California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
On a snowy Tuesday in Erwin, Unicoi County announced California native Robert McElwee as its new head football coach.
McElwee brings 15 years of head coaching experience from a career that started on the West Coast in 1968. He inherits a program that has a foundation of some success.
Under head coach Jerad Huskins, the Blue Devils made the playoffs each of the last two seasons and had a record of 9-13.
“I think it’s a good opportunity,” said McElwee. “I think it’s a school that is ready to bust out of the doldrums. It will take some time. It’s not an overnight thing, and I don’t know if we will be competitive right away. But we won’t go into a game thinking we can’t win.”
McElwee kind of fell into place for the Blue Devils. He was living in Cookeville, having moved to Tennessee to be in a more central location for family. Obviously the coaching bug hadn’t stopped biting him.
“I guess I got lucky,” said McElwee. “I read about (the position) somewhere, probably in the TSSAA bulletin they send out. I sent in my paperwork, and they gave me a call for the interview.”
It was a good match, said Blue Devils’ athletic director Michael Smith.
“We feel like it was a great plus for him to fall into our lap like that,” said Smith. “We were looking for someone with experience, and he has all kinds of it in California, junior colleges, and a couple of different high schools. We feel fortunate to get him, and we think he’s a great fit for us.”
Born and raised in California, McElwee has been a part of some successful programs. He twice helped teams reach the state finals, and four times they made it to the state semifinals.
“I haven’t won the big one yet, that’s for sure,” said McElwee. “But we’ve been close a lot of times.”
Getting Unicoi to a higher level will take a hard-nosed effort, said McElwee.
“It will take time, hard work, and a lot of commitment from the players, myself and the staff,” said McElwee. “You’re not a good coach unless you anticipate a lot of long hours and hard work.”
McElwee said he likes what he has seen so far.
“I think the community is very supportive,” he said. “I met some of the kids (Tuesday) and they are extremely excited.”
As for the type of team the Blue Devils will be under McElwee, he said that depends on what is in the cupboard.
“It depends on the type of kids you have,” he said. “If you don’t have a kid who can throw it, you better not run the spread offense. If you have a kid who is a good running back, you will have an emphasis on the running game.”
McElwee said his coaching record overall is somewhere above the .500 mark.
“We’ve had some real successful years, and one or two years we didn’t do very well,” he said. “If you’re in the business long enough, you go in cycles.”