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McCullough reflects on 1st spring back at IU: “All the tools are here”

Indiana running backs coach says he’s excited about everything he’s seen during first few months in the program

Orange County Register Archive Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

NCAA rules limit what college coaches can say about unsigned recruits, even when — in the case of IU running backs coach Deland McCullough — those players are their own offspring.

But with a nod and a chuckle on Wednesday morning, McCullough made sure his feelings on his three sons’ recent commitments to Indiana were known.

“Man, we’re just living life and enjoying our time here in Bloomington,” McCullough said, smiling. “It’s all good.”

Indeed it is, both inside the McCullough household and inside Memorial Stadium. At the latter site, McCullough has spent the past three months reacquainting himself with Indiana’s campus and the program that has now hired him twice. It’s been a busy spring of moving, introductions, in-(his own)-home recruiting and planning for the season, but with the Hoosiers’ 15 practices in the rearview, McCullough has a clearer picture of what he’ll be working with during his second stint on 17th street.

And he likes what he sees.

“The beautiful thing is — I was just talking with (receivers coach Grant) Heard about this about an hour ago — all the tools are here,” McCullough said. “It’s not about bringing in things. They’re all here. It’s just about how you can polish some of those things or make an alteration here or there. But the tools are here, as far as what we have in our offense.”

Inside that offense, McCullough will once again be tasked with developing Indiana’s running game, a role where he flourished during his first stint with the program from 2011 to 2016. But his responsibilities won’t end there. He’s already shared with his IU colleagues some of the overarching offensive concepts he worked on during recent stops at Southern California and with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he’s also assisted head coach Tom Allen with some of the non-coaching obligations that occupy Allen’s time behind the scenes.

It’s not sexy work, but it’s exactly the kind of added duties that drew McCullough back to IU after the Chiefs’ season ended at Super Bowl LV in February. McCullough wants to be more than a position coach one day, and IU was able to promise McCullough a lot of administrative latitude in order to help him expand his resume. So far, McCullough says, he finds himself leaning on his past experience as a school principal to help with his transition to big picture problem solving.

“(I’m) taking some of the things off of Coach Allen’s plate and just continuing to see some of the finer points behind the scenes as it relates to COVID protocols, scholarship allotments and different things like that that have been falling on my plate,” McCullough said. “I’m excited about it, simply because that’s one of the reasons I came here. I wanted to have a bigger role outside of the running back room ... and be able to have a bigger fingerprint on everything that’s going on. I’m just excited about it.”

Really, McCullough says he’s excited about a lot of things in the IU football orbit, and during his first few months back in town, he’s gained a greater appreciation for the work that was done a decade to go to get Indiana into the position it enjoys now.

“A level foundation was laid years ago and Coach Allen and the rest of the coaching staff have taken and expanded that,” McCullough said. “LEO is not just a catchphrase. It’s a way of life around here and it’s very evident to me. I’m just glad to be part of it.”

And soon, his sons, Deland II, Dasan and Daeh, will be, too.

“My family is very important to me,” McCullough said. “My wife and my sons, those are my top priorities, without a doubt. Those guys being happy and in a situation where they can be successful, I’m definitely excited about that.”