Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain proved to be exactly what we expected

By Adam Silverstein
October 29, 2017
Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain proved to be exactly what we expected

Image Credit: ESPN Images

The initial impression many — some of us more than others — had when Jim McElwain took the podium in Gainesville, Florida, for the first time back in December 2014 is one that has proven accurate 34 months later. The then-new Florida Gators head coach, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, promised UF’s not-so-long suffering fans the world.

Florida’s facilities would be top-notch.

Recruiting would not drop off one iota.

Electrifying offense would return.

His offensive mastery was such that he could win football games with his 20-pound dog playing quarterback.

The Gators met McElwain with a welcoming committee at Gainesville Regional Airport as the facade began being built. Albert showed up. Cheerleaders and members of the Pride of the Sunshine attended to greet Florida’s new coach, who we would come to learn never wears socks but is perfectly keen to have another team’s hat on when barbecuing with his family.

McElwain’s suit was crisp that day. His ideas seemed fresh. There was no question that he was a change of pace from the man he was replacing.

Then-athletic director Jeremy Foley was beaming. Hey, Ron Zook was a mistake and Will Muschamp was not ready, but this is the guy who hired Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer. He was so sure that McElwain was the man to lead the Gators back to the Promised Land that he was willing to resolve a massive $7.5 million buyout with the coach’s prior employer.

McElwain had “all the qualities” Florida needed, Foley claimed, as he was a “special” offensive mind who pulled off a “miracle” at Colorado State and checked “every single box.”

The new coach promised he was so skilled creating offense that he would build a system that fit around Florida’s personnel. He was so comfortable in his skin that he could crack jokes just as easily as he could be self-deprecating.

“I’m the dog they dropped off down at the Humane Society. He has a little bit of about every breed in him.”

While that may be how McElwain sees himself, the Gators said they were not hiring a mutt but a show dog with a pedigree. Florida brought in the oldest first-year coach in its history, a proven offensive mind with nearly three decades of experience — and yes, another Nick Saban protégé who reached great success at Alabama.

Gators fans were thrilled to see Dan Mullen rattled when McElwain first pulled away Geoff Collins as his defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and then hired Randy Shannon away from Arkansas. This guy doesn’t play. They shrugged when he took a cast-aside Doug Nussmeier out of Michigan. He’s an offensive guy; he knows what he’s doing.

McElwain chose not to retain D.J. Durkin and was unable to keep Travaris Robinson from following Muschamp to Auburn. Out with the old, in with the new; he’s going to make the staff in his image.

Florida’s plan is for a 60-yard indoor practice facility? Are you kidding me? McElwain would have none of that. He demanded a full IPF, moaned about the Gators’ lacking investment into the program from a facility standpoint, was exasperated by the lack of modernization in recruiting and what is necessary to attract top prospect. This guy takes no prisoners; he’s really sticking it to Foley.

When McElwain retained five-stars Martez Ivey and Cece Jefferson despite pulling in the nation’s No. 21 class three months later, it was easy to explain. It’s a transition year. Twelve months later, when Florida’s class ranked a respectable 12th but did not appear to feature big names, that was fine as well. Remember Antonio Callaway? He finds diamonds in the rough. And in 2017 when the Gators appeared headed for disaster only to close exceptionally strong but still only finish 11th? He got some cornerbacks, and man, he really fought for that James Robinson kid.

In between the recruiting waves, McElwain started his coaching career 19-8 (13-5 SEC) and became the first coach in league history to advance to the SEC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons.

He appeared on the cusp of delivering on his promises from that opening press conference as Will Grier was developing into Florida’s first bona fide starting quarterback since Tim Tebow departed in 2009 … only for Grier to be suspended a calendar year for using performance enhancing drugs. He would eventually transfer. It’s Grier’s fault; he has a huge ego.. His dad gave McElwain an ultimatum. The Gators still started 10-1 with their lone loss coming on the road at Death Valley. Wait, did he just lose his mind screaming at Kelvin Taylor? What a juvenile gesture Taylor made. When UF finished 0-3 and were outscored 97-24 in its final three games? Treon Harris sucks!

