Fort Collins, CO. For anyone who has followed the Colorado State Rams football program over the years, they know it has been filled with disappointing seasons and generally underperforming play. Sure, there have been a few winning seasons during the past decade or so, but for the most part the Rams have settled for mediocrity and sometimes even worse. The last three seasons have been very tough to watch from afar, and for any CSU alum or fan, they have also been a real eye-opener as to how far this program has fallen. Three straight 3-9 seasons led to the dismissal of the head coach, and this once proud football program was simply searching for an identity and a way to climb out of the depths of the Mountain West Conference. In less than a calendar year, Colorado State brought in a new athletic director, dealt with a few players being expelled from the school, and hired a new football coach. There has also been the ongoing issue of getting final approval to build an on-campus football stadium, which would be expensive, but would also do wonders for the entire university. So in essence, the last year has been full of questions, uncertainty, and downright turmoil for the Colorado State Rams football program. The annual matchup between CSU and CU just happened to be the first one for both teams in 2012. It has always had a feel of being the little brother versus the big brother to a certain extent, as CSU has only won roughly 25% of their battles all-time. The Buffs were again favored, like they generally have always been, and most expected the bigger school with more football tradition to come out on top. Although they did get a first half lead, and looked like they may lay waste to a Rams team which had every excuse to fold, CU found out in the second half that “little brother” was ready to fight. Behind their new head coach, and a seemingly newfound attitude, the Colorado State Rams beat up their “big brother”, and won the battle in the trenches. When the final gun went off, the CSU Rams had outlasted their in-state rivals from Boulder, with a 22-17 victory. It may just end up being one game and one loss for the Buffs, as they will now move on to the rest of their 2012 schedule. But for Colorado State, this had the feel of a rebirth of sorts, and a victory that all Rams fans may look back on years from now as the day where everything began to change. Behind Jim McElwain, the Rams have now laid the foundation for a ton of potential success in the near future.
On Saturday, especially in the second half, CSU had a different attitude than in recent memory. Although they were behind for most of the game, they didn’t wilt, they didn’t quit, and most importantly they had the look of a team that believed….believed they would find a way to come out on top. Simply put, there is one man who has to be directly responsible for this change in attitude, and that man is Jim McElwain. McElwain surprised countless college football followers by taking the Colorado State job last December. After a few years at Alabama where he was the offensive coordinator on two national championship teams, he realistically could have had several head coaching offers when the 2011 season was over. Enter CSU athletic director Jack Graham. Graham, who was literally hired twelve days prior to McElwain being hired, quickly made it a priority to find a man to lead the football program out of the mess it was in. Within just a few days after becoming the new athletic director, Graham fired head coach Steve Fairchild, and the hunt was on for a new leader. The initial thought was that CSU would end up hiring a qualified coach, and maybe someone who had some previous head coaching experience. Considering the situation that the Rams were in, after going 9-27 in the last three seasons, it was gonna be a tough sell job for someone to come in and clean up this mess. But Jack Graham knew he had to get on this, and not let the hiring process drag out for weeks and months. He also had to know that to land someone who could change the culture in Fort Collins, he was gonna have to open the checkbook. So on December 13, 2011, the Colorado State Rams hired Jim McElwain as their new head football coach. Keep in mind, McElwain wasn’t done yet at Alabama. He still had one more game left as offensive coordinator, versus LSU in the National Championship game. Alabama would go on to win that game, and earn McElwain his second ring with the Crimson Tide.
So why would a man in Jim McElwain’s position leave somewhere like the SEC Conference and Alabama, and come to the Mountain West Conference and Colorado State? On the surface, it doesn’t make any sense. Neither did Sonny Lubick leaving as defensive coordinator of the Miami Hurricanes in the early 1990′s to come to Fort Collins either. Much like this past offseason, when Lubick was hired, CSU was going through problems and turmoil after the Earl Bruce era. As everyone now knows, Sonny Lubick quickly changed the culture, and before long, Colorado State was winning, and winning big. Under Lubick as head coach, the Rams climbed as high as #10 in the national polls, and the program had reached heights it had never seen before. Winning seasons, Bowl games, and an extremely relevant football program became the norm. Jim McElwain probably saw this same opportunity at CSU now. If he were able to resurrect that same kind of prosperity at Colorado State, he would become a huge success and someone who Rams fans would never forget. It would seem that this job would be a massive challenge, and winning would not be easy. So it had to start on September 1, 2012. A loss versus CU would have been disappointing, but not crushing, in this huge rebuilding process. But a win would boost the mood of Rams fans beyond belief, and let everyone know that Colorado State University is on its way back. As we all now know, 22-17 was the final score, and it’s already apparent that Jim McElwain has everyone involved believing in the future of CSU football.
Denver Sports by J Simp