December 12, 2011
With usual barrage of coaching turnover dominating the headlines this winter, how does a relatively obscure welterweight like Colorado State guarantee some attention for its new hire? Well, poaching the chief play-caller for one of the heavyweights vying for the national championship is a good start: The Rams are expected to introduce Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain Tuesday as their new boss, simultaneously injecting a dose of optimism into a stagnant program and at temporarily throwing the Crimson Tide's prep for the BCS title game into a state of flux.
Of course, now as ever, Alabama's dominance begins on defense. But McElwain's offense has never been a mere cloud-of-dust complement: In four years, his system has produced eight draft picks, four first-rounders, six consensus All-Americans, two Heisman Trophy finalists and one Heisman winner. The Crimson Tide have averaged at least 32 points on more than 400 yards per game three years in a row — the most prolific stretch in school history — and just matched the 2010 attack for yards and points this year despite losing three first-round picks and the starting quarterback. At 220 yards per game rushing and 214 passing, it was arguably the most balanced offense in the country.
Which brings us to the million-dollar question: Will McElwain stick around long enough to organize the game plan and call the plays against LSU? And does it matter if he doesn't?
In the BCS era, we've seen assistant coaches go both ways, with… let's say inconclusive results. In 1998, outgoing Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe handed over the offense to quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders on his way to Ole Miss, and Sanders delivered with a championship-clinching plan against Florida State in his first game as a play-caller. Two years later, Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt stayed on to call the 2001 Orange Bowl before taking over at Georgia, only to lead the No. 1 offense in the nation into a shutout against Oklahoma. (The Seminoles' only points in a 13-2 loss came via safety by the defense.) In 2007, LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini decided to soak up the opportunity before shipping out for Nebraska, staying on to revel in a beatdown of Ohio State.
Based on extremely limited precedent, then, McElwain's decision could be no big deal, or could be one of the key factors that swings the pendulum in a game most books are currently listing as a pick 'em. Fortunately, we know Alabama fans aren't the type to obsess about this sort of thing at all.