Six Potential Candidates to Replace Tony Alford As Ohio State's Running Backs Coach

By Andy Anders on March 13, 2024 at 4:03 pm
Deland McCullough
Greg Swiercz/USA TODAY Network

The running back coaching job at Ohio State is, unexpectedly, open.

With nine-year Ohio State assistant Tony Alford bolting for Michigan in a sudden turn, the Buckeyes will try to quickly fill the hole left in their offensive staff to lead what should be the nation's best running back tandem in TreVeyon Henderson and Quinshon Judkins.

Perhaps even more important will be the new hire's acumen on the recruiting trail, where Ohio State is in the thick of battles for players like Marquise Davis and Jordon Davison in the class of 2025.

The following six coaches are among the potential candidates for the job who should get a call from Ohio State.

Robert Gillespie, Alabama

This would be one of the bigger swings Ryan Day could take in trying to fill Alford's shoes. Having already plucked center Seth McLaughlin and safety Caleb Downs from Alabama in the transfer portal, the Crimson Tide's three-year running backs coach could be another target of theft from the program Nick Saban just left.

Gillespie's been a bell-cow recruiter for the Tide, winning key battles against Ohio State for five-star running back Justice Haynes and even five-star defensive end Keon Keeley. Across his three recruiting cycles at Alabama, Gillespie's helped bring five 247Sports composite five-stars to Tuscaloosa, serving as the primary recruiter for four of those signings. 

New Alabama head coach Kalen DeBoer made a point to promote Gillespie to assistant head coach after first being hired. Still, he's worth a call for Ryan Day.

Deland McCullough, Notre Dame

McCullough has a 13-year background as a running backs coach and is Midwest through and through. Born in Pittsburgh, McCullough played his college football at Miami (Ohio) and spent his lone NFL season with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1996. He cut his teeth as running backs coach at Indiana from 2011 through 2016, where he returned in 2021 before landing the Notre Dame job the following season.

Day likely already has a relationship here given that McCullough's son, Dasan McCullough, originally committed to Ohio State before ultimately signing to play with his brother at Indiana in the class of 2022.

In two cycles as running backs coach for the Fighting Irish, McCullough has already landed three composite four-star prospects at running back, including top-100 overall recruit Jeremiyah Love in the class of 2023. McCullough also has NFL coaching experience, having served as the Kansas City Chiefs’ running backs coach from 2018-20.

Stan Drayton, Temple head coach

Stan Drayton
After two lackluster seasons as Temple's head coach, a return to Ohio State could be on the table for Stan Drayton. Credit: Andy Lewis-USA TODAY Sports

The man who recruited and coached Ezekiel Elliott has seen a roller-coaster of a coaching career since leaving Ohio State following its 2014 National Championship run. Drayton spent two seasons as running backs coach for the Chicago Bears and five at Texas before ultimately landing the head coaching job at Temple before the 2022 season.

His time there has been tumultuous. Drayton's gone 3-9 in each of his first two campaigns and is likely feeling his seat heat up entering 2024.

There's no doubt that Drayton's an adept recruiter. Not only did he snag Elliott for Ohio State more than a decade ago, he also pulled five-star running back Bijan Robinson, a player who later won the Doak Walker Award and got selected eighth overall in the 2023 NFL draft, from the Buckeyes' clutches while at Texas.

He wouldn’t be the first sitting head coach to join Ohio State’s offensive staff as an assistant this offseason, and several other Group of 5 head coaches have left for assistant coaching positions at major programs over the past couple of months, so this possibility shouldn’t be ruled out.

Scottie Graham, Washington

Graham just got hired at Washington but his Ohio State ties and background make him a candidate here. He played for the Buckeyes from 1988 through 1991, serving as a captain in his senior season. He rushed for 1,704 career yards with 19 touchdowns in Columbus.

Arizona State’s associate athletic director from 2014 through 2020, Graham landed his first coaching job as Arizona's running backs coach in 2021. In three seasons he enticed composite four-star Rayshon Luke to sign with the Wildcats in 2022, then followed that up by landing four-star Jordan Washington in 2024.

Arizona's best finish rushing-wise with Graham in tow came in 2022, when it finished 71st nationally with 143.5 yards per game but was 37th in yards per carry at 4.9.

Eddie George, Tennessee State head coach

George seems like a no-brainer here given he won a Heisman Trophy at Ohio State and would enter with three years of head coaching experience from Tennessee State, leading the FCS Tigers to their first winning season since 2017 by going 6-5 in 2023.

Lettermen Row's Tim May has reported that George isn't interested in leaving Nashville at this time, however.

Pepe Pearson, Tarleton State

To follow up on the latter portion of May's post, the man who followed George as Ohio State's starting running back for the 1996 and 1997 seasons and is 11th on the Buckeyes' all-time rushing list (3,076 yards) is another option here.

Pearson has 20 years of coaching experience but none at the Power Five level, with his lone FBS job coming as Marshall's running backs coach from 2016 through 2020 before he left to join George at Tennesse State in 2021. Tarleton State hired him as running backs coach and associate head coach in 2023.

Other Names

Maurice Clarett

Clarett has openly pined for the job on X and seen some former players back him, but given that he has no coaching background and has openly criticized Day in the past, this one is a long shot.

Mike Hart

The famed Michigan running back and running backs coach who preceded Alford at Michigan is out of a job after not re-signing with the Wolverines in 2024. Hart holds a disdain for the Buckeyes dating back to his time as a player and it's still unclear exactly why he wasn't retained in Ann Arbor, so this one is also unlikely.

DeShaun Foster

Foster served as newly minted Ohio State offensive coordinator Chip Kelly’s running backs coach at UCLA and would make a lot of sense if it weren’t for the fact he was hired as Kelly’s replacement to be the Bruins’ head coach.

DeMarco Murray

What would be a home run hire seems pretty unlikely given that Murray is coaching running backs at his alma mater, Oklahoma.

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