It came as no surprise to Alabama’s players that Jim McElwain wouldn’t be back in 2012.
With what he had done in his four seasons as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator, it only made sense that some school would lure him away.
That school was Colorado State.
What also didn’t surprise Alabama’s players was that McElwain decided to coach the Tide through next week’s Allstate BCS national Championship Game. Since his arrival, McElwain has always supported his players, and there was no reason to stop now.
Players admit he’s had plenty of opportunities to take the heat off of himself and blame them for mistakes, but hasn’t. He’s only tried to encourage.
“He’s the captain of the offensive ship and he’s our leader,” senior center William Vlachos said.
“He’s got our backs and it’s always about us. He’s there for us and we really appreciate that.”
Added junior tackle Barrett Jones: “That’s the kind of guy Coach Mac is. He’s the kind of guy that, no matter what, always has our backs. That’s why we love him, because he’s never going to throw us under the bus. If anything happens, it’s always his fault first, and that kind of thing. Not that it actually is his fault. That’s just what he would say.”
Players have dumped praise onto McElwain since his exit was announced, but the outside perspective hasn’t always been great. Opinions have ranged from Alabama’s offense is too stale to it can getting too one-dimensional.
McElwain’s Alabama offenses have never really been tremendously flashy, but they also haven’t cost the Tide many games in the last four years.
Alabama leads the nation by committing only 57 turnovers since the 2008 season.
Since his arrival, the offense has averaged 59.6 more yards per game and bettered its scoring by 8.9 points per contest.
Quarterback Greg McElroy set single-season passing records in 2010 with a 70.9 completion percentage, 20 touchdown passes and 2,987 yards, and the offense averaged more yards from scrimmage (435.6 per game) than all but one team in school history (480.7 in 1973).
He had two Heisman finalists in running backs Mark Ingram, who won it in 2009, and Trent Richardson this season.
Alabama enters the national title game against LSU with the SEC’s No. 1 rushing offense (219.8) and the No. 2 overall offense (433.4).
So, maybe that criticism is a little undeserved.
“He comes up with some great stuff every week,” Vlachos said. “His play calling has been exceptional since he’s been here and it’s really been strong.
“If that means running the inside zone with Trent every play, if that’s what’s going to work, then that’s what we’re going to do, even if that doesn’t draw the national attention.”
Alabama isn’t just losing a pretty good coach but Vlachos said it’s losing a pretty good person. McElwain has become more than just a coach to a lot of players. He can coach with some powerful intensity at times, but Vlachos said he’s still someone he plans to crack a beer or two open with in the future and chat about things other than football.
That’s one of the many reasons why these players are proud to see McElwain take this next step. That’s why there are no ill feelings toward him. McElwain had every opportunity to audition for coaching jobs and impress college presidents, but he always put Alabama first.
Now, his players are looking to put him first.
“He told us we put him in that position to have that opportunity,” senior wide receiver Brandon Gibson said. “Actually, he gave back to us so hopefully we're going to send him off hopefully with another national championship.”