Calling the job of a head college football coach stressful is a bit of an understatement.
Jim McElwain, now in his second year as Colorado State's coach, could be feeling the pressure of the season's impending kickoff weighing down on him, as he ran through the gambit of emotions after practice Wednesday.
Usually Coach Mac is an affable guy, joking and smiling. Not this morning.
At the beginning of practice, a bunch of players ran off the field and into the locker room, which was a unique sight. They came back minutes later and remained for the rest of team drills. After the Rams were done with the early practice, McElwain put that group together and really got after them.
He yelled, in their faces, words that can't be mentioned here. For the first time in nearly two years of having the job, I saw him incredibly angry, and he forced those players – the likes of Shaquil Barrett, Garrett Grayson, Conner Smith as well as others – to do extra conditioning crawls.
Why was McElwain so angry? It turns out, he had a justifiable reason.
“As I explain to our guys every single day, the carryover in life, the attention to details; if you take shortcuts it'll get you in the end,” he told us media-types. “That's a lesson for all of us. Not just in football, but for the rest of our lives. As I talked to them again, 'Your actions speak so loudly, I can't hear what you say.'...We had six guys come out today not in shells, that didn't wear their girdles. Well, you may not think that's a big thing; it's a huge thing. Because it shows me guys weren't paying attention to detail. Which is a carryover maybe to yesterday's scrimmage.”
On Tuesday, the team planned on going anywhere from 125-129 plays, but they stopped early, at 111 plays and McElwain called the end of the scrimmage an “energy vampire.” From the sounds of things, the group wasn't nearly as sharp in the closed scrimmage as the coach wanted. What he didn't want were those important little details – wearing padded compression shorts that protect players from getting thigh bruises – to build into bigger problems down the line.
“All the way through life there are teachable moments, this was a great teachable moment,” McElwain finished opening remarks, before continuing on, joking and laughing his way through our questions, as per usual.
That was, until the end of the questioning, when Coach Mac spoke in soft, sad tones about nine-year old Ram fan Jack Miller. “He was diagnosed at age three with brain tumors,” McElwain explained. “He's been going through chemo, the radiation treatment, for the last six years...He's a team member, he's part of the family. He got a “1TTD” (wrist) band, he got a game jersey, he's going to be with us whenever he can between his treatments. Part of this whole deal in life is understanding what it takes and what it is to give up yourself to somebody less fortunate. What you realize is that you all get consumed with your own problems. You know what, to see the glitter in Jack’s eyes and the smile on his face when the team gave him his jersey, sang him the fight song; and he actually gave a little talk as a pregame speech to the guys. I think that’s something all of us should step back and take a look at.”
Miller and the team came together through the Friends of Jacklyn Foundation, which matches kids with their favorite teams.
While we put athletes and even coaches on pedestals, giving them this ultimate “tough guy” persona, it's easy to forget they're all just people too.
I've commented before that it's easy to see Coach Mac loves his job – he gets pumped up for press conferences, loves to make jokes and even give us some in-depth football talk – and getting after those key players today went a little way in proving how much he cares about their personal and collective success.