ability to go no-huddle when necessary and still be effective.

                • Lanknows
                  Comments: 3932
                  Joined: 8/11/2015
                  Lanknows
                  Dec 03, 2018 at 11:12 AM

                  Agree with the Kiffin not Kingsbury sentiment but looking to the NFL is the wrong direction. The NFL gets it’s ideas from college.

                  As usual there are lessons to be learned right next door. Harbaugh needs to do something more like Beilein did with Yakich. There’s probably some lessons to learn from Hutchins too.

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 3932
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Dec 02, 2018 at 8:37 PM

        Wasn’t there a “change in philosophy” this season? M offense was predominantly in pistol or shotgun, ran a good bit of zone read, used RPOs, and used FB sparingly (compared to last 3 years).

        Yes, there were tons of 2 TE sets still, but a lot less FB and 6th Linemen.

        I agree that we’re probably not going see Harbaugh move to 4-wide personnel but there was a huge evolution taking place this year IMO.

        • Comments: 997
          Joined: 1/19/2016
          je93
          Dec 02, 2018 at 8:59 PM

          Agree, there was a big change. IMO, the changes remaining include moving with greater urgency (stop huddling when down to ND with minutes left, or trailing by 3TDs against ohio), and maximizing use of strengths (this year I thought our WRs were a threat against everyone we played)

        • Thunder
          Comments: 2670
          Joined: 7/13/2015
          Dec 02, 2018 at 9:33 PM

          I don’t really see that as an evolution. I think it just so happened that we had the personnel (a.k.a. Shea Patterson) to do that stuff. Harbaugh ran that type of offense with Colin Kaepernick and (to a lesser extent) Alex Smith in San Francisco. The stuff with Patterson was largely just adjusting his offense to his personnel. Running a Clemson-esque offense is a brand new thing. Harbaugh has never done that. As an offensive coach (and player), that’s not what he has known. That’s not what he did at Michigan, in Indianapolis, with the Chargers, with the Bears, with Stanford, with USD, with no one.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 3932
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Dec 02, 2018 at 10:44 PM

            Not sure I buy this logic. I don’t know that Rudock/O’Korn/Speight/Peters were all incapable of running zone reads, needed FBs, or couldn’t catch the shotgun. Speight would have seemed the most incapable and he ended up QB for Chip Kelly.

            • Thunder
              Comments: 2670
              Joined: 7/13/2015
              Dec 03, 2018 at 8:25 AM

              I honestly don’t see where the disconnect is. Harbaugh ran all that stuff before, and he got a QB who was in an up-tempo spread with RPOs, zone reads, etc. at Ole Miss. Rudock, Speight, Peters, and O’Korn were not the same caliber of QB, nor had they spent the previous two seasons running an offense like that of Ole Miss. Harbaugh was adjusting his own previously established offense to Patterson’s abilities. Patterson’s effectiveness as a runner could not have been duplicated by Speight or Peters (and probably not Rudock, though he was an underrated athlete), and O’Korn could run but was limited in other ways.

              • Lanknows
                Comments: 3932
                Joined: 8/11/2015
                Lanknows
                Dec 03, 2018 at 11:15 AM

                I think those QBs had the skill to play in shotgun, to run reads and options, etc. It’s not like it’s easier in I-form. If anything, playing a FB makes a QB’s life harder.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 3932
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Dec 02, 2018 at 10:48 PM

            To be clear – I agree that Harbaugh isn’t likely to open things up dramatically (e.g., hiring Kingsbury and handing him the keys) and that he has an identity built on heavy personnel, but he’s shown repeatedly that he is adaptable and open to change.

  2. DonAZ
    Comments: 403
    Joined: 8/12/2015
    DonAZ
    Dec 02, 2018 at 5:44 PM

    I’ll confess the decision by McElwain to take the CMU job is a bit mystifying. He must *really* want to be a HC again. But I would think taking an HC role at some lesser school down south would be better than CMU, which is pretty far off the general radar map for college football. But there is this: he’s got nowhere to go but up with CMU 1-11 for this year.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 3932
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Dec 02, 2018 at 8:40 PM

      Defensible strategy for the reason you stated. If his goal is to get back to being a HC at a P5-level program, turning around CMU probably looks better than being an OC somewhere.

    • Thunder
      Comments: 2670
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Dec 02, 2018 at 9:37 PM

      I don’t think CMU is off the radar. It propelled people like Brian Kelly and Butch Jones to bigger jobs (Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Tennessee, etc.). McElwain’s most success as a head coach came at Colorado State, which isn’t really the epicenter of anything. If he can right the ship at CMU, he could turn that into a bigger job again, though I don’t know if the likes of Florida will ever come calling again. He might just be a guy who had his shot and will top out again as a coach at somewhere like Arkansas or Kentucky or North Carolina State.

  3. Lanknows
    Comments: 3932
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Dec 03, 2018 at 1:00 PM

    Michigan can’t out-Clemson Clemson, or Alabama or OSU. They have a recruiting disadvantage due to geography first and foremost but also academics/ethics.*

    To enter into the upper crust they have to be different to overcome talent differential. Beyond personnel, the options for differentiating are A – elite coaching or B – scheme.

