RB coach Deland McCullough set to return to IU

The purveyor of “RBU” at Indiana is returning to Bloomington.

Deland McCullough, who left IU for USC in 2017, and eventually the Kansas City Chiefs from 2018-20, has been pegged by IU coach Tom Allen to reclaim his old post. McCullough replaces Mike Hart, who returned to his alma mater, Michigan, this offseason.

McCullough will also be IU’s associate head coach, a role Hart also held during the 2020 season. His contract will pay him $515,000 in the first year, with that number increasing to $530,000 in Year 2. For comparison, Hart had a base salary of $350,000 last season, while offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan was paid $450,000.

“I could not be happier to welcome Deland, his wife Darnell, and the McCullough family back home to Bloomington,” Allen said in a statement. “Deland’s a first-class person that has gone on to do great things in the NFL. He has won a Super Bowl, worked with a Hall of Fame coach and helped develop some of the most dynamic players and offenses in football. I cannot wait to bring his winning mindset to our program.”  

McCullough, an alum of Miami (Ohio), had a six-year run at IU working under Kevin Wilson. He coached alongside Allen in 2016, when Allen was IU’s defensive coordinator. McCullough also coached one game under Allen, when the latter was interim head coach for the 2016 Foster Farms Bowl.

Those were good years for Hoosier running backs, which led McCullough to coin IU as “RBU.” In 2014, Tevin Coleman became the 18th player in FBS history to rush for 2,000 yards, setting a school record with 2,036. The next year, IU became 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.

Coleman was drafted by the Falcons in 2015, and Jordan Howard was taken by the Bears in 2016, which made it the first time since 1990-92 that the Hoosiers had running backs drafted in consecutive years.

Since then, IU has flourished under Allen, posting an eight-win season in 2019, and rising in the top 25 polls during the 2020 campaign. In those same years, McCullough was coaching the Chiefs’ running backs in back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, including a win in last year’s game versus San Francisco.

“The opportunity to return to IU in this role is very special to me and my family for a host of reasons,” McCullough said in a release. “Coach Allen has done an amazing job of galvanizing and advancing the program’s culture, which has been displayed by success on the field. I welcome the challenges and glory of being a part of helping Indiana Football win championships. I have been fortunate to have won a championship on the ultimate stage in the NFL, and I know what it looks like and how it feels. I believe that Indiana University is primed to not only CHASE, but to capture championships in football, and I can’t wait to contribute.”

In both Super Bowls, McCullough faced a former protégé. In 2019, the 49ers featured Coleman in the backfield. In this past weekend’s game, USC product Ronald Jones was part of Tampa Bay’s rushing attack. Along with his experience helping running backs like Coleman and Jordan Howard matriculate from IU to the NFL, or Jones from USC, McCullough now has experience coaching players on the ultimate stage.

With the Chiefs, McCullough helped Damien Williams, an undrafted player, become one of the anchors of the running back in 2018 and ’19. This season, McCullough was assigned to coach up a first-round draft pick, LSU product Clyde Edwards-Helaire, as well as a former Pro Bowler, Le’Veon Bell.

While the Chiefs offense has been built around quarterback Patrick Mahomes, it was on the backfield to provide an adequate complement to a top-flight arm. Going into this year’s Super Bowl, Kansas City rushed for 113 yards per game, which was good for 16th in the NFL. The Chiefs’ yard-per-carry average of 4.5 ranked 11th in the NFL.

It has been quite the ascent for McCullough, a former star running back at Miami (Ohio), whose chance at an NFL career was curtailed by a knee injury during the Bengals’ preseason in 1996. He eventually transitioned to life as educator in the Cincinnati area in the early 2000s, spending his last years as a principal.

After a year as an offensive and special teams intern with Miami (Ohio) in 2010, McCullough became a running backs coach at IU, but he always had higher aspirations. He participated in the NFL’s internship program for minority coaches, spending time with the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, and Atlanta Falcons. 

