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The 15 most important assistant coaching hires of 2021 -- No. 6: Deland McCullough, Indiana

Deland McCullough voluntarily left the Chiefs for Indiana. The goal? To forever change the paradigm of Hoosier football.

Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2021 season and beyond.

Who: Deland McCullough

Title: Associate head coach/running backs coach, Indiana

Previous stop: Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach (2018-20)

Why he's important: This was a very important and very successful offseason in Tom Allen's quest to turn Indiana into the next Clemson.

Before you spit coffee all over your screen, keep your lips together and understand what I'm saying. I do not mean Indiana is going to regularly compete for national titles, like Clemson. What I mean is that Clemson found the right head coach, gave him the tools he needed to be successful, and watched that investment pay off as he leveled up the program. 

Dabo took a pretty good program and turned it into a great one. 8-4 used to be the norm in the Upstate, now it's an unfathomable failure.

That's the track Allen is on in Bloomington.

From 1995 through 2018, Indiana enjoyed one (1) winning season. They lost at least seven games all but two of those seasons. Then came the breakthrough in 2019: eight wins (the most since 1993), five Big Ten wins (most since 1988) and a January bowl game (the first since 1967). The 2020 campaign was even better -- a 6-2 record, including a 6-1 mark in Big Ten play, and the program's first AP Top 15 finish since the '66 season. The Hoosiers won more Big Ten games last season than they did in the five between 2008-12.

Getting there is one thing, staying is another.

Allen lost assistant head coach/running backs coach Mike Hart to Michigan and defensive coordinator Kane Wommack to the head coaching job at South Alabama. 

Allen hired Georgia defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, a first-time coordinator who made more as an SEC position coach ($600,000) than Wommack did running IU's defense ($460,000). 

But the real testament to where Indiana now sits within the coaching industry came with McCullough, who left his job as an up-and-coming NFL assistant to return to Indiana. And it was all McCullough's idea. "Since I've been in the NFL, every year there's been opportunities to go back to college. None that I ever sought out. When I saw (Indiana open), I'm sitting there getting ready to game plan for a game and I shot Tom a text."

"That was a text that I wasn't expecting, to be honest with it. When I read it I was like, 'Seriously?'" Allen said. 

That game, by the way, was the AFC divisional playoff against the Cleveland Browns. 

"I just felt it in my spirit that I want to be part of the next step that IU football takes," he said. "When I started talking to Coach (Andy) Reid, he started talking about Tom like he knew him. He said, 'I can see the energy.' That was further confirmation for me." 

Previous installments: No. 15: Sonny Cumbie, Texas Tech | No. 14: Travis Williams, UCF | No. 13: Liam Coen, Kentucky | No. 12: Jess Simpson, Miami | No. 11: Tim Banks, Tennessee | No. 10: Mike Bobo, Auburn | No. 9: Jeff Grimes, Baylor | No. 8: Mike Tressel, Cincinnati | No. 7: Mike Yurcich, Penn State

McCullough and Allen spent just one year together, in 2016 when the latter was IU's defensive coordinator. 

"Just watching what he did on the defensive side of the ball, the culture he created," McCullough said of what impressed him in that season. "The bond, the accountability, the responsibility these guys had not only to each other but to the greater mission. I listened through the walls to what he was doing over there."

McCullough doesn't step into the same job he held from 2011-16. As assistant head coach, he'll get on-the-job training for the next step in his career, be it in Bloomington or elsewhere. 

"I just knew how he'd relate with our players, in front of them if the situation required it. Representing me to the administration, compliance staff, academic staff. Those are the roles I really see him being able to play."

McCullough doesn't step into the same program, either. Allen is under contract through 2027 with a salary that will average over $5 million a year. The 2021 staff will make above half a million more than the 2020 staff, led by Warren's $700,000 salary as defensive coordinator. The Tallen Football Complex opened in 2019, making IU the honest to goodness football school.

That's not a rhetorical point, either. As Indiana has receded from view among college basketball's powers with just one Final Four berth since the 1987 national title and no Big Dance appearances since 2016, the concept of "Indiana, football school" has turned from joke to reality. The 2021 Hoosiers will begin in the AP Top 25 for just the third time ever, and first since 1969. Four wins used to be the norm; now, it'll be an unfathomable failure. 

"All the details made perfect sense, but more importantly what Tom is doing, the commitment that the university has made in continuing to advance the program. The whole world sees it. I saw it coming, I'm not going to act surprised that Tom got us to this point."

If Indiana is to remain a Top 25 program and improve upon it, to level up like Clemson did in the previous decade, McCullough will have to shoulder part of that burden.