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February 9, 2012

Q&A with Jim McElwain

Former University of Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain is about a month into his new job as head coach at Colorado State. McElwain discussed a variety of topics with Tidesports.com, from his new job to his old one. This is a transcript of McElwain's interview.

Q: What did winning two national championships in three years at Alabama do for you at Colorado State in terms of recruiting?

A: Running right into recruiting, obviously there was a lot of momentum coming off the game, which really opened some doors for us in the recruiting part, in a really good fashion. We're really excited about the class we were able to put together in a short time. Then, getting the staff put together with some really quality coaches who understand the direction and where we want to take the organization, I think that's been really good as well.

Q: Were you at all tempted to try to take any Alabama assistant coaches with you?

A: Temptation? I would have loved to have brought every one of them. To have been able to work with those guys, not only great coaches but great people, that was something that was important that I got from my time there. The personalities blended and making sure there was a match on how people worked together, that's a credit to Coach Saban and what he was able to do to put a cohesive staff together. I already miss those guys that I shared that offensive room with. You get awful close to people given all the time you spent in there together.

Q: What were your impressions of the Southeastern Conference after seeing it up-close for four seasons?

A: I'm glad I'm not going up against those defenses any more. You hear about the SEC, but until you're in it you don't realize the quality of the players up and down the roster. From everything from the depth of each team to the quality of the defensive linemen and safeties that are in the league, it's amazing. The quality of coaches in that league is so impressive as well. When someone asks, I can say it is by far an unbelievable league.

Q: Did the strength of the defenses in the SEC compel you to change your offensive approach when you got to Alabama?

A: Number one, you adapt to the personnel you have, and you adapt to their strengths. Before you look at anyone else, you blend what you do offensively with your own defense and special teams. I've never cared about numbers, but I think our numbers were pretty decent. But at the end of the day the only number that matters is how many wins you have. However it works, that's the important part. But as far as opponents, it wasn't unlike the brief time I was in the National Football League, in that it's driven on not letting certain players disrupt what you do offensively, and not allowing them to create havoc within a game. There is a lot of those personnel matchups that you really have to focus on when you're putting the game plan together. Through personnel groups, through shifts and motion, if there is a way to create matchups that help you be successful, that's was a big part of the game plan. We tried to do that each week.

Q: What were your feelings about leaving on such a high note at Alabama, winning a BCS title?

A: I've been blessed. I'd have never thought I would be at a great place like Alabama, coach with Nick Saban, and all the successes he's had in his career. I'll get time in July maybe to sit back and actually reflect on what happened. That was pretty cool.

Q: What did you take away from Saban's program that you'll implement at Colorado State?

A: Do you want to take this into a three-day conversation? Obviously, he's a master of the total organization, and making sure everybody is responsible and pulling in the same direction. Anybody who touches the program in any way, shape or form or fashion, he makes sure they're accountable for whatever they do, and that they're in it for the players. Everything we did was based on helping the players succeed not only in football but in the classroom and in life. All those values that are taught will breed a successful program. The overall ability to set up those things, I'll never be able to duplicate it, because he's the master at it. But a lot of those things we're trying to implement here at Colorado State.

Q: Your first Alabama offense in 2008 really re-established Alabama's power running game with Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram. What were your memories of that group in your first year?

A: My first memory was those guys buying in and being committed to the toughness we needed, being physical and setting the tone. I can't say enough about that group. As you look at each of my four years there, each offense created its own personality. The one thing about those guys that will stay with me was their commitment to what we were trying to do, and making sure that everyone we played against knew after each game that they had been in a real dogfight. The way that team ran the ball, that's how we were built. Those were the parts we had. You'll remember, coming out of that spring, Julio (Jones) wasn't there yet in spring ball, Mark (Ingram) hadn't gotten on campus yet. There were some other key ingredients that were unknowns before that season started. The quarterback (John Parker Wilson) understood how to take care of the ball and why that's important. There were some great lessons that first spring, for them and for me as well. I had to adapt to having such a great defense helping us.

Q: You've coached at Fresno State, which is cash-strapped, and at Alabama, where a winning football program pretty much has a blank check in terms of resources. How will both those experiences help you devote the resources you have at Colorado State?

A: A place like Alabama is where everybody strives to put their program, yet even those resources we had at Alabama, they were all necessary things to help the success of the players and the program. Obviously, a lot of those things we won't be able to do to the fullest (at Colorado State). But one thing that really attracted me to this job was the commitment from the top. Our president, our athletic director, they know where we're headed and where we want to go, and they're committed to find the resources to make sure we have a successful program. That's probably the biggest thing that sold me on Colorado State.

Q: You've worked with new UA offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in the past. What are your thoughts on his hiring?

A: To me, a fantastic hire. Nuss will do a great job. He'll bring in new ideas, he'll invigorate the guys there. I can't say enough good things about Doug and the quality of person he is and the great family he has as well. He's a great fit not only for the football program but the community in the state of Alabama as well.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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