McCullough shocked Tom Allen with his desire to return to IU

Obviously, Tom Allen believes in the program he’s building at Indiana. The successes of the past two seasons should have the Hoosiers in a position to hire well-qualified assistants, as they have.

But when Allen received one text, in particular, about IU’s vacancy at running backs coach, even the Hoosiers’ fourth-year head coach couldn’t help but be surprised.

It was Deland McCullough. The same Deland McCullough who coached six seasons at IU, then one campaign at USC, and was coaching his way to a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance with the Kansas City Chiefs. He took a second from game-planning to message Allen.

McCullough wanted to return to IU.

“When I read it, I was like ‘Seriously?’” Allen said Tuesday during McCullough’s introductory press conference as running backs coach and associate head coach.

As he talked about the process that brought McCullough back to Bloomington, Allen couldn’t seem to wipe a smile off his face. He recalled that text message, which prompted him to find one of his other assistants and say “You’re not going to believe who is interested in this job.”

It’s not that there wasn’t interest in the position. When Mike Hart departed for his alma mater, Michigan, Allen says he was “bombarded” by people wanting to coach running backs at IU. But it’s not every day that an NFL coach expresses interest in stepping down the ladder.

Only McCullough doesn’t see this as a step down. In his mind, the NFL was just a means for improving himself, coaching alongside the brightest minds in the game, before going back to the college game. Every offseason included offers from three or so colleges, hoping to reel in the man who helped coach Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard to greatness at IU.

But those offers weren’t quite enough. They wanted him purely as a running backs coach, nothing more. IU, on other hand, had an opening at associate head coach with Hart’s departure. IU was a place where McCullough was familiar, but it was also a program on the rise.

While Allen was trying to keep McCullough’s interest as quiet as possible, just telling people on his staff, McCullough was talking to Chiefs coach Andy Reid about the opportunity at IU.

“When I talked to Coach Reid about this, he started talking about Tom, like he knew him,” McCullough said. “I said ‘Do you know him?’ He said ‘No, but I can see his energy, I can see what he’s doing there.’ Everybody says the same thing. You talk about even from the NFL vantage point, they talk about Tom Allen and the commitment the university has made and that it’s clearly started to show and pay dividends.”

So once again, an IU football program with ambitions has snagged a highly regarded coach. Last month, it was new defensive coordinator Charlton Warren, who mentored defensive backs at Georgia. He will make $700,000 a year to bring his “SEC eyes,” as Allen has called it, to the Hoosiers’ defense. Now, IU has secured an NFL position coach, who will earn $515,000 in his first year, then $530,000 in the second.

It’s just another investment in a football program that has bigger goals than just competing in the Big Ten East, as it did in 2020. Combined with the hire of strength coach Aaron Wellman from the New York Giants last year, the additions of Warren and McCullough send a message.

“It says a lot about where we are,” Allen said. “Just talking to both Charlton and Deland about the way our program is viewed, from the staffs they came from, they are both different conferences, both different levels, geographically further away. But you kinda got a consistent theme, that people saw the change, they’ve seen the culture shift, they’ve seen the performance on the field as a football team. A team that plays together, with purpose and passion, and just a bond that’s special.

“People want to be a part of this program.”

As soon as Allen heard from McCullough, he wanted him. They worked together in 2016 when Allen was the defensive coordinator under Kevin Wilson. When Allen was promoted to head coach for the 2017 season, he hated to see McCullough leave for USC, but they kept in touch. Allen was one of many IU connections that sent McCullough a message to say “congrats” when he won the Super Bowl with the Chiefs last year.

There are high hopes for what McCullough can help the Hoosiers’ offense achieve. McCullough was on the sideline in 2014 when Coleman was setting the program’s record for rushing yards, 2,036, becoming just the 18th player in FBS history to break 2,000. In 2015, IU became just the fourth team in FBS history to have a 3,500-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers, and a 1,000-yard receiver in the same year.

