When Greg McElroy makes his TV debut with the SEC Network this fall, it will be the realization of a career he’s been preparing for most of his life.
Thing is, all those years, he never knew that’s what he was doing.
McElroy, who led Alabama to the 2009 BCS national championship, pulled double duty during a recent mid-summer visit to Columbia. He spoke to an Alabama alumni group while also “showing the flag” for his new employer, which kicks off its inaugural football season Aug. 28 when South Carolina hosts Texas A&M.
The 26-year-old former quarterback, late of the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals, also checked out Williams-Brice Stadium, dined in Five Points (at Pawleys’ Front Porch, where he recommends the Isle of Palms burger) and strolled the USC campus. He called this Columbia visit a major improvement over the last time, in 2010, when the Gamecocks upset the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide 35-21 while sacking McElroy seven times.
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“I’m excited about the coming season, because college football is what I want to be part of,” he said. “Even when I was in the NFL, every Saturday I was glued to the TV.”
McElroy will see a lot of SEC games in his analyst role, a job he says fits him like a glove. First, as a former QB, he’s used to breaking down video of teams in preparation for a game; second, he’s a self-proclaimed “film rat, a junkie for studying film, a numbers nerd”; and finally, he’s a hard-core SEC fan.
“I’m relatively knowledgeable about everybody (in the conference), some more than others,” he said, noting ties to Alabama coach Nick Saban. “I’m working hard to know all those teams like the back of my hand.”
Had you told McElroy that, say, a couple of years ago, he’d have figured you had confused him with someone else. A business major at Alabama, he graduated in three years and afterward applied for a Rhodes scholarship. “I thought I’d be going to Oxford for a few years,” he said. “This is not something I ever considered doing, to tell the truth.”
But after Alabama’s loss to Auburn in 2010, ESPN invited McElroy to attend the Tigers’ BCS title game vs. Oregon in Glendale, Ariz., and offer his insights. “I’d just played Auburn a month before, so it was fresh in my mind what they were doing defensively, and I knew their personnel,” he said. “(ESPN) asked if I’d like to come give my opinion. I said, ‘Any opportunity to talk more college football, I’m jumping at it.’ ”
Thus, when his NFL stint ended, McElroy was open to joining the fledgling SEC Network. There, he’ll be one of at least two former SEC quarterbacks with conference and BCS title experience; you might’ve heard of Tim Tebow, too. McElroy certainly has.
“It’s so funny how, since we were juniors in high school, how much my career has followed his,” he said. McElroy got a scholarship to Alabama only after Tebow chose Florida instead – “(Alabama coaches) told me, ‘We can’t offer anyone until Tim makes up his mind,’ ” McElroy said – and each quarterback beat the other en route to national titles in 2008 (Tebow) and 2009 (McElroy).
“We played together at the Jets, and now we’re at the network together, and I’m thrilled to be working with him again,” McElroy said. “We’ve been kind of linked at the hip all along.”
Though Tebow has the larger profile, he has his work cut out to match McElroy’s league knowledge. On this visit, McElroy spoke authoritatively about this USC squad, Steve Spurrier’s career in Columbia and even the best moments of Stephen Garcia. He says he’s already well-versed on the rest of the SEC, too.
Tebow, of course, is the network’s star analyst, co-hosting the “SEC Nation” studio show, while McElroy said he doesn’t yet know if he’ll be in-studio, at games or both. If preparation counts, though, he should move up fast.
“Every (former) player thinks it’s a natural transition after playing to go into coaching or broadcasting,” he said. “People don’t realize how difficult it is, especially players.” But McElroy seems to have it down.
“It’s just like going into a game; you approach it like you’re playing,” he said. “You compete with yourself, and you try to demand a perfect performance. That’s the way I am, and that’s the way I think I’ll carry myself as a broadcaster.”
It’s a role, McElroy says, “I want to be doing the next 50 years.” He just needed those first 25 years to figure that out.