NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jim McElwain sported a blazer, a mock turtleneck and a smile while surveying the festivities at BCS media day.
After all, No. 2 Alabama’s offensive coordinator has a shot at being part of a second national championship team in four seasons on the job when the Crimson Tide face No. 1 LSU on Monday night. Then, before the confetti stops swirling and the champagne stops flowing, he’ll board a plane with Colorado State officials to embark on his first head coaching job.
Who needs sleep?
McElwain’s days have gone something like this, he says: “Usually, 6 to midnight Alabama and then until I fall asleep late, late at night” attending to matters at Colorado State.
His to-do list:
1. Prepare to face the nation’s No. 2 defense and All-American cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne.
2. Deal with media obligations that usually are a non-issue since the boss, Nick Saban, only makes assistants available to reporters during the season under BCS or bowl game mandates.
3. Work on assembling a coaching staff and assorted other duties for Colorado State.
“A lot of the contacts are out on the West Coast so you gain an hour calling back there,” he said.
McElwain has been pulling double duty for nearly a month since accepting a five-year deal with the Rams, worth $1.35 million annually, plus bonuses.
His final challenge with the Tide is a doozie. After all, the McElwain-led offense barely sniffed the end zone Alabama’s first meeting with LSU this season, a 9-6 overtime loss that left him seeking comfort from his pet dog — who hadn’t seen the stat sheet.
“All I can say is thank God that my dog Clarabelle was there, because she didn’t know that we didn’t score and she was excited to see me when I got home,” McElwain joked. “That did lift my spirits a little bit.”
His spirits are pretty high now, even facing a loaded defense with ends that can outrun many linebackers and matching All-Americans blanketing his much-less heralded receiving corps.
The offense has quietly flourished for the most part on a team that is dominated by the defense of Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. The Tide is averaging 36.0 points a game, third in the Southeastern Conference. No Alabama team has averaged more points since Bear Bryant’s 1973 squad ran up 38.8 points a game.
The Tide has committed a nation’s best 1.08 turnovers a game since McElwain replaced Major Applewhite after the 2007 season. That’s the kind of number that Saban can wrap his arms around.
“He’s worked as hard as anybody as I’ve ever had coach for us in our program, and I certainly appreciate the job he has done,” Saban said. “He is very conscientious, he is really driven to do well, he’s a perfectionist in a lot of ways. He takes it as hard as anybody if things don’t work out the way he’d like for them to or we don’t get the kind of results we’d like to get. He’s done a fantastic job and I’m sure he’ll be great head coach at Colorado State.”
Saban has helped McElwain with the juggling act, reaching back to his own experience before leaving the NFL’s Cleveland Browns for Michigan State. During recruiting periods, McElwain has been allowed to devote some of his efforts toward potential future Rams.
The remote Saban and the affable McElwain have been an interesting but effective pairing. McElwain’s players aren’t worried about him not giving this game his best, and speak fondly of him.
“He’s our coach. He’ll always be our coach even if he does leave,” quarterback AJ McCarron said. “Everybody loves him to death. He’s a great guy. Coach Mac’s focused on this game.
“We want to send him out on a good note.”
Left tackle Barrett Jones said McElwain has been “all about Alabama.” At least while Jones is awake.
“I see him up there working late, late hours,” the Outland Trophy winner said. “He’s not thinking about Colorado, he’s breaking down LSU game film.”
Alabama’s spot in the title game has been a nice bonus for Colorado State in publicity and recruiting.
Rams athletic director Jack Graham, who traveled to New Orleans for the game, said he and McElwain quickly agreed that the coach should remain through his final game.
“That’s what I would call a nice problem to have,” Graham said.
It will be an adjustment beyond the new title and duties for a guy going from a program that has won 47 games the past four seasons. Colorado State fired Steve Fairchild after a third straight 3-9 record.
Graham envisions McElwain bringing a hard-nosed style that helps make the Rams a group that “other teams might not look forward to playing” and helping to change the culture.
“We’re not out to win a press conference or win a media battle,” Graham said. “I want to win on the football field.”
That’s McElwain’s goal Monday night, too. That way, Clarabelle won’t be the only one from Tuscaloosa with warm and fuzzy feelings toward him.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)