The Montana native played quarterback for the Eagles from 1980-83 and joined Dick Zornes' staff in 1985 as a graduate assistant. He held multiple offensive assistant positions from 1987-1994 before working at six schools (and the Oakland Raiders) over the next two decades.
And 30 years after his first job at Eastern Washington, he was named head coach of Florida, who will play his alma mater in 2020.
“This is pretty cool to be able to add Eastern Washington to the schedule,” McElwain said last year after Florida announced the game. “I spent 15 years at Eastern and it is such a huge part of my life. I met my wife, Karen, there and all of my children were born there. I have so many great memories of my time at Eastern and I still have friends there to this day.”
Here are the 16 other current FBS head coaches whose first coaching position was at an FCS program. The list includes coaches who started as a graduate or student assistant and programs who were in the FCS at the time.
FCS: Drake (1997-99)
An Iowa native and Drake alum, Ash joined his alma mater's coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 1997. He was promoted to defensive coordinator a year later, a position he remained in for two years before jumping to Iowa State in 2000.
FCS: UMass (2003)
One of three coaches who started at FCS-turned-FBS programs, Neal Brown began at UMass in 1999, 12 years before the Minutemen became transitional FBS members in 2011.
He played receiver UMass for two seasons before joining Mark Whipple's staff. Brown left for nearby Sacred Heart a year later.
FCS: Albany (1989-90)
Dave Clawson, a New York native, began his career at Albany University, where he was a graduate assistant for two seasons. He returned to the northwestern part of the state (he was born in Youngstown, N.Y.) in 1991 as defensive backs coach at Buffalo.
Geoff Collins – Temple
FCS: Fordham (1996)
Twenty-one years before Geoff Collins took the Temple job — his first head coaching job at any level — he was linebackers coach at Fordham, where he stayed for just one year. His first FBS job came in 1999 as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech.
Shawn Elliott – Georgia State
FCS: Appalachian State (1997-2009)
Very few coaches stay at the same program for the first few years of their careers, let alone the first decade. Shawn Elliott is an exception.
After playing at App State from 1992-95, he joined the then-FCS Mountaineers' staff in 1997 as a defensive assistant and remained there for 13 years in multiple positions.
FCS: Samford (1988-92)
Jimbo Fisher played quarterback at Samford in 1987 and, following a (very) brief playing career with the now-defunct Chicago Bruisers of the Arena Football League, became a Bulldogs' coach in 1988. He became offensive coordinator in 1991 and left for Auburn in 1993.
FCS: Pittsburg State (1982)
Willie Fritz's résumé is long and diverse. He's coached in the FBS, FCS, D2 and JUCO, along with high school football.
His first stop in 1982 was at his alma mater Pittsburgh State, where he was a student assistant for one season before returning to his other alma mater, Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in suburban Kansas City.
He didn't reach the FBS until 2014 with Georgia Southern.
FCS: Illinois State (2001-06)
Fifteen years before Justin Fuente replaced a legend at Virginia Tech, he was the quarterbacks coach at Illinois State for three seasons (2001-03) and offensive coordinator for another three (2004-06).
FCS: Wagner (1994-95)
Following his playing career at Ursnius College (D3), Dan Mullen drove 100 miles northwest to Wagner College to coach the Seahawks' receivers.
FCS: Central Arkansas (2006)
In a decade, Mike Norvell has done from FCS grad assistant to one of the most sought-after head coaches in the country. Still just 35 years old, Norvell already has five coordinator seasons and (soon-to-be) two head coaching seasons under his belt.
FCS: Northwestern State (1984)
Ed Oregon started his playing career at LSU in 1979 before transferring to Northwestern State a year later. After four years with the Demons, he joined the staff as a graduate assistant.
He didn't become a full-time FBS coach until 1988 with Miami (FL).
FCS: Appalachian State (1998-2008)
Scott Satterfield is only current FBS head coach who started at his current program while they were an FCS member. He and Georgia State's Shawn Elliott were teammates at App State from 1992-95 and colleagues for nine years before Satterfield left for Toledo in 2009.
When he returned to App State in 2012 (one year at Toledo, two years at FIU), Elliott was at South Carolina.
FCS: Bethune-Cookman (1983-84)
Following a superb playing career at Florida State from 1977-81, Rick Stockstill remained in the state and was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Bethune-Cookman for two seasons.
FCS: Western Kentucky (1999-2006)
Willie Taggart spent a long, long time at Western Kentucky. A former Hilltoppers' quarterback (1994-98), he became their receivers coach in 1999 and worked his way up to associate head coach in 2003.
He left before they transitioned to the FBS but returned in 2010 as head coach.
FCS: Nicholls (1996)
A New Orleans native, Frank Wilson played at nearby Nicholls and joined the Colonels' staff immediately after graduation as a student assistant. He then spent six years coaching Louisiana high school football before jumping to Ole Miss in 2005.
FCS: Austin Peay (1988-90)
Everett Withers has made 12 coaching stops in his 30-year career, the first of which was Austin Peay, where he held a variety of assistant positions from 1988-90, when he jumped to Tulane.
Last year, the now-54-year-old got his first head coaching shot at Texas State.