McElwain returns to Alabama with Colorado State

Jim McElwain has labored in college football’s ”Mecca” under

Alabama coach Nick Saban and run the offense for two national

championship teams.

Now Colorado State’s head coach, McElwain returns to

Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night as a heavy underdog trying to

find a way to beat his old boss and stop former quarterback pupil

AJ McCarron.

”It’s really strange with the coaches that are there, the

people in the organization as well,” McElwain said. ”I find

myself looking at the wrong side of the film sometimes. I’m excited

for our opportunity and the organization’s opportunity to go see

the `Mecca,’ to see what it’s all about.”

And when he says ”all ”, McElwain includes everything from the

cleanliness of facilities to the stadium and parking attendants.

Everything that makes Mecca Mecca.

McElwain was the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator from

2008-11, so he has an interesting perspective on the program that

added another title last season and the coach who runs the


McElwain, who is looser and more outgoing than Saban, praises

his former boss’s methods, or his oft-cited ”process.” He also

offers insights to why Saban is successful enough to have his

program pushing to become the first team to win three straight

national titles in the modern era.

”He doesn’t sit, he’s always moving for what they can do

better,” McElwain said. ”No matter what it is, there is always a

review of anything they do over how they can get better or what

they can do. The process in which everything is detailed. Those

guys know exactly what they’re doing in practice today. They know

that they have to compete or they won’t be playing.

”They know on Tuesday what exactly is going to be installed and

how it works. Wednesday and Thursday, it’s a detailed machine. They

go in before Thursday’s practice and get the first eight (plays)

introduced. Those guys can recite the first eight and not even have

to call them into the huddle. They take such pride in their

preparation to go dominate an opponent and to not just win. They go

to dominate their opponent and to dominate every play. It’s

fascinating. The guy is something special.”

As an example, he cites Saban’s success in recruiting and

evaluating talent. But McElwain also counters one perception some

might have about Saban, whom he says is ”by no means a control


”There are a lot of outside people just trying to pick and find

out whatever,” McElwain said. ”No, the guy’s detailed. He’s a

hard worker and he wants you to be complete in what you do, in

every aspect. Well last time I checked, that’s the blueprint for

any organization and Fortune 500 company there is.

”Be detailed in everything you do, work hard, and be complete

in what you do. Don’t leave little things hanging out.”

McElwain left a program that was 48-6 during his four-year

tenure. He led Colorado State to a 4-8 record last season, the

program’s best since 2008, and an upset of Colorado.

”I think he’s done as good of a job with the players he has as

anyone possibly could,” Saban said. ”I think they’ve got good

players. They’ve been very productive in the way they’ve played on

offense and they have really good balance.

”I have as much respect for Jim McElwain as a coach as anybody

that’s ever worked for me.

McElwain’s last game at Alabama was the Tide’s 21-0 victory over

LSU in the January 2011 BCS championship game, when McCarron was

named MVP.

Now, McCarron is 32-3 as a starter with two national titles (he

was redshirted during the 2009 season). His former position coach

is certainly impressed with how well he’s doing these days.

”I think AJ’s playing as well as anybody in the country,”

McElwain said. ”I’m proud of that. He plays the game the way it

should be played and he knows when to take his shots or when to

take his check downs. He has a true command now.”