I like to think that I’m pretty good at putting my vested interests aside when I write about Missouri football. After starting and restarting this preview several times, I figured the easiest way for me to go forward was to get this out of the way: I am no fan of Jim McElwain the football coach. As a person he has done some nice things, but let’s review what “Coach Mac” has done:
- Only took one Colorado State assistant with him when he jumped to Florida, saying that the CSU staff he assembled was inadequate for coaching at Florida. Said it was really hard on him.
- Repeatedly recruited talented but troubled kids, leading to constant suspensions and dismissals when he nor his staff took steps to keep them from poor decisions. This leads to a massive credit card fraud scandal.
- Hilarious shark-related internet joke happens involving someone who looks like you? Say it’s an attack on your family!
- Embarrassing loss where the offense doesn’t score in the second half? Blame the players!
- Feeling the heat from losing three games in a row? Say you and your players are receiving death threats! Oh, and offer no proof. Oh, and in this scenario that you’ve concocted to save yourself, accidentally breach a clause in your contract that makes it so the school can now fire you for cause.
So you’ll understand that, when it was reported that McElwain was the leader for the Missouri job, I was completely incensed. And even though his chances at the job might have been inflated, the fact that he’s being interviewed at all is causing me to sweat. In all my years following Missouri sports, I have not had a coach I’ve actively despised coaching my team. Granted, winning cures all woes, and just because rumors say he’s likely to get it doesn’t mean he will, but....readers, this is a coach I am going to have a hard time getting behind.
Regardless, I will portray the research in front of you, present my findings and comments, and let you come to a decision based off of that.
McElwain has been an assistant coach for a very long time and that grind finally paid off with his first coaching gig in 2012 at Colorado State. After a quick build in Ft. Collins, he oversaw an equally fast implosion at Florida, forcing him to take a rehab stint as Michigan’s receivers coach before getting back in the head chair at a decimated Central Michigan program. If Sterk is looking for an offensive guy with lots of head coaching experience, McElwain is certainly going to check the hell out of those boxes, but as for me and my expectations for the new head coach, Mac doesn’t seem as appealing (and not just because of my personal issues with him). Here’s why:
McElwain played quarterback at Eastern Washington, coached quarterbacks and receivers for the next 27 years with 10 years of offensive coordinator experience mixed in, and what’s the average rating of his offenses? 46th. And this is the guy who was in direct charge of Alabama’s offense for four years and Florida’s program for 2.5 years. In fact, in the 15 seasons of SP+ data, McElwain has only had an offense that was better than his defense five times. Ask Alabama fans if they miss Mac’s offense. Certainly ask Florida fans if they miss the offenses he would trot out. Even Central Michigan this year is mostly getting it done on the defensive side. There’s certainly nothing wrong with an offensive coach winning with defense, but if you’re looking to hire a guy specifically for his offensive acumen, McElwain is the wrong place to look.
At Colorado State, McElwain started his first year with the 120th ranked class and quickly bumped them up to the 80s, even with a four-win season. He was able to keep blue-blood Florida among the Top 25 in recruiting every year, and salvaged the 104th-rated class at dreadful Central Michigan. I don’t put much stock in “getting drafted=excellence” but this is an interesting point: of the players that McElwain recruited to Colorado State, seven (7) were drafted by the NFL. Of the players that McElwain recruited to Florida, ten (10) were drafted by the NFL. Maybe he got lucky at Colorado State, or unlucky at Florida, or any other numbers of outcomes. But you need NFL talent to succeed in college and he was only slightly better at a blue-blood than he was at a Mountain West school.
Colorado State was 3-9 and 97th in SP+ before McElwain and his staff arrived; in three years they won 22 games and improved to 92nd, then 63rd, then 59th. When he helmed the Gators they did win the SEC East twice, but regressed in wins, from 10 to 9 to 4, and regressed in SP+ from 25th to 20th to 34th. But when you add Mac back to the G5, he becomes awesome all over again, taking the Chippewas from 1 win and 122nd in SP+ to 8 wins, a MAC championship game appearance, and 83rd in SP+. Maybe he should stick to mid-majors, huh?
Barry has broken me. At this point, I just zoom to a coach’s record against ranked teams and teams with winning records. I’m starting to get the feeling that success at the college level is simply fielding the best team you can while hoping your schedule is chock full of teams that suck. That, seriously, might just be it. I mean...look at Jim McElwain’s record! He built Colorado State to ten wins, won the SEC East twice....and he’s 4-10 against ranked teams and 9-22 (!!!!!) against teams with winning records! Nine and twenty-two! Broken down another way, he’s 6-18 against SP+ Top 50 and 36-8 against any teams ranked 51st or worse. Mac, seemingly, feasts on terrible teams and that’s how he gets his wins. Not very inspiring, huh?
I admitted I don’t like the guy but I really wanted to find something, anything, to make me feel better about the hire if/when he’s offered the job. And, wow, I did not find anything. Some coaches are just better suited for the G5 life and, granted, he only had one shot at a P5 school and blew it; Ed Orgeron is certainly a case study for giving someone another shot. But can Jim McElwain pull an Ed O, become a CEO-coach, and break through by hiring some NFL offensive wizard’s assistant to revolutionize Missouri’s offense? And do you even want a guy who notoriously does not show his face on campus and actively hates working the booster circuit? I’d say it’s best to find someone else to fill the Missouri head coaching vacancy.