McCullough returns with even more knowledge as a coach and game-planner. As a recruiter, though, he has a list of recommendations that’s hard to rival. Along with Coleman and Howard, he now has the likes of LeSean McCoy and Le’Veon Bell in his corner.

“I’m going to have those guys on speed dial,” McCullough said, “and they are going to be willing to sell it.”

But again, McCullough doesn’t come back if he wasn’t sold on Allen and the program he’s building. From the moment Allen arrived in 2016, McCullough had a feeling he was destined for good things.

He found himself listening through the walls, fascinated by the culture Allen was creating for IU’s defense.

“You know, sitting in meetings with him and seeing his face, the way he connected with his guys and the way he just drove them toward the bigger mission,” McCullough said. “Obviously once he got moved into that complete leadership role as the head coach, that month or so I spent with him, it was strong.

“Even as I left to go on to USC, I always said, ‘Man, Coach Allen is going to get them guys rolling there. He’s going to take us to the next level.’”

Allen did that.

Now, McCullough, who called IU “RBU” during his previous stint in Bloomington, returns with his own mission.

He wants to win championships.

“Everything just fit for me,” McCullough said. “Coach Allen, the program, the direction that it’s headed in. I just said, man, I felt it in my spirit — I wanted to be a part of the next step that IU football takes.”

Allen may be smiling about the offseason additions to his coaching staff, but he’s not going to let himself feel too good about where things stands.

“We gotta work now. We ain’t done anything,” Allen said. “We haven’t won the Big Ten East, we haven’t won the Big Ten … we haven’t won a bowl game.

“There’s a lot of things we haven’t done. To me, there’s a lot of fire and passion within me to keep building this thing.”


  1. Saying something like ” Good Job Coach Allen” or “You are on the right track, keep it going” really does not cover the scope of what the Coach has promoted at IU. But, good job Coach.

  2. I love this article and the way people see IUFB now. I hope recruits are seeing this and deciding to come to IU including DeLand’s son that committed to OSU and the son committed to Miami of Ohio. DeLand talk to them about the atmosphere here at IU and see if they are willing to come to IU.

    I hope IU’s video department is cranking out videos of the Wisconsin interview with players say what they did to encourage recruits to come to IU. Put highlights of the past two seasons and players talking about the atmosphere at IU along with views of the facilities and campus. Send those DVDs out to recruits if it is in the rules and let their parents see what it is like at IU. Really create a buzz about IUFB so we start pulling in higher rated players.

    1. It could be a very sensitive matter, both personally and professionally, to “flip” your son away from a FB program like OSU. And working or playing for one’s father can be difficult and complicated for both father and son. Not to mention that if his son is reasonably good at OSU, he’s almost guaranteed to play in the Championship playoffs and get drafted in the first three rounds.

      While he might not flip right now, I could see a scenario where DM’s son goes to OSU where the competition for playing time is fierce. If he’s not the starter in his second season, he transfers to IU and plays for his Dad.

  3. I can think of no greater compliment to TA than DM choosing to return to IU for the reasons he explained. Wow, that will resonate!

    Ouch! Hart must be chagrined that DM will get paid $515,000 in his first year back with IU. That pretty much confirms that TA considers DM an upgrade. And what about Sheridan, who is getting paid considerably less than DM? I guess I just don’t understand how the compensation structure works.

    I won’t be surprised if DM is not an offensive coordinator for a Power-five conference school in a few years. Who knows, he might be IU’s next OC in a few years! Just think of what he learned from working for one of the great offensive minds in NFL history over the last two seasons. That experience will be very valuable to IU.

    Lastly, hiring DM puts pressure on Hiller to improve the performance of IU’s O-line, through both recruiting, schemes and player development. If it comes together, it’s going to be fun to watch.

    1. Po, the money is based on experience and coach Sheridan doesn’t have much experience. If he shows he is capable of running a very good offense he will get paid but last year the offense benefitted from short fields. Our offense didn’t show they could move down the field very much except by long passes. Coach Sheridan will have to show he can run the offense in a way to be very successful. Last year’s numbers, in the most part, were mediocre and IU needs to have an explosive offense to move up even more. The offense last year sure looked like coach Sheridan was calling plays like coach DeBord instead of coach DeBoer but we will find out this year with more time with the players.

