Koch: What can we learn from McElwain’s “The Climb” now that he’s gone?

Zac Koch

Zac Koch
Zac Koch

After their first bowl win in five years at the New Mexico Bowl last season, Jim McElwain and the CSU Rams football team started talking about “The Climb”.

And after a 10-2 season and a bid to the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, it’s clear the team has made quite the uphill trek from the last few of years. “The Climb” seemed to be not only an inspirational slogan for the players and coaches; but for the students, fans and University as well. It was a signal for good things to come for a growing University that hasn’t seen good football in years, and Coach Mac created this beacon.

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But last week, he up and left to the University of Florida on a $7 million buyout. McElwain will receive $3.5 million a year for six years with Gator Nation.

So what was this “Climb” all about anyway? What did it mean if Coach Mac was just going to opt out anyway?

As the first coach in CSU football history to leave for another school rather than retiring or being fired, the lesson we can take from McElwain’s “Climb” is slightly different than it’s initial connotation.

On the CSU football team’s website, there’s an article about “The Climb” from early August. In it, then-starting tight-end Kivon Cartwright is quoted talking about the team’s slogan.

“Our slogan is The Climb,” Cartwright shared. “We’re not looking at the end result, we’re looking at the process, we’re looking at every day, day-to-day, to climb. Once we reach one peak, we’re going to the next one.”

Rather than being simply a campaign for this season’s team, I think “The Climb” is more than that. We live in an incentive-based society, and though the idea of one CSU team coming together with a new coach and climbing to the spotlight and gaining national recognition and living happily ever after is romantic, it’s not how the real world works.

In college sports, athletes are coming in and going out every year, making it difficult for one unit to really prosper for a long period of time. These athletes are students first, and essentially still kids in many respects. A college coach then, also plays a dual-role as a teacher and a coach.

McElwain certainly felt like he “reached one peak” in Fort Collins, and is moving on to another in Gainesville. If the climb is about looking at the process, and going day-to-day, then McElwain did in fact stay true to his slogan. He taught his players a very real lesson; in an incentive-based society, success has no finish line. There is always another peak to conquer, and every day is an opportunity to get closer to those peaks.

While the critics and heart-broken CSU fans might have the right to feel cheated, the people closest to coach Mac, his players, have stayed true to their teacher and coach. A host of players have showed their support for McElwain on Twitter and various other mediums.

“At the end of the day we all need to say thank you. Coach Mac had a dream and we live in a country where dreams become a reality if you work hard,” senior quarterback Garrett Grayson tweeted. 

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Also in the article about “The Climb” on the CSU football website, McElwain is quoted talking about how “each year is about adjustment” and “constant evolution” is necessary for success. Though it may have been exciting and inspiring in the short-run to hear these words about the football team, the words still ring true in the long-run for all of the people who took “The Climb” to heart.

Thanks for keeping’ track with Zac.

Collegian Assistant Sports Editor Zac Koch can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @zactkoch