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January 5, 2012Win or lose on Monday night, Jim McElwain will be saying goodbye to the University of Alabama football program, taking his talents to Ft. Collins, Colo., for a new challenge.
But even in the midst of a departure, the recurring theme in McElwain's meeting with the media at the BCS Championship run-up in New Orleans on Thursday was loyalty - his bond with Alabama's offensive players, the support shown by his head coach, Nick Saban, and even that most simple, most loyalty-infused relationship of all: the love of a good dog.
That, McElwain joked, was what got him through the aftermath of the Crimson Tide's no-touchdown, 9-6 loss to LSU in November.
"Thank God Clarabelle was there when I got home," McElwain said, referring to his family dog. "She didn't know we hadn't scored a touchdown. She was still glad to see me.
"That game was obviously a frustration for us. I think that had a lot to do with not only what we didn't do, but obviously what they did. I can't say enough how much respect we have for them on defense."
Devising a plan of attack for that defense is a full-time job, but McElwain - named the new head coach at Colorado State on Dec. 14 - has had to wear two hats ever since. He said Thursday that remaining at Alabama through the BCS game was "a high, high priority" in his negotiations with Colorado State, and that - with the help of Nick Saban - he has made the dual roles work.
"It's been a challenge, but as (the players) can attest, our focus has been for this game," McElwain said. "You work all day, then make (Colorado State) calls late at night to catch up. Coach Saban has been an unbelievable help. He went through kind of the same thing when he took the Michigan State job. He has even let me take some of the recruiting time we have at Alabama to recruit for Colorado State.
"Other than that, the routine is normal. As a coach here, you don't get any sleep anyway."
There's something else to consider about McElwain's approach to the game plan for LSU. It isn't like Alabama had zero success moving the ball against LSU. The Crimson Tide just scuttled itself with red zone mistakes against an LSU defense that capitalizes on just such errors.
"Obviously, we have had 40-something days since we've played at all," McElwain said. "You want to make sure you don't overthink it. That you don't try to put too much in. At the end, you just go and do your best with what you have."
Then loyalty comes into play.
"I love this place," McElwain said, referring not to his immediate New Orleans surroundings, but to Tuscaloosa. "I mean I"m from Montana, and I come to the University of Alabama. I've never seen anything like it. And our kids, our players are great. The thing I remember first from the first game is how hard we played. They gave great effort, all we could ask, against a great defense. And I think it says something about our players that they could come back after that and regroup, and have some things happen, and get back to this point. And now we have a second chance."