Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson checks off every box as far as Jim McElwain is concerned.
McElwain, who spent last season as the Wolverines’ receivers coach, is now the head coach at Central Michigan, and joined The Detroit News’ “View from the Press Box” podcast this week. He spoke on a number of topics, including his formative football years growing up in Montana, his time at Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh, and, now, his expectations at Central Michigan.
But as the season opener nears and Michigan is about to debut its new no-huddle spread offense Saturday with Patterson at the helm, McElwain shared his insights ion the Wolverines' quarterback. This will be Patterson’s second-straight season starting for them.
“This will be great for him,” McElwain said of new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ pro-spread offense. “I’ve been fortunate to coach a lot of really good quarterbacks along the way and this guy’s release and the way he’s able to get the ball out is special. Not very many people can get the ball out of their hand and it’s gone (snaps his finger) like that.
“His decisions, his understanding of the game, he’s a guy that’s got, whatever ‘it’ is, he has it at that position. He’s fearless. He’s competitive. He understands all the things it takes to go get a win. I really like Shea.”
McElwain said this move to a pro-spread didn’t shock him based on the quarterbacks Harbaugh has brought to Michigan. Dylan McCaffrey is the backup, along with Joe Milton and freshman Cade McNamara.
“To Coach’s credit, he was recruiting to that style,” McElwain said. “I don’t think this was like, ‘Oh, it’s a big turnover,’ right? It’s like taking over here (at CMU) and taking over wherever you’re at. One of the mistakes, if there is one, you try to fit immediately exactly what you’re going to do rather than, ‘All right, let’s sit back and see what we have. Now, let’s maybe grow to what we want to be, but the people you have in the program right then, let’s do what they do best.’ I think there could have been some of that moving forward (at Michigan), which, there again, adds to his brilliance.
“You think down the road as a head coach. You come in and evaluate your personnel. Look, we’re not going to come in here and run the wishbone with the guys we have. Here’s what we have, so this is what we need to do to make these guys successful and hopefully put them in positions to do well and not expose some of the things maybe they need to work on.”
McElwain had coached against Harbaugh, but after he was let go by Florida, he was delighted when he was offered the job. McElwain said he was at a gas station in Arizona where his daughter lives when he got the call from Harbaugh.
“I thought he was a good guy and like the rest of us, trying to win a game and do the best for his university and his players,” McElwain said. “He’s got a great vision of bigger-picture post-football with his players, which I really like then just, ‘Hey, you’re here for four years and whatever.’ He’s at a great university. A degree from the University of Michigan puts you on a different platform, let’s face it. He knows the kind of kid he wants in his program which makes him a really good fit from the standpoint of his experience at Stanford, so he’s dealt with that type. I really don’t know what the outside world (thinks of him). I never got caught up in anything. He was a lot of fun to work with.”
He would like to schedule Michigan, but the price has to be right. The Chips are playing at Wisconsin on Sept. 7 and at Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 21 for big paydays.
“I think it would be great for the state,” he said. “Even when we were (on staff) at Michigan State we played Central, we played Western. Here’s what happens — I’ll shoot you straight. We can go play Wisconsin for a million and a half and Michigan State says come down the road for $200,000. Well that million and half covers a lot of sports at Central Michigan. We’re playing these paydays to cover other sports, which is the way it is, I get it.
“If Michigan was willing to pay us what we can get at LSU and Alabama and Miami and the places we’re going, I think we should. It’s a bus trip, it’s great for the fans, they can go to the Big House. He knows they can get us for $200,000. No, I shouldn’t do that because I’ve got to cover a bunch of other sports here. I’ve got to try and get as much as we can to help the athletic department. Just because we’re a bus ride (away) doesn’t mean we’re going to do it for free. It’s my responsibility to be able to help the non-revenue sports cover their budgets. I can’t do that playing a $600,000 guarantee.”
He wasn’t actively looking for another head coaching job when CMU opened. McElwain said he loved being in Ann Arbor.
“I could have done that — if he would have kept me — forever,” he said.
Here are some highlights from McElwain’s interview on the “View from the Press Box”:
► On his time at Florida: “I had a great time there. I loved the players. They gave me everything. And that’s all you can ask for as a coach. For whatever it reason, it didn’t work out. It didn’t work out. I’m proud of our staff, we won to back-to-back SEC championship games. There were some things, the people there didn’t like and I probably wasn’t what they were looking for and that’s OK. I’m totally OK with it. I’m proud of what we did there. I don’t regret anything about it. I’ve never been fired before. I was proud of what we were able to accomplish. Wished we could have seen it through, but we couldn’t. I was really happy when coach Harbaugh gave me that opportunity to come and learn from him.”
► On taking over a CMU program that went 1-11 last year: “Thanks for reminding me. I met with every player and I explained to them they have a clean slate. I tore up their bios, because it didn’t mean anything to me — eventually the leopard is going to show his spots, whatever that is. I didn’t want to come in with any preconceived idea who or what any of the players were. I gave them the opportunity to prove who they want to be, and I’ve held true to that. They know, ‘Look, here’s your second chance.’ Also, those guys that maybe were put on the pedestal, guess what, they’re not on a pedestal anymore. Everybody is on an even playing field. I’ve seen some growth out of some guys that maybe were thought of as malcontents. So far have been great. We’re each responsible for who we are and what we’re all about and that’s the thing I’ve expressed to all the players.”
► On recruiting to CMU: “We’ve got to be footprint-driven because we don’t have the money to go flying and driving everywhere. We have to get the best fit for Central Michigan University. This is a place that fits the right people and we need to go find that. We sell honesty and we sell who we are. We sell the experience you’re going to have being a Central Michigan Chippewa. We’re building (new facilities) and other people aren’t. Here’s your vision and here’s where you could be.
► On where he can take the Chips: “I’ve got expectations. You don’t go into this business without 'em. I really like our team. Maybe we don’t have as much firepower as we hope to in the future but a couple guys we have I think can play anywhere. I tell them, ‘Be proud of what you put on film. If we can be proud of that, we’ve had a great year.”