The First Big Test of Jim McElain’s Tenure
By Paul Myerberg // Apr 9, 2012
Jim McElwain already had his hands full. For starters, Colorado State’s first-year coach has to implement his new offensive scheme: this will dominate the Rams’ spring, which kicked off on March 22. Then there’s the task of redoing the sort of team-wide malaise that seemed to grip this program over its last two years-plus under Steve Fairchild, who was fired at the end of last season. Tied into that later task, perhaps, is cleaning up another sort of mess altogether: Last Friday, three players were arrested for what the Fort Collins Coloradoan termed a “savage beating” of four freshmen students at an off-campus party. In this, not the implementation of a new offense, McElwain faces his first test as a head coach.
Two of the three players involved in Friday’s incident were involved in a separate physical altercation in March, as noted by College Football Talk, though charges weren’t filed in that case — and haven’t as yet been filed in Friday’s alleged case of assault. The pictures, via the Coloradoan, are striking: black eyes, cuts, bruises.
The two players, Mike Orakpo and Nordly Capi, both juniors, are the stars of a fairly impressive Colorado State defense. A converted safety, Orakpo finished third on the team in tackles (87) with an interception last fall. After finding a home at weak side linebacker as a sophomore, Orakpo ranks among the best at his position in the Mountain West heading into September.
Capi was one of the breakout stars in the entire country a year ago. Like Orakpo, he was a part-time player as a freshman: Capi played in four games, three during conference play, and made only two tackles. But he burst onto the scene as a sophomore, leading the Rams in tackles for loss (11.0) and sacks (9.5), earning first-team all-conference honors.
McElwain has already suspended all three players — the third is defensive end Colton Pathaus — indefinitely while the school further investigates the most recent incident. The defense would be dealt a dreadful blow if all three miss the coming season, if McElwain goes that far: the Rams lose only one starter off last year’s defense, which was expected to take a huge jump forward in 2012.
McElwain’s statement reads, in part, that the three players “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.”
He continued: “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.”
Merely talking in hypotheticals — not speaking of C.S.U., but any major program — this is a time for a first-year coach to set a tone for his tenure. Take it too easy on these three players? Then a coach might win the locker room in the short term, but he doesn’t send the right message. Drop the hammer? Then a coach robs himself of three crucial defenders, which hurts his bottom line — even in year one, a first-year coach is defined by his record.
The details provided by the four C.S.U. students allegedly assaulted by the trio of players are chilling: It wasn’t really much of a fight. It was basically just a beating,” said one. “I’ve never seen anyone so mad, so violent. The kid was on a rampage.” Based on the report in the Coloradoan, and including the fact that Capi and Orakpo were involved in a March incident, McElwain has to at least consider removing each from the program for all of the coming season, if not more.
It’s decision time for the rookie coach. At this point, McElwain would be wise to call on the guidance of his coaching mentors, those who have been here before: John L. Smith, Pat Hill and Nick Saban. Each of those longtime F.B.S. head coaches will tell him the same thing: wins are important — McElwain knows this, having served under Saban — but no one player, or no three players, are bigger than the program.
Tags: Colorado State, Colton Pathaus, Jim McElwain, John L. Smith, Mike Orakpo, Nick Saban, Nordly Capi, Pat Hill
Leave a Comment