    COACHING
    Save the 2017 debacle, Harbaugh has managed to have the #32, #41, and #24 offenses (by S&P). Not bad, especially given the various personnel issues that were inherited. But not elite – Harbaugh hasn’t yet had a top 20 offense in 4 seasons. This is where the Kingsbury stuff comes from.

    So, you either hire supporting staff to evolve with what Harbaugh is doing or you have him cede control to an OC-hire. But let’s be honest about that – it’s a lot easier to find an offensive version of DJ Durkin than a Don Brown. Most top-notch OCs will want to be HCs and when they leave you’re going to be challenged to find somebody that runs the same stuff.

    SCHEME

    In my view there are 3 things that have made Michigan offense under Harbaugh distinct:

    1. Heavy personnel. Michigan has used and continues to use an extra TE, FB, and/or OL on the majority of downs, compared to dominant 11 personnel (3-wide).

    2. Slow pace. This has been a fairly consistent issue as Michigan has ranked 124th, 111th, 45th, 75th under Harbaugh.

    3. Conservative playcalling. It is clear that Harbaugh is emphasizing ball-control/turnover avoidance at this point though this is probably more true now than in ’15 (Utah) and ’16 (OSU).

    Note that “pro style” isn’t one of them since no pro teams use 2 TEs and FBs as much as Harbaugh has and the current dominance of shotgun/pistol alignments is not consistent with the ‘traditional’ definition of ‘pro style’.

    Only 1 of the above is a good thing for differentiating Michigan from the pack. Playing slow and conservative may be a function of the defensive excellence but it’s still not a selling point for the offense.

    Heavy personnel CAN be an advantage if Harbaugh can continue to lean on TEs to a point where Michigan is landing 5-star TEs.

    A ball-control offense (a la vintage Wisconsin or Stanford or Bo-era Michigan) CAN also be an advantage. My argument has been that you need not just good but ELITE OLs to make this happen. Drevno wasn’t the guy. Is Warriner?

    That’s the question that will make or break Michigan’s hopes to settle in as a top 10 offense. IMO.

    *Michigan certainly [uhhh … let’s say] skirts the rules, like the other programs, but just as certainly is less egregious about it.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 3932
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Dec 03, 2018 at 2:13 PM

      THE ANSWER

      The dramatic changes in scheme and playcalling issues people are talking about I think are the more difficult road. Asking Harbaugh to scrap the whole thing and hand the keys to somebody else is asking a lot of a guy who has proven to be a pretty excellent offensive coach repeatedly.

      It also might not be sustainable (Durkin vs Brown) and cap the offense’s ceiling.

      Continuing the evolution with heavy personnel may be easier (more realistic / less change). Stick with heavy personnel but be more aggressive – ramp up the RPO stuff, shotgun/pistol sets, and QB run game. Become a bit more like vintage Meyer offenses. If there’s another Drevno (and Pep might be that) — find another Warriner. Continue to be opportunistic in finding McElwain’s and Fisch’s to help in the short-term but also look for a 4-5 year guy you can lean on for continuity.

      I will say this. I don’t think there are any excuses left in 2019. There shouldn’t be much turnover on the offense (most crucially along the OL). If the offense continues to be good but not great Harbaugh may have to reflect and consider stepping back. If this heavy personnel/slow tempo offense isn’t getting it done next year it’s time for a comprehensive revaluation of the approach.

  4. UM_1973
    Comments: 61
    Joined: 10/14/2015
    UM_1973
    Dec 04, 2018 at 8:10 AM

    Reading all these comments, I find it amazing that the focus on everyone is on the offense after we lost to OSU 62-39. We scored 39 points. Why isn’t anyone looking at the defensive side of the ball? Does anyone really think that by hiring Kingsbury or Kiffin, we are going to beat OSU 65-62?

    I think the issue is quite simple. We simply do not have as many elite recruits as Ohio State. I believe if we have Patterson last year, we would have beaten Ohio State. I also believe that if Ohio State started Dwayne Haskin last year, they would have beaten us.

    • Thunder
      Comments: 2670
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Dec 04, 2018 at 12:35 PM

      I agree that competent QB play last year probably would have won Michigan the game. O’Korn didn’t have his worst game and played better than I expected from him at that point in the season, but he still had some terrible plays and was limited.

      I think there’s blame to go around. Some of those points for Michigan were in garbage time (and so were some of OSU’s points). And if Michigan had been able to score more frequently/keep their offense on the field, that might have prevented OSU from scoring so much. Maybe Michigan wouldn’t have won 65-62, but maybe it would have been 45-41 or something like that.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 3932
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Dec 04, 2018 at 1:39 PM

      Fair point. Brown has been consistently excellent so the limited times when the defense has blown games late (FSU, OSU ’16) or been crushed (PSU ’17, OSU ’18) have been looked past.

      The challenge here is we can’t say much about that as fans.* Recruit higher caliber talent at safety? Spend more time on zone defense? Don Brown may not be perfect but he’s pretty close.

      *As opposed to offense where we are all experts.

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