Getting to the pros became a goal.

“To me, it was respect,” McCullough said in an interview last February. “When you play high school ball, you are respected at that level, but the next thing is ‘You can’t play in college.’ OK, yes I can, and I can play at a high level in college. And here you are in college, ‘Bet you can’t play in the pros.’ Watch.

“It’s just the competitor in me, and all my life I’ve been told what I can’t do. You really can’t do this, you aren’t that good at that. It was always something that was a driving force.”

Now that he’s been to the top, it appears McCullough is prepared to return to the college ranks at the place where he had success. 

Mike Hart was able to build on McCullough’s accomplishments in four years at IU, recruiting the likes of Stevie Scott, Sampson James, and Tim Baldwin Jr. With Hart back at his alma mater, Michigan, the Hoosiers’ running back room is handed back to McCullough with plenty of talent.

Scott declared for the NFL draft, but James and Baldwin have demonstrated promise at different times. Each have posted games of 100-plus yards in college, including James’ performance at Purdue in 2019, and Baldwin’s effort versus Maryland this past season. David Ellis, who has played both receiver and running back, is another versatile piece in the arsenal.

IU is also adding a pair of freshmen to the running back room in 2021, Trent Howland and David Holloman.

23 comments

  1. This has been going on / an agreement has been in placefor several weeks, as I recently mentioned to V13. Good deal for IU. DM is a good guy.

  2. Great to have him back to the IU sidelines and I hope coach Allen not only makes him the RB coach but also the run game coordinator and let Hiller focus just on the OL.

  3. He’ll be the run game coordinator, whether or not it’s officially in his title, and he, Hiller, Sheridan and Wright will continue to work closely together. I think you’ll see him impact recruiting, a real point of emphasis with Allen as he understands we need to definitely up the talent level if we want to compete toward the top of the Big 10. I know it’s a heavy emphasis as they see we lack top end skill and need to close that gap.

  4. BD I agree he will be a great recruiter especially of RBs and I hope he brings in top talent for IU as he recruits. The past two hires of Deland and Warren should really help recruiting. I would hope with the experience of our S&C coaches would help pull in top recruits. I hope the video department is doing a tremendous job of videos for recruits and promoting IUFB.

  5. The biggest issue in recruiting is identifying talented kids who are overlooked for some reason. Where we’re recruiting, we’re never going to get the top kids, since they’ll stay in the SEC with premier programs. We need to find that next level that has the chance to develop. And we need better, more explosive skill. Mississippi showed us that even their back up skill kids were better than our starters. We have to get those difference making kids to move up and then stay up.

    1. BD: Yes, the Outback revealed the disparity in raw talent. While the noon kickoff and warmth may have had some effect, I was surprised to watch their depleted roster dominte at some positions v our front line personnel.

  6. I think coach will love the speedster from Michigan coming in along with the RBs we now have. We need more speed for RBs and coach will find them. IU will find vey good players with this staff and help bring in top players in a couple of years. I hope coach and teach Sheridan and Hiller the best running plays to install.

    1. V!3, you and the B-town rumor mill nailed it. Good call and congrats.

      I just could not see it. It’s didn’t seem to make any sense. But perhaps that’s because I’ve become cynical in my old age. This reminds me that there’s more to a person’s occupation than a title and making money. I’m really glad you were right and that I was wrong.

      I don’t want anyone to take this as sour grapes, and I liked Hart and thought he did a good job at IU. But this is a major significant upgrade for IU’s coaching staff.

  7. He looks a bit like the great Mark Aguirre of Depaul basketball from back in the day….

  8. If DM signs RBs like Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard every year, IU will truly become RBU. To BD’s point, Coleman was one of the RBs that was somewhat overlooked coming out of HS. He had offers from some excellent Power-five conference FB schools, but they all wanted him to play defense. It was DM who offered Coleman the opportunity to play RB in the Big Ten and convinced him that he could help Coleman get to the NFL (there’s no substitute for speed). It has worked out very well for Coleman, and I’m sure DM will tell that story more than once on the recruiting trail.

