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Jim McElwain would be 'great hire' for Michigan State, former Spartan Drew Stanton says

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Now that Luke Fickell, Pat Narduzzi, Mel Tucker and Matt Campbell have passed on the head football coaching job at Michigan State, could athletic director Bill Beckman turn to Jim McElwain?

McElwain, 57, has enjoyed success at every head coaching stop during the 2010s. He has been the head coach at Central Michigan for one season, taking over a 1-11 program and guiding the Chippewas to the MAC West championship and MAC title game appearance, a loss to Miami (Ohio), in 2019. CMU finished 8-6 and McElwain was named MAC Coach of the Year.

Jim McElwain

McElwain has ties with MSU, as he was receivers/special teams coach under John L. Smith from 2003-05.

McElwain has the support of former MSU quarterback Drew Stanton, who played for the Spartans while McElwain was an assistant.

“I loved him,” Stanton told The Detroit News on Monday. “He was charismatic, a guy that bought into the players and someone people wanted to play for. I was somewhat heartbroken my senior year because him and (quarterbacks coach Doug) Nussmeier left at the same time and there was talk of Coach McElwain becoming the quarterbacks coach and I was all for it, but it didn’t work out.

“He was one of those guys that found a way to relate to everybody in the locker room and had that ability to do so in special teams. I had no intention of playing special teams my redshirt freshman year, but at the end of the year I was playing all four because I’d do anything for that guy.”

Matthew Stafford and Drew Stanton talk before a preseason game between the Lions and Browns on Aug. 29, 2019, in Cleveland.

Stanton, who played for the Browns last season, lives in Arizona and believes his NFL career could be over. He says he has no inside information on the MSU coaching search.

“I’m just like everybody else at this point, I don’t know the ins and outs,” Stanton said. But (MSU) is a place with a lot of great tradition and obviously near and dear to my heart. So hopefully they take their time and make the right hire, but it’s difficult with the timing. I think he (McElwain) would be a great fit. He knows what it’s like to live in East Lansing and has coached in some big-time games when he was in Florida and had some success.

“I think he would be a great hire. I think there’s a lot of things that go into it, and for people turning it down, it’s got to be the right fit, and they’ll (MSU administrators) do what they need to do.”

Bret Bielema, 50, who was defensive line coach for the Patriots last season and currently linebackers coach with Giants, is interested in the MSU job, sources told The Detroit News.

Bielema was a three-time Big Ten champion during his seven-year career as head coach at Wisconsin (2006-12), guiding the Badgers to a 68-24 record (37-19 Big Ten) and three Rose Bowl appearances before a subpar five-year stop at Arkansas (29-34, 11-29 SEC) from 2013-17; he had just one winning record in SEC play (8-5, 5-3), in 2015.

“Bielema had a ton of success in the Big Ten,” Stanton said. “It didn’t work out so well in the SEC, but that’s a difficult conference to go down in there when you’re second fiddle to some of those bigger dogs.”

McElwain’s first head coaching job was Colorado State (2012-14). He took over a program that had three consecutive 3-9 records prior to his arrival, then the Rams improved to 4-8, then 8-6 with a New Mexico Bowl win over Washington State, and 10-2 in 2014 when he was named Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year.

McElwain’s Rams showed they knew how to put points on the board, with quarterback Garrett Grayson throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 32 TDs with just seven interceptions in 2014, earning Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors.

McElwain moved on to Florida and had immediate success as head coach of the Gators, who were 7-5 (4-4 SEC) in 2014 prior to his arrival. In his first year the Gators went 10-4 (7-1 SEC) to compete in the conference title game, and he earned SEC Coach of the Year honors. That was followed by a 9-4 (6-2) record and another SEC East title in 2016, going on to defeat Iowa 30-3 in the Outback Bowl to finish at No. 14.

Florida slumped the following year as the Gators struggled offensively, and McElwain resigned. He spent the 2018 season as receivers coach at Michigan before taking the Central Michigan job.