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Jim McElwain’s prior success can’t be ignored

We don’t know if Jim McElwain will turn around Michigan’s offense, but he has had success before.

Florida v Georgia Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It has been a fan-base divided recently on multiple fronts when it comes to the Michigan football team. And it remains divided with the report that former Florida head coach Jim McElwain will be joining the Michigan staff. While it remains to be seen what McElwain’s duties will be precisely, it would be a good bet that he will be taking the vacant receivers coach position, and possibly call plays in a co-offensive coordinator capacity as well.

It’s unfair to say this was a horrible hire just yet, and it would be silly to call it a great hire. There are pros and cons to McElwain coming to Ann Arbor. Daniel Allweiss wrote a piece yesterday citing the negatives of the hire, some of the issues he raised were McElwain’s divisiveness at press conferences, bottom of the barrel ranked offenses at Florida, among others.

While McElwain doesn’t have a infallible resume, he has done some notable things that deserve a thumbs up.

As the offensive coordinator for Alabama, he won two National Championships, coached players such as Julio Jones, A.J. McCarron, and Mark Ingram Jr. His offense featured stout offensive lines, and the quarterback rarely turned the ball over.

The counter to his success at Alabama is “every coach does well at Alabama.” Yes, that is true. However, that shouldn’t discredit McElwain winning two National Championships there, nor should it diminish the accomplishments of any other coach during their tenure at Alabama.

When McElwain became the head coach at Colorado State, the offense became a powerhouse by his third season at the helm. In 2014, the team went 10-3, were ranked 13th in total offense, his quarterback Garrett Grayson was among the most efficient in the nation, and wide receiver Rashard Higgins led the nation in touchdowns, and receiving yards per game. McElwain was named the Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year. McElwain changed the long term trajectory of the program, the team now competes in bowl games each year.

Not everything about McElwain’s tenure at Florida was bad either. In 2015 McElwain was the SEC Coach of the Year, after going 10-4. In 2016, Florida won its second consecutive Eastern Division Title under McElwain.

A big factor that hampered the wins and losses during McElwain’s tenure at Florida was the suspension of quarterback Will Grier. In 2015, with Florida off to a hot 6-0 start, Grier was suspended for taking performance enhancing drugs. Grier was suspended the rest of 2015, and part of 2016. Grier never played another down for Florida, he ultimately transferred to West Virginia, and has become one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

If Grier was never suspended, the perception of Jim McElwain and his time at Florida would be completely different, and he’d still be their head coach.

But Grier was suspended, and McElwain’s days at Florida ended badly, the wheels fell off in 2017. Players were suspended in droves to start the season, Michigan beat Florida 33-17 in week one, and McElwain was fired before the season was over.

The bottom line is McElwain knows enough about football and has had enough positive things transpire in his career to warrant being a receivers coach at Michigan, with the possibility of having some input when it comes to play-calling. McElwain isn’t the new head coach for Michigan, he’s not the man in charge, he’s just a piece that could be a small but competent piece of the puzzle.

McElwain isn’t a home-run hire, but he isn’t a dumpster fire hire either. At the very least, he’s a better coach with a better track record than the guy he replaced whom jetted to Alabama, Dan Enos. On paper, McElwain has a hell of a lot more to like when it comes to his resume than Enos.

Will McEwlain be a good hire when things are all said and done? Will it be a horrible decision to bring him into the fold at U-M? No one really knows, and it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” His track record isn’t worthy of condemnation as it stands right now, nor is it one that should make anyone jump up and down with excitement. Therefore if you asked me, do I like Michigan hiring McElwain? I’ll tell you I don’t know... yet.