McElwain on Saban’s influence, evaluating Gators

By Adam Silverstein
December 26, 2014

Early this week, new Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain held radio interviews with a trio of stations throughout the state of Florida, which broke down in a variety of stories published on this site (see links below).

Wednesday: Recruiting is a huge priority for McElwain
Tuesday: McElwain prepared to help Treon Harris mature, Gators improve
Tuesday: McElwain laughs at Mullen’s ‘lateral move’ slight
Monday: Dominoes must fall before McElwain fills staff

But McElwain said much more than was contained within the confines of those topics, so here is a wrap-up of everything else he discussed earlier in the week, from what Nick Saban tenets he is bringing with him to the Gators to how prepared his dog is to start at quarterback for Florida.


McElwain did not shy away from admitting how much Alabama head coach Nick Saban has influenced his career and coaching style, noting during an interview with Mike Bianchi on Orlando’s 740 The Game that there are things he took with him to Colorado State and will once again while setting up the Florida football program in his own image.

“We can write a book on [what I learned from Saban]. I just can’t tell you how fortunate I was to work for him and just learning the organizational part of the whole structure, everything that touches the desk of the head football coach, making sure that there aren’t separate agendas throughout the building,” McElwain said.

“He kind of told me when we first got [to Alabama], he said, ‘Mac, look, all I’m going to ask you to do is work hard and be complete in what you do.’ And you know what? That kind of helps you in life, too. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for that opportunity.

“The things we learn, man, you learn throughout life with a lot of different, great coaches I’ve been around. There’s a lot of great stuff I’ve been fortunate to be a part of. I had a chance here at Colorado State to kind of set some of those in motion, and I’m looking forward to doing it with the Gators now.”

He expanded on those comments during a radio spot with Jacksonville’s 1010 XL, noting that he has taken from Saban the concept of planning ahead for 18 months at a time and how that process will help the Gators going forward.

“I learned from one of the best really in time management and the organizational part of your year-and-a-half long calendar that updates every month and kind of how we have to put these things into place,” he explained.

“There will be a lot of things that change and yet I think it’s important to make sure that we capture the things that they had success with at Florida. That’s all part of watching, that’s all part of interviewing and making sure we do it right. Because I know one thing, the University of Florida deserves a fantastic football team to match its great university and academic structure.”

One other stylistic tip McElwain has taken for Saban is not allowing his assistant coaches to speak with the media during the season. Though McElwain’s new coordinators – Geoff Collins (defense) and Doug Nussmeier (offense) – are expected to be made available for introductory press conferences and the occasional media session in the offseason, once the 2015 campaign begins it will be McElwain serving as the lone voice of the program.

“The one thing I kind of like about [that rule] is that it’s one less distraction. It’s really everybody throughout the organization has a job to do. Eliminating the clutter of all the other things that are out there gives [the assistants] an opportunity to focus on the task at hand, and that getting these players ready, being involved in these players’ lives and helping them be better for the rest of their lives. It’s something that we’ve stayed consistent with,” McElwain said.

“We’ll get opportunities to visit with those guys obviously before spring ball and before fall camp and then we’ll do some other things to let the people kind of get to know these guys, and yet at the same item, it’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to get this program back to where it needs to be.”


McElwain has spent most of his first month at Florida setting the recruiting plan through National Signing Day, filling out the top portion of his coaching staff and planning ahead. He is also still taking in the opportunity he’s been given to coach the Gators, noting that while he is dedicated to turning things around, it is not going to happen overnight.

“A lot of it is looking back and saying, ‘Wow,’ you know? I can’t tell you how excited we are to be at such a great place as the University of Florida. You grow up, you never guess in a million years [you would get this opportunity] and yet I’m really excited about the opportunity and we’ve got a lot of stuff to do,” he told the Jacksonville station.

“You really don’t settle in … it takes about a year and a half to kind of get everything in place and set the infrastructure of the organization and not make any rash decisions as you move forward because you only got one first chance to get it right and that’s what we’ve got to do.”

As part of his decision not to rush ahead is holding off on his evaluation of Florida’s players and staff members until he has a better handle on how things are working inside the Gators organization.

“I don’t think you can ever jump to rash judgments or decisions. I think it’s really important to get a feel for everybody involved in the organization, everything that touches the desk of the head football coach, and really kind of start to prioritize – the things that are really good, maybe some of the things that need to be fixed – because it’s about the total program,” McElwain explained.

“I know one thing, I’ve learned some great lessons and obviously was able to put something in place at my old stop, and it really has to do with all the things that affect and help our players be successful as players, be successful as students and eventually be successful in life. Those are the parts that we need to make sure we get in place.

“We’ve got a long road to hoe now. There’s only so many of these places like the University of Florida out there; there just aren’t many. To have an opportunity to be at such a great place, I’m really looking forward to it.”

McElwain noted that while he has watched some Florida practices and met with players on a more casual basis, he does not plan to have true face-to-face conversations with them until after team meetings begin on Jan. 5-6.

