Jim McElwain Leaves the Rams Behind

Welcome to the 88th edition of Tuesdays With Mitch, where I’m renegotiating my blogging buyout clause. Let’s get into it…

Jim McElwain meeting Cam for the first time. They were buddies for just three short years.. (colostate.edu)

Looking back, it’s clear that Jim McElwain always saw Colorado State as a stone on which he could step that would lead him to a higher profile, higher paying job.

Looking back, it feels naive– delusional, even– to read into quotes like these made by McElwain less than two months ago:

“I think it should show how happy I am here, how committed I am.”

“I believe there are great things that can happen here, and we’re nowhere close to the expectation of where I think we can get,”

Looking back, each dramatic victory, each wisecrack at a press conference, each commitment signed by a high school star moved McElwain a little closer to the first private jet out of Fort Collins.

And, when looking back, Colorado State fans should not resent McElwain one bit. They should be thrilled he coached the Rams for three years and thankful for the amazing job he did while he was here.

It really was amazing. After the 2011 season, Colorado State had descended to the bottom of the college football world. It was an embarrassing time for a prideful program. Just three seasons later, CSU was ranked #21 in the nation by the Associated Press and by the coaches. They’ve won three straight games over Power 5 teams. They’re going to their second straight bowl game. They’re 14-3 in their last 17 games. The transformation was as startling and rapid as it was enjoyable.

Every coach that sees success at a school that isn’t a powerhouse will toss out lines about commitment and “feeling at home.” And the vast, vast majority of those lines ring hollow as soon as a bigger paycheck comes along. That’s the nature of college athletics.

Frankly, that’s the nature of the business world outside of sports as well. Who among us would turn down an opportunity to more than double our salary in a position that provides industry-wide prestige and respect? Those Lubick-esque coaches are out there, but they are a rare, dying breed.

A year ago, McElwain led the Rams to an incredibly dramatic win over Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl, one of the greatest games in CSU history. (Tyler Tjomsland, The Spokesman-Review)

So nobody should be shocked that McElwain took a job as prestigious and well-paying as the Florida position. But even with the benefit of hindsight, I’m a little surprised McElwain is gone after just three seasons. We knew the phone was going to ring, but I didn’t necessarily expect McElwain bounce at the first opportunity.

Was he looking to move on immediately and accept the first job offer that came his way? Or did Florida represent one of the few offers he simply couldn’t turn down and it just happened to be the first one? We’ll never know. (Personally, at this point, it’s hard for me to see him turning down a lucrative offer from Nebraska or Michigan.)

Of course, part of the reason I expected McElwain to hang in FoCo at least one more year was that $7.5 million buyout. What a damn fiasco all that was, huh? This all happened a few days ago (I hate it when news breaks on a Tuesday afternoon) so I don’t need to break that down any further, but two things became abundantly clear:

  1.  $7.5 million is a shitload lot of money to pay a coach before he goes on a single recruiting trip. Even for Florida. That is not chump change. It is not a drop in the bucket. It proved to be a significant hindrance to the hiring process. I tried to tell people this. Most wouldn’t listen.
  2. Florida really, badly, desperately wanted McElwain. If he wasn’t their first choice, he was near the top of the list. And they apparently did not have a backup plan.

(Pat Forde with a nice recap of the negotiations and media stakeouts and private jets and HOLYCRAPTHATWASAWEIRDTHREEDAYS.)

Those three strange days are over now, having put an odd stamp on the end of the Jim McElwain era at Colorado State. It was a short era that should be remembered fondly. It should be remembered as the three years that brought Colorado State out the dredges of 3-9 seasons and into respectability.

The Rams are no longer an embarrassment. The Rams are a force in the Mountain West. The Rams are back on the college football map.

Jim McElwain put them there.

Good luck, coach. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Of course, these three classy tweets came as no surprise to me.

So moving forward, where does CSU go from here? I have a few inside sources reporting the Rams will, indeed, need a new head coach.

The Denver Post put together a list of candidates. So did the Coloradoan.

At this point, I’m pretty much all-in on promoting interim head coach Dave Baldwin. Baldwin has had a little bit of success as a head coach and plenty of success in multiple stops as an offensive coordinator. But Baldwin wouldn’t be promoted because of his resume. A vote for Baldwin is a vote for stability and continuity. Baldwin would look to build on the success Colorado State has already enjoyed. Right now, the CSU program has a lot of momentum. The new head coach just needs to keep things moving in the right direction.

