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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 05 2012

Colorado State coach brings Alabama mentality

FARGO – The University of Alabama had just won the 2009 national championship at the Rose Bowl when the coaching staff was summoned to a meeting the next morning. There was hardly much time for celebration.

Jim McElwain was part of the Crimson Tide staff that was already working on recruiting and all the components that were to go into the following season. It’s the way head coach Nick Saban goes about business.

So when McElwain was hired to turn around Colorado State after last season, part of Saban came with him to Fort Collins.

“You don’t let any detail get loose,” McElwain said.

Those details will be on display when North Dakota State plays at CSU on Saturday night. Those details will be tested because the Rams are coming off a highly charged rivalry win over the University of Colorado last Saturday.

The head coach heard from a lot of folks who knew the significance of the victory.

“But they also know I probably wasn’t enjoying it because I was breaking down North Dakota State and just never take time to reflect on a win,” McElwain said. “The issue now becomes, ‘Can you go off and tear off the rearview mirror and not be satisfied?’ I’ve had this game circled on the calendar since I saw the schedule. They’re a national championship team that knows how to win.”

McElwain takes over a program that hasn’t reflected on many wins in recent years. The last real successful season was 2002, when the Rams went 10-4, won the Mountain West Conference and played in the Liberty Bowl.

Since, there were a pair of 7-6 seasons. But four of the last five years resulted in

3-9 records and in came McElwain, who is no stranger to the Rocky Mountains.

From 1985-99, he was an assistant coach at Eastern Washington and Montana State – meaning he’s no stranger to NDSU’s level of football.

“Being in the I-AA ranks as long as I was, I know it’s something special to play a I-A foe,” he said. “These guys coming in are expecting to win and nothing less. I have to make sure our guys understand that as well.”

Certainly, the Rams run some stuff that Saban does at Alabama. But NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said there’s more to the Rams than just a Crimson Tide influence.

It’s probably why the Bison staff has watched video tape from not only Alabama games, but from other schools around the country as well.

“We’ve garnered tape from every angle, any college football coach will tell you that,” Bohl said. “I’m sure their staff is the same. We’ve watched tape from all kinds of places.”

The place where the action will happen Saturday, Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium, will be the home opener for CSU. McElwain was the first coach since 1970 to win his first game – and there have been 10 Rams coaches in that span.

None of them were influenced by Nick Saban. When asked this week when Saban will be satisfied, McElwain said when he retires to his lake property in North Carolina.

“But then he won’t be satisfied because he tied the wrong knot when he put it on the dock,” he said. “He’s driven.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Kolpack is the host of the WDAY Golf Show Saturdays from 8-9 a.m. on 970-AM.