Jim McElwain enters his third season as the head coach of the Colorado State Football Program and the question must be asked, will it be his last in Fort Collins? Rams’ fans certainly hope not but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that McElawin could leave for a bigger program in 2015.
McElwain was hired by Colorado State after a successful stint as the offensive coordinator for the University of Alabama. He was a big part of two national championship teams and was credited with the early development of Crimson Tide quarterback, AJ McCarron. Those things, among others, made him an easy choice for the Rams who were desperate for a new direction.
When McElwain took over at Colorado State, he inherited a team at its lowest point since the day that Sonny Lubick took over. Lubick became the most successful coach in Rams history and is still beloved to this day in Fort Collins. The hope was and is that McElwain will follow in the footsteps of Lubbick, and stay at Colorado State for the long-term.
McElwain is certainly off to a great start through his first two seasons; leading the Rams to a thrilling win over Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl last season. That win gave the Rams a 7-6 record and a winning mark for the first time in three seasons.
Even in his first season which ended with a 4-8 record, there were signs late in that season that things were changing. The Rams won three of their last four games and looked to be on the rise. That momentum carried over to the 2013 season with an opening day win over in state rival Colorado.
Along with the team accomplishments, McElwain’s program has started to develop a fair amount of individual talent and some of that talent found its way to the NFL. Center Weston Richburg was selected in the second round by the New York Giants and two others, Kapri Bibbs and Shaquil Barrett, were signed as free agents by the Denver Broncos.
With the success on the field and the player development, it’s obvious the McElwain has the Rams headed in the right direction. It’s not out of the question that the Rams could win eight or nine games in 2014, and are considered a dark horse by some for a conference title. That success combined with his work at Alabama is sure to garner attention from bigger schools.
As much as Rams’ fans would love to see McElwain stay in Fort Collins and turn down the bigger schools, as Lubick did so many years ago, it’s unrealistic. McElwain is in the prime of his career and fits the profile perfectly for what the bigger schools are looking for in a head coach.
He’s young, energetic, a dynamic recruiter and his results on the field speak for themselves. He’s turned around a Colorado State program that was left for dead just two years ago, and he’s done that with a limited budget and modest alumni support. Imagine what McElwain could do with a bigger budget at a school where people really care about football. Trust me when I tell you that there are athletic directors all over the country who are keeping tabs on McElwain, and they have all ready thought about the possibilities.
If McElwain and the Rams have the type of season that many expect, his name is going to be brought up a lot and he would be foolish not to listen. As alumni I hope he stays forever but as a realist, I understand that Colorado State is a stepping stone for McElwain.
That’s not to diminish Colorado State, which is a great place, but facts are facts. McElwain is a football coach who is very early in his head coaching career and there’s little doubt in my mind that he wants to lead a big program. McElwain cut his teeth at Alabama under Nick Saban and my guess is he wants to lead his own Alabama. As great as Colorado State is in so many areas, they are not a football power and do not have the resources to become one.
So here’s my advice to Rams’ fans; don’t spend too much time thinking about if McElwain is going to leave or not. The fact is that he is going to leave at some point whether it’s after this season or next. With that in mind, enjoy the upcoming season and be thankful that McElwain came to Fort Collins even for a brief time.
He has built the program back to respectability and hopefully the administration will do a better job hiring the next coach than they did when they hired Steve Fairchild to follow Lubick.
There’s no doubt that McElwain will not be a popular figure when he leaves and that’s understandable, especially from fans. The only real certainty in all of this is that there is no next Sonny Lubick; he’s one of a kind.