      This coming season will show if the run game is a Hiller problem or was a RB problem. He showed he could run and the OL created holes for him in red zone and coach Sheridan and Hiller need to see why the Wildcat formation worked well and change what helped the running game. The defense knew IU was running the ball yet the OL opened holes anyway. I hope those two coaches figure it out and give IU a great running game to go with great passing game to go along with great defense this year. I want to see IU winning the B1G and we need all those things along with a very good kicking game to add to it. The parts are all there and I hope the winning from the last two years makes this coming season even better.

      Yes I know things could decline for IU this year but until they show it I believe they can do more this coming season.

      1. V13, does DM report to Sheridan or does he report to TA? Who is his immediate boss? If DM reports to Sheridan, having a much higher salary than one’s boss is very unorthodox and counter-productive in most organizations. But if DM reports directly to TA, than his salary makes sense and should not be an issue. Regardless, if each of his coaches really buy in to LEO, then it won’t cause problems. But highly competitive men have big egos, and egos are funny things.

  4. H4H, do you see now why LEO is important. Coach Allen isn’t pushing bible versus on players but loving each other. As a result more teams around the country are embracing this approach because they see the results it brings for teams. I hope you are now a LEO proponent as I am and I know you are in your own life.

  5. It all happens because fans “love” to watch…and “love” to live vicariously via the highs and lows of those teams and individuals they become attached. I find sports has become exceedingly narcissistic and ‘inward’ looking….Don’t get me wrong, Allen must be a great motivator and he must know how to sell his message to recruits.
    But is it somewhat naive to bathe in the inner circles of love to an extent that it flippantly disregards the fan and the eyes paying all of the bills?
    My sports heroes are those who never failed to know everything they get from playing a game they love is because of the patrons in the stands. ….Ernie Banks…Roberto Clemente…Walter Payton to name a few.
    I don’t know how much they loved each other in a locker room. I have a feeling they were great teammates as well. But beyond “loving each other” or some entity in the clouds (” I’d first and foremost would like to thank God….”), they had a magical way of speaking to this young kid staring into a black and white television every chance he got to watch a baseball, basketball or football game. They had a way of sincerely spearing my heart and showing me they loved my devotion in watching them and cheering for them. In my humble opinion, they cherished that fact more than anything else propelling them to the court or fields.

    1. H4H so you don’t favor players caring for each other at IU. I pushed this concept in a different way and got white, black, and hispanic to get along and not worry about not getting along. They bonded well and invited each other to their homes. It means a lot to the players and teams and made them friends instead of just teammates without. I am sorry you can’t buy into it but this is a free country -for now anyway, with many Dems wanting to wipe us out if we disagree with them not you H4H but many in Democrat circles, so you can choose to like LEO or not.

      If more people in this country followed LEO this country wouldn’t be so divided. The reason coach Allen is bringing in so many players from the South and other areas is because they love LEO and want to be part of it.

      1. You sort of misinterpreted my post, V. But that’s o.k.. Have you heard…? We have a new fight song.

  6. There will now be a successful rushing attack. Never thought Hart was good at anything but recruiting.

  7. Class of 1989. Love to see the HOOSIERS building the team the right way. Always felt we could explode in football with the right coach and approach. Great work men! The Hoosier Nation will be pouring out to support you next year!

  8. I love LEO!

    It is clear that LEO is the manifestation of who Allen is. This isn’t something on Allen’s sleeve. It’s real and should be a source of pride for IU supporters.

    And there will be recruits that will find it attractive (there will occasionally be recruits put off by it, but then they are not what Allen wants…though they are who need it the most.)

  9. Just read the story about Deland’s quest to find his biological parents. Unbelieveable. Can’t get it out of my mind.
    Truth is stranger than fiction because there is no boundaries. Deland’s story is proof positive.

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