Florida started 2016 in similar fashion, and though it lost at Tennessee for the first time in over a decade, that could be explained away by McElwain’s chosen starter being injured the week prior and sidelined for that game. The Gators started 6-1 and had just beaten Missouri and Georgia by a combined 64-24. It is happening!

Then came a disaster 31-10 loss at Arkansas (when McElwain played an admittedly injured Luke Del Rio). Florida beat South Carolina handily and edged out LSU in a high-intensity, hurricane-delayed home-turned-road game that was a must-win. This team turned a corner; McElwain has these guys buying in. But when they finished 1-2 and were outscored 85-29 by Alabama and Florida State? Yeah, but McElwain is 10-0 with his chosen starting quarterback. Oh, and fire Nussmeier!

With 2017 ahead, fans’ eyes were big again. The Gators are loaded with playmakers. The defense is young but hungry. Florida is going to upset Michigan in the opener. Ten players — including the program’s top two playmakers — were suspended before that neutral-site loss for credit card fraud and remain as such nine weeks into the season. McElwain’s chosen starting quarterback is either unprepared or ill-fitted for his role despite numerous other freshman signal callers thriving across the nation. The defense is the worst it has been in more than 15 years. Coming off a bye week, during a seven-day period that should have been about whether the Gators can upset their No. 3-ranked hated rivals in a rivalry game that UF owns as of late, the talk was about yet-to-be-seen death threats and whether Florida’s own fan base is at fault. But … but … f— it, I give up.

Now, entering November, the Gators stand three blown coverages away from being 1-6. (Florida only has five passing touchdowns on the entire season.)

Something’s not right. It’s obvious.

Perhaps most importantly, through the ups and downs of McElwain’s tenure with the Gators, through all of the excuses and justifications, everyone who has followed or covered Florida football for the last few years knew one simple truth: This is not a nationally competitive program.

Sure, it can topple bad opponents and sneak out wins against flailing bigger-name teams on occasion, but against the best of the best (combined 0-6 — all blowouts — against Bama, FSU, Michigan), it cannot compete.

McElwain truly loves his players — and his players seem to love him equally because he proves time and again he has their backs — but unfortunately in the world of competitive football, that only goes so far.

The truth is that McElwain added a body kid, a fresh coat of paint, glossy tires and some tint to this ride. He repaired the external presentation of the Gators to push a team that never recovered from Meyer’s departure as one that had been fully refurbished and was ready to move.

But Florida’s pistons are still not firing. The engine keeps leaking fluid. The air conditioner may run, but you still have to turn it on and off a couple times to get it going. It didn’t break down when you drove it off the lot, but at 12,000 miles, this thing you shelled out your hard-earned money for is kaput.

Just as we surmised on Day 1, Jim McElwain ultimately proved to be nothing more than a used car salesman.


  1. Alex says:

    Foley: Zook, Muschamp and Mcelwain

    I don’t know if the Urban Meyer only came to Florida because of Machen is true but the fact that he hired the 3 Stooges listed above is beyond concerning

    Foley did plenty of amazing things for UF , however, the way he handled Meyers “retiring” and the subsequent actions following that event has buried the football program

    Bottom line is we suck.

  2. E Traub says:

    Oh man — dead on, thats it

    hes Kurt Russell from used cars!


    Since day 1, I didn’t like hire. Never liked the way he carried himself in press conferences with his hand gestures, and ums, an uhs and fragmented speech.

  3. james says:

    Can him Monday. Name Who Cares interim coach. Drive down to Orlando and knock on Scott Frost’s door. When opens it, ask how much?

  4. betty says:

    Scott Frost just feels right but what do I know – just been watching Gator footbball 30 + years.

  5. John says:

    It was ex-Utah President and UF President Machen who decided to hired Urban Meyer –it was NOT Jeremy Foley’s decision.

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