Rolando McClain is healthy, motivated and drug free as he seeks another shot in the National Football League after missing three seasons due to a drug suspension and injuries, he said Wednesday in his first extensive interview since the NFL reinstated him Aug. 30.
With the NFL season underway and teams having settled on their rosters, McClain will have to wait for an opportunity. His agent, Pat Dye Jr., has to find a team that will take a chance on a linebacker who was an All-American at the University of Alabama and starred at Decatur High School but has a troubled past.
“We’ve got several teams we’re talking to,” McClain said Wednesday. He is working out daily with a trainer in Huntsville.
The Dallas Cowboys released McClain three days after the NFL reinstated him from an indefinite suspension over the substance-abuse policy. The Cowboys had put McClain on the reserve/suspended list when he was banned in 2016. The 30-year-old last played in 2015.
McClain said he was perfectly fine with spending his time fishing and watching his sons growing up while in what he considered retirement. He admitted he would occasionally talk about how he wasn’t happy with his professional football career “but I was enjoying my life in private.”
The big change in his direction came Feb. 25 when his brother, Michael Irvin Jr., was shot multiple times and killed at his home on Marion Street Southwest. It was the first homicide of 2019 in Decatur.
Zachary Bernard Williams, 30, of Hartselle, and Ulysses Ke’Andre Wilkerson, 19, of Decatur, are in Morgan County Jail awaiting trial on charges of capital murder.
“My brother has three kids, and I want to assume responsibility for them,” McClain said.
McClain declined to say where he is residing but said he’s still in good shape financially. He said the money from returning to the NFL would allow him to continue taking care of his own three boys at the level they deserve while stepping in for Irvin’s children.
McClain’s children also urged him to make a comeback, and he said he wants to be a good example for them.
McClain said he has matured in his outlook. He made good grades growing up in Decatur, and he fondly talks about his teachers at Gordon-Bibb Elementary, Oak Park Middle School and Decatur High.
One he mentioned as a favorite was Mike Smith, the hall of fame girls basketball coach and Decatur High government teacher. Smith, now retired, remembers McClain as being an “intelligent” student who could be competitive.
“I liked to recognize students who made A's and B's on a test and, on one test he didn’t make a good grade,” Smith said. “He did not like that. After the class, he told me that would never happen again and it didn’t. He made straight As.”
Smith said from among the school staff, especially some of the assistant football coaches, there were many “who really pulled for him, tried to make him do right and keep him out of trouble. There were a lot of people who were really pulling for him, and I hope he realizes that one day.”
Head football coach Jere Adcock was among those staff members. He said Wednesday he had to discipline McClain several times, and sometimes his star player didn’t understand why.
Adcock said he also tried to protect him “and keep him under the radar.” This included not allowing him to be interviewed by the media.
Adcock said McClain was often blamed through the rumor mill for things he didn’t do.
“I’ve shut them down quickly many times,” Adcock said.
The two had a falling out at the end of the player's senior year in 2007 when Adcock confronted McClain over his role in what the coach said were a series of altercations “between guys from both sides of town.”
McClain said he now understands where Adcock was coming from.
“I’m grown now and, if I talk to my kids, I would tell them I did some childish sh-- then, just to be honest,” McClain said.
McClain stayed out of trouble, excelled in the classroom and became an All-American and Butkus Award winner at the University of Alabama. He said he is still close to Tide coach Nick Saban, often looking to the legend for guidance and help with the coach’s NFL contacts.
After going pro in January 2010 and bypassing his senior season two days after helping Alabama win the national championship game against Texas, McClain was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the first round. He signed a $40 million, five-year contract, and was waived after three seasons.
“That was not the right team for me because we had three coaches in three years,” McClain said. “That was the first time in my life to be able to walk around with any money.”
He also spent time in the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys organizations but played only 65 professional games.
McClain couldn’t stay out of trouble after turning pro, with that trouble often coming on his visits home to Decatur. He was arrested multiple times on misdemeanor charges by local police officers but avoided any stay behind bars.
The worst was an incident in which McClain was accused of third-degree assault, menacing, reckless endangerment and firing a gun in public in November 2011. He was accused of beating a man to the ground and shooting a gun by the man’s head.
The alleged victim wouldn’t testify, the charges were dropped and they later settled a civil case out of court.
McClain said a lot of things were reported about the incident that weren’t true. He tried to get the alleged victim, a longtime friend, to talk to The Daily before Wednesday's interview, but the man refused.
“The most disappointing part was the betrayal of my friend,” McClain said.
Reflects on hometown
McClain said he knows the roles he played in the issues he’s had in Decatur and he doesn’t hate the city. He said he would like to come back, contribute to the community and even possibly coach at Decatur High.
“All I want Decatur to know is I don’t fit that profile for a bad person,” McClain said.
Last month, McClain cleared up legal issues over a 2017 arrest in Hartselle. He pleaded guilty to a traffic violation of excessively tinted windows and one count of misdemeanor possession of marijuana. A misdemeanor charge for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit was dismissed.
McClain signed with Baltimore Ravens in 2013 and then suddenly retired at 23 years old. He came back to football in 2014 and was traded to the Cowboys, signing a one-year contract for the league minimum $700,000. After finishing second on the Cowboys in tackles with a career-high 108 in 2014, he signed one-year contracts of $3 million for 2015 and $5 million in 2016. He was suspended the first four games of 2015 and missed all of 2016 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
McClain said he testified positive for marijuana, which he used to deal with the pain from the sport. He pointed out that marijuana is legal in multiple states in the country.
“I never used pain pills,” he said.
He said his injuries were the big reason for quitting football after the 2016 suspension. A broken knee cap, torn groin and multiple concussions begin the list. Two years ago, he was finally diagnosed with a congenital hip impingement, a hip cyst and a torn labrum and had hip surgery.
“We thought I was tight and I could just sit down and stretch it out,” McClain said.
Now the 6-foot-4, 248-pound McClain said he's healthy and ready to play.
His return to health was delayed last year when he was in a wreck, but he’s OK now.
McClain said he loved playing football in high school and college because “it was a game.” He said pro football is “too much like a business and too intense.” He compared playing pro football to being a gladiator. Initially, he only planned to play until he was 28 because he wanted to stay mobile for his children.
But McClain also believes he was born to play professional football.
“That’s why I have unfinished business,” McClain said.