Reports broke yesterday that Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain had accepted the head coaching position for Colorado State. It was common knowledge that McElwain was looking for a head coaching position, and most Tide fans understand that losing assistant coaches comes with the territory when you field a championship program.
However, his hiring comes at an inopportune time for the football program. Alabama will attempt to win their second national championship in three seasons on Jan. 9 when they face the LSU Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game.
Because of this, two questions must be addressed. First, is McElwain willing to stay through the national championship game? Secondly, should Alabama allow McElwain to stay through the national championship game?
Only McElwain can answer the first question. However, I believe that he should stay. Yes, the Tide will soon be his past, but the outcome of the game could very well enhance his future.
As coach of the Rams, McElwain is taking over a program that is 9-27 over the last three seasons. But they do have decent facilities and will be playing in the Mountain West Conference that will be without TCU and Boise State.
Recruiting will not be easy for McElwain, but he does have one thing going for him as of now—his 2009 national championship ring. A second national championship ring could go a long way in getting some of the top MWC level players.
Moreover, it will give him airtime on the nation’s biggest stage. We would hear at least a dozen times on how he is leaving for Colorado State. This will give his program exposure that otherwise would have been impossible. There will be recruits watching the game that might have Colorado State on their list, and this might influence their decision.
There might be a great running back that is flying under the recruiting radar who might now consider the Rams because he realizes he could play for a coach who mentored Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram.
But should Nick Saban allow McElwain to coach in the championship game?
There is the obvious risk of McElwain not being focused. However, I believe for the above reasons that he will be. It is a legitimate concern, but you have to balance it against the other options.
If McElwain does not coach in the game, Saban will have to designate someone on the staff to call the plays during the game and this could be disastrous. Play-calling is similar to playing—it takes a certain amount of plays to get into rhythm.
Sending a play caller into a bowl game with little experience is risky. Doing it against one of the top defenses of the last decade would be nothing short of disastrous.
No one knows how Saban will react because he has never been in this situation before. This is the first staff member that has ever been hired away from Saban directly to a D-1 head coaching position. How he handles this will have a great impact on how this game unfolds.
My advice, although Saban does not need it, would be to take as many of the non-play calling responsibilities off of him possible. He needs to free up as much time for McElwain as he is able so that does not affect the game strategy. This will allow him to start his groundwork with Colorado State without cheating the Tide.
This is the day McElwain has dreamed of his whole life, but the next month must be handled with care.