The 2015 CSU cupboard is far from bare. The Rams will lose a handful of seniors after this year, including quarterback Garrett Grayson. But plenty of talent is coming back. Rashard Higgins will be back. Dee Hart will be back. Corey James will be back. The current players all know Baldwin and his offense.

Oftentimes, a coaching change precedes a flood of players transferring to other schools. I can’t imagine that would be the case if Baldwin is promoted.

Much of McElwain’s success stemmed from Saban-like organization and a daily devotion to “The Process.” Baldwin has been alongside McElwain all three years at CSU. He’s seen the transformation first hand. “The Process” would not have to change.

Naturally, any list of candidates will include names of people with “CSU ties”. Billy Gonzales was a receiver here. He’s coached under Urban Meyer at Florida and is at Mississippi State now. Tony Alford was a running back here. He’s been at Notre Dame for years. Matt Lubick is coaching at Oregon. He’s Sonny’s kid.

These names don’t interest me much. This might not be fair to the candidates mentioned above, but I think watching the miserable failures of Steve Fairchild at CSU and Jon Embree at CU has forever soured me on hiring a head coach simply because he used to play at a given school. (Another example: Brady Hoke was hired at Michigan in large part because he was a “Michigan Man.” Michigan recently paid him a zillion dollars to stop coaching.)

The Dave Logan suggestions are a joke. The Bob Stitt suggestions are a little intriguing but feel far-fetched. Again, this program is moving in the right direction. Stitt would bring a completely different approach and game plan. Why start over?

Doug Baldwin isn’t a splashy or sexy hire. His name doesn’t carry much pedigree. And if the hiring committee is able to recruit someone like a Scott Frost (offensive coordinator, Oregon) or even a Lane Kiffin (offensive coordinator, Alabama), that would certainly be worth looking into. But I think most of the hot names who are assistants at powerhouses will hold out for a Power 5 job. And of course, hiring one of those guys would put you in this same position when they move on after two or three successful years.

Baldwin makes the most sense. He could slide into the position seamlessly, build on the momentum that’s already there, and keep the CSU train moving in the right direction.

Losing a successful football coach is usually just about the biggest news a football program can produce over the course of a year. CSU trumped the news of Jim McElwain’s departure the very next day when the Board of Governors approved a plan for a full-scale, $220 million, on-campus stadium.

For the entire CSU community, this is huge news. Great news. Game-changing news. I hope this thing is ready to rock by kickoff of 2017. (That’s the plan.) It’s pretty crazy to think there may only be 12 more football games in the history of Hughes Stadium.

Jack Graham got the boll rolling a few years ago. Tony Frank eventually followed through and is making a new stadium a reality.

And that news is much bigger than any coach.

Artist rendering of a new, on-campus stadium at CSU. (via colostate.edu)

And let us not forget college basketball season, which is in full swing. Colorado State is 8-0 and receiving votes in the national polls. The Rams have played a couple decent teams (Montana and UTEP) but have yet play a true road game.

That will change tomorrow when they head to Boulder to take on what appears to be a pretty good (but not great) CU team. A tough test for the Rams. Big game for both teams.

7 p.m. Wednesday on the Pac-12 Network.

Some other stuff from around the internets:

Evidently I still don’t understand soccer. Whatever is going on here is pretty awesome though:

J.J. Watt needs to wear a microphone every week. This is incredible:

Kenny Mayne is still funny! Who knew?

A couple links worth sharing:

And finally, here’s Christopher Walken dressed up as a pirate doing a little dance. Definitely the most hilarious thing from the week. How can anyone not laugh at this?

Happy Tuesday everybody. Thanks for reading. See ya next week.

***

Comment on any of this stuff below, or email me at mdhahn1@yahoo.com with post ideas, videos or other media I should know about. Subscribe at the top right of this page. Follow me on Twitter @TuesWithMitch.

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3 thoughts on “Jim McElwain Leaves the Rams Behind

  1. Pingback: Las Vegas Bowl Preview | Tuesdays With Mitch

  2. Pingback: 2014 Year In Review, Part Two | Tuesdays With Mitch

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