McElwain Sees The Big Picture
Jim McElwain, entering his second year as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama, isn't one of those schemers looking only at how his offense can attack opposing defenses. He's interested in the entire scope of a football team. "You learn that there's more than just looking through the straw and saying ‘This is what we've got to do offensively to make a name for ourselves.' What we've got to do is make a name for Alabama. That means putting those parts into the strengths of what we are on offense, defense and special teams."
McElwain doesn't have to worry about making a name for himself. He is one of the most highly regarded offensive coordinators and quarterbacks coaches in the nation. In turn, he has an appreciation for the name of Alabama football. That was made clear to him once again in the summer when he returned to his native Montana for a few days. Walking down the street in Fulsom, Montana, he said, he spotted someone wearing "a Crimson Tide number 8 jersey. Are you kidding me? It really tells you what this program is all about, the importance of it not just in the South, but around the United States.
"It's an honor to be a part of something like that."
On rare occasions, Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban trusts his coordinators to have brief meetings with reporters. Sunday was one of those days.
A word rarely used in conversations with Saban is "expectations." McElwain, however, addressed expectations at Alabama.
"We are The University of Alabama," he said. "That is what we should want to be and what we should want to live up to. When you put on the uniform of The University of Alabama there's a natural expectation. That's the way it should be. That's the reason people should want to come here. I'm excited to be at a place that has expectations. Some places I've been don't have them."
That said, McElwain understands the process of meeting expectations.
"You've got to tear off the rear-view mirror," he said, explaining that what happened in 2008 is in the past. "We have to create our own identity. We might have more ability, but might not be as successful. The process of living up to the expectations—the work that it takes to get there—is what needs to be defined with our group of guys.
"The expectation I have is for us to learn to play as a team and play as a unit and make sure that we understand that we have each other's back.
"This is a new year and this is a new group of guys. Now it's a matter of fitting those pieces together and coming together as a group and actually finding our identity. This two-a-days that we're doing right now, it's a focus on us and it's a focus on us getting better. Us getting physical, us getting in the mental condition to be able to face a tough season. The focus here through this part of what we're trying to do is really quite simple. It's trying to determine who our playmakers are and how to play as a team and how to play together. Those are the things that we're trying to establish and will establish before we get into that first ball game."
McElwain thinks having the same offensive staff together for a second year will pay dividends with coaches "speaking the same language now. In football, there's a lot of different ways to call things." Now, he said, the staff is all on the same page.
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