Monday, April 9, 2012

Saban disciple Jim McElwain faces first crisis as a head coach

image On Saturday, Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain suspended three football players for what he termed a “violation of team rules.” Junior defensive end Nordly Capi, junior linebacker Mike Orakpo and junior defensive end Colton Paulhus were all placed on indefinite suspension. The three were alleged to have participated in what The Coloradoan calls a “savage beating” of CSU students following a Friday night party.

And thus begins McElwain’s first real test as a head coach—how to deal with players who knowingly do wrong and keep them from growing like a cancer on the team. Every major program has its ne’er do wells. How they’re dealt with can make or break a program and make or break a coach’s career.

On Monday, McElwain released a statement that seems to indicate he understands the gravity of the situation and is taking the right steps:

“At this point, the three players reported to be involved in the incident over the weekend are indefinitely suspended from the football program. That means they are effectively no longer part of this team and will not take part in any football-related activity. We do not condone in any way, shape or form this type of behavior. It is completely unacceptable.

“I understand people want me to remove them from the team immediately. But until the investigation concludes and due process takes its course, suspending them indefinitely is the strongest action I can take.

“The vast majority of players in this program are good kids. They work hard and they do the right thing. They understand that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

Matt Hayes from SportingNews has a fascinating investigative piece into Urban Meyer’s final two years at Florida that is an illustrative case in point. Let kids like this feel comfortable breaking rules and they will wreck team discipline. They will divide the team into perceived haves—those who enjoy the coaches’ favor; and have nots—the good kids who only want to play football and get an education.

Ironically, two other Saban disciples faced similar team discipline issues last season and still haven’t climbed out of the holes left by their processors. Will Muschamp has his work cut out for him in cleaning up Meyer’s mess. It’s questionable whether Tennessee’s Derek Dooley will be given enough time to clean up the mess left by his two most recent predecessors.

From what we know now, the CSU players are off the team and McElwain seems to be deliberative and taking the right approach. If the investigation shows that his players were indeed involved in such a violent altercation (at least the second one for two of the players), how he proceeds could go a long way in determining how much McElwain grew as a coach in Tuscaloosa.

Exit Question: What are the odds that late Saturday night, a phone call was made to McElwain’s mentor, seeking counsel?

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