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.
“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.