"Coach Mac" (and the irony here is that former Colorado coach Bill McCartney, who was in the press box for the game, has always been 'Coach Mac' in these parts...) was plucked off the Alabama coaching staff to bring back the school's glory days of former head coach Sonny Lubick. The two men are friends from their days in Montana. They share many of the same experiences and values. Lubick has whole heartedly endorsed McElwain and acts as a confidant. It's all in place. It's now up to Coach Mac to deliver.
He seems to be well aware of the task in front of him. McElwain tweeted (something I don't think Sonny would have ever considered doing) the day before the game that it was "time to change how people see us." It worked exactly that way in the eyes of at least one prominent observer.
"I don't want to disrespect (former) Coach (Steve) Fairchild," said CU coach Jon Embree, "but it just seems like they believe more this year."
That post-game quote should be the single biggest take away from this game. The Rams seemed to play harder. They were more cohesive. With a lead late in the game, they didn't passively sit on the ball and try to run out the clock as they've done in past games against the Buffs. They were the aggressors all the way through the second half. That was a change.
This is not a great CSU team by any stretch. They do have a shot at a six-win season and a bowl game, which would make this rebuilding year a tremendous success. They are not yet close to the level of Lubick's teams of the late 1990's. But it appears that McElwain has those blueprints and is working off them.
Lubick's teams had two things: A strong sense of "family" within the program, and an ability to capture the underdog mentality and ride it for all it was worth. Lubick always deflected the credit to his players, which players appreciate. He took the blame for things that went wrong, which players appreciate even more. McElwain seems to be doing the same. After the big first win, he was quick to credit players.
"I'm excited for our kids. They deserved it. Our guys deserved to know what it is to be successful because of the effort they put in."
Don't underestimate the importance of creating a bond with your college-aged players. Fairchild, who knows as much about football as any coach anywhere, was never able to do that. There always seemed to be a certain amount of disconnect. And unlike his predecessor, McElwain seems to be at least comfortable dealing with the media (and obviously the social media as well.) Part of Lubick's enduring legacy is due to his folksy handling of the media. It's part of the job - and does not have to be a difficult part.
There is plenty of difficult stuff still ahead. As McElwain said after the game, "this is just one win. It means we could go 12-0 or 1-11. We still have a lot of work to do."