ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For the first time in a decade Jim McElwain isn’t in charge of an offense or a full team, and the new Michigan assistant coach said he’s content to be learning in the background this spring.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh hired McElwain in February to coach a group of Wolverine wide receivers that struggled to produce big numbers during the 2017 season. The former Florida and Colorado State head coach said he’s not quite sure how he landed in Ann Arbor but sees his new job in the Big Ten as a chance to see how someone else steers the ship.
“I don’t know if he got the wrong number and I answered,” McElwain said Monday night, speaking to local reporters for the first time since taking the job. “No, I don’t really know how it came about, but we got a phone call and I was obviously very excited to come and, if nothing else, get an opportunity to stand in the background and see how something is operated.”
McElwain got a first-hand look at his news players last September when Michigan beat his Gators, 33-17, in the season opener. McElwain, who was fired from the Florida job less than two months later, said he knew plenty about rising sophomore Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones from his old team’s time preparing to stop them last summer.
The young receiver group hauled in only three total receiving touchdowns — six others came from other position groups — during the 2017 season. McElwain said the group has work to do, but he sees more promise from them this spring in practice.
McElwain coached wide receivers for more than 10 seasons of the 30-plus year coaching career prior to becoming an offensive coordinator and head coach. Last November was the first fall month he spent away from the sideline since he started his career. The longtime coach said he immediately missed the camaraderie and was eager to jump on any opportunity to join another staff.
He said he has studied Harbaugh from afar for many years. Now he’s picking up pointers from his new boss to use if he gets another shot to be a head coach in the future.
“There are a lot of things I’ll take with me if ever given the opportunity again that we’ve learned from him,” McElwain said. “I think probably his approach with the team itself, how he interacts with that, how he handles some of the outside things that go on. He does a great job with that. His preparation with that is really good.”