You can call it a homecoming for CSU head coach Jim McElwain, who once donned the notorious crimson red as offensive coordinator for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide from 2008-2011.
In his four years under head coach Nick Saban, McElwain won two BCS National Championships and helped shape quarterback A.J. McCarron into what he is today, one of the top quarterbacks in the nation who has as many championships as he does losses with Alabama with two.
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McElwain also has two daughters with ties to Alabama, one who graduated and one who will graduate from there.
You can call it a homecoming for the Rams head coach, but he won’t be the one to label it that way.
For McElwain, CSU’s game against the number one team in the nation and defending national champions on Saturday isn’t about him. It’s about the entire football program having the chance to visit what he called the “Mecca” of college football and to see how his current team stacks up against the best in the nation.
“I’m excited about it, but as I’ve said this has nothing to do with me, it has nothing to do with the fact that I was there,” McElwain said during his weekly press conference on Monday. “It has to do with what it’s going to do for our players, what it’s going to do for our organization. Let’s go measure ourselves and let’s evaluate and move forward.”
While he insists this game is the Rams most important game only because it’s the next one on the schedule, as a man who spent four years on the Crimson Tide sideline, McElwian understands just how special it is to play there and how few get the opportunity to stand on the gridiron of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I expect our guys to be excited,” McElwain said. “(Nearly) 102,000 people, that’s a season’s worth in one game and that’s cool, I mean, that’s cool. You should enjoy that and you know what? They deserve that. They deserve that because of what they have put into this program, this town, and this university so I’m excited for them in that regard.”
Not only does he know and respect the traditions at Alabama — so much so that he admitted getting goose bumps just thinking about hearing legendary Tide coach, Bear Bryant’s voice over the loudspeakers before the game — but he has also earned respect from his former coaching staff.
“I think Jim McElwain’s done a fabulous job (at CSU),” Saban said at a press conference in Tuscaloosa on Monday. “He obviously did a fantastic job for us here the four years that he was here. He’s a very bright guy, has a lot of energy and enthusiasm that affects players in a positive way and I think he’s got the most out of his team and the player’s that he has.”
McElwain returned the sentiment, praising Saban for his attention to detail mentality and his ability to prepare his players to dominate in every aspect of the game.
Still, he won’t admit that this is anything more than a business trip. There’s no doubt, though, that in his time at Alabama McElwain formed special relationships with the people around him. After the game, he said he will take a few minutes to visit with some old friends before leaving the stadium; friends that remain supporters of his even as he heads back towards the Rocky Mountains.
“Don’t be surprised if you see some people in crimson jackets with a green and gold Rams hat,” McElwain said.
Football Beat Reporter Katie O’Keefe can be reached at email@example.com.