    Now if we could just produce more O-linemen like Feeney, Martin, Stepaniak and Spriggs, IU would have an intimidating and productive offense.

    1. Po the RB from Michigan has run a 4.26 so I know coach will love him and expect he will bring in more like him in the future classes. I also think coach will make our current RBs even better runners especial if our injured OL come back stronger along with the rest of the OL. I also think we have those type of OL players on the team but they just haven’t been developed enough and if things don’t improve I think IU will be looking at an OL coach.

  9. The ramifications of DM coming back at this particular time is huge! V13, great call. ‘IF’ things happen to upgrade the overall talent on the OL,…it just might be enough to de-throne the Buckeyes. Everyone in the B1G would be greatful, at least for a season. This is a very deep, talented coaching staff. They need to ‘strike’ while the iron is hot. Like I mentioned a few weeks ago, among other things, CTA seems to be quite shrewd. I’m pumped.

  10. Brad I think I am as pumped up as you are about this hire and if Jon Blau is correct his sons will be at IU which will be a bonus. It is time to get the OL health and strong in run technique and pass blocking, c’mon coach Hiller get the job done and make fans believe in you. His sons are going to Bloomington South and coach McCollough can watch them play when the team is in Bloomington.

    Coach Allen is really improving the coaching staff and finding very good players. With Penix playing we got 4 star receivers coming in and 4 star QB ranked high now so when Penix leaves the competition will be very good in practice. Players coming in are very good players and IU’s football team looks good for the next several years and I think we will get better players in 2022 and on.

    1. V13: Good example. There’s a kid down on the Ohio River (Georgetown, Indiana) that’s ranked #2 player in state, 6’7″ 3+-bills. He’s an OL’man. According to the scouting report IU isn’t anywhere on his radar. I refuse to believe CTA will allow this constant trend to continue.

    2. Hey, V13, just need to clarify for the record: I didn’t say his sons are going to be at IU. I tweeted out a story link last night that showed Dasan is moving to Indiana for his senior season, which, like you said, is probably to play at one of the local high schools. But I do not recall ever saying his sons are going to play at IU. You may be confusing me with someone else, but I just wanted to clarify that.

      1. I will try and get my apology post up once again.

        Jon, sorry for the misinformation as I should have said a post on another board had you saying they were coming to IU. Like usual many posters misrepresent was was said I apologize for saying you said they were coming to IU but I still have hope they will come to IU.

        1. No problem, V13. I just wanted to clarify, because, yeah, it seems somebody may have misinterpreted something I said. Deland’s sons, Dasan and Daeh, are moving to “Indiana” for their prep seasons, as in the state. And more specifically, Bloomington. But Dasan even clarified yesterday that he’s committed to OSU, and Daeh (who is younger) isn’t committed anywhere yet. Deland Jr. is at Miami (Ohio).

    3. I’m not sure where you’re getting the information about his sons, but Miami and OSU are their schools, not IU, and I haven’t heard a word within the program that any of that changes with DM’s move to Bloomington.

  11. I would not hold my breath waiting for any of DM’s sons to flip to IU. The one son who has yet to commit might be a candidate, but that gets really complicated. Of all coaches, TA knows all about the complexities of coaching one’s son.

  12. I am not holding my breath and I know coaches will bring in better recruits so it doesn’t hurt if they don’t flip to IU. I can’t wait to see how our new coaches along with the past two seasons help improve recruiting for 2022 and beyond. I know even if it doesn’t step up much our coaches will find talent where ever it is IE McFadden, Whop, Mullen, Fryfogle etc.

    I am hoping coach McCollough can influence the run game to become much better in 2021 to go with a very good passing game and defense.

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