“I’ve been out at practice. I’ve spoken with kids. I haven’t had the individual sit-downs. Really, what I’ve felt going in is they deserve – and those coaches that are there that worked their tail off to get them in that bowl game – they deserve the opportunity to finish this season and close that chapter out. And you know what? We’ll start to write a new chapter here when they get back from Birmingham,” he said.

“We’ll have a team meeting on [January 5th] and then again on [January 6th] and start to kind of build our relationships and our trust and give them the guidance that we need moving forward to get us a lot of wins in the SEC.”


» On what motivated him to pay a portion of his Colorado State buyout (740 AM): “You go through life and you only get so many opportunities at what I consider unbelievable places. In this particular case, you know, this is the top football organization. It’s a top university. It’s a place that, you know what, you can have an opportunity to really set the standards and shoot for them. I’ve never been one to ever turn down a challenge. That’s just kind of how I’m wired. To have an opportunity to be at a place like the University of Florida, that comes with such national recognition not only in athletics but in academics and all the other things that go along with it, I’d have never guessed in a million years that I’d have this opportunity, and it’s one of those that I could never slip by.”

» On whether coaching at Florida is a dream come true (Tampa Bay’s 620 AM): “Shoot, I got to tell you, growing up and kind of coming from where I came from out in Montana, this is one of those jobs that you always just kind of look at and say, ‘Man, that would be cool.’ To get this opportunity, it’s been obviously a long ride, but I just can’t tell you how excited I am to really get going here once the first of the year starts as we get rolling with this recruiting class and getting the Gators back to where we should be.”

» On the Southeastern Conference (620 AM): “You can argue [it’s] the second-best league in America, next to the NFL. Each week is a battle. … It’s something that, once you get a taste, it’s hard to do anything else.”

» On Claribelle’s preparedness to start at quarterback for the Gators (740 AM): “I can tell the pressure is on her right now. She’s not quite acting the same, so I need to get her really going over the break here so we can get her up to par.”

» On having a positive disposition (740 AM): “I kind of generally like people, you know what I’m getting at? That’s kind of who I am.”

» On his favorite band (740 AM): “Boy, I’ll tell you what, the eclectic collection that I have stems from growing up with parents that actually grew up in the big band era and all through the 60s. You got to remember, I got to have a real broad background because, if you think about it, my high school days were disco. So that’s what I’ve got going for me. It’s one of those deals, I try to keep it fresh. You just never know what’s going to be on that selection.”

» On his holiday plans (1010 XL): “I’m going to be back in Colorado with my three kids and my wife. We’ll get a chance to wake up Christmas morning and reflect really on how fortunate we are and just how lucky we’ve been kind of throughout our lives. And then it’s, I’ll probably be on the phone that night, too. We’ll get this thing together. I just can’t tell you how excited i am to kind of put our stamp on it. And yet we’ve got a ways to go, I get it. If it was perfect, [I] probably wouldn’t be here. We’ve got to make sure that we do it right, we put the right pieces in place, and we make sure that we give all the Gator fans out there a lot to be thankful for.”


  1. DGlockUF says:

    Another great article, Adam.

    Really looking forward to Coach Mac getting us back on track and competing for a spot in ATL every year.

    The more I read and listen to him talk about his philosophy how to succeed in coaching and in life, the more excited I get. Firmly believe that Mac has done his fair share of studying leadership, not just in a sports setting, but the deeper aspects. Very important to motivate and inspire everyone around the program, from the student athletes to coaching staff to ticket takers at the stadium on game days.

    Also pleased with OC and DC hires. Both skilled, proven, high energy guys that can recruit Florida and in the SEC.

    GO GATORS!!!

    • Sid Hill says:

      Congratulations, Gators. I think you’re going to be really happy with this fellow as your coach. I’ve watched his work for several years and he knows what he is doing.

      Although I am a ‘Bama alum (class of ’65), both of my grad degrees are from UF. I’ve always had an affection for your program. Heck, I even liked Spurrier when he was whipping everyone in the conference. I look forward to a return of the days when ‘Bama and UF regularly play for the SEC title.

      Roll Tide!

  2. Ken (CA) says:

    I just want to know one thing. Is that his real hair or does he wear a rug?

  3. W2 says:

    Great read. Happy Holidays

  4. Gatorgrad79 says:

    Wow an honest to God plan – an 18 MONTH plan!! Not sure our former staff had much more than a week to week plan for the last several years. I think we may truly have experience, intelligence and maturity at the helm. Go Gators!

  5. Jimd says:

    Enjoy him, I could not wait for his interviews after a game. Always we could have done better. Always coaching up everybody around him. CSU and I will miss him.

  6. Michael Jones says:

    We’ve really got ourselves something special in Coach McElwain. Every road back to the top has its bumps and bruises, and we’ll for sure take ours. . but he makes me want to savor every second of it, the good and the hard.

  7. Texas gator says:

    I want to know more. I can’t help but get excited every time I read an interview. Come and get some of these Texas kids!

  8. Mr. Green says:

    More charisma in his little finger than in the previous coach’s enire being. Can’t wait to see his positive style soak into the program and lift it up. Already busting a move on Jax, Tampa and Mousetown. Some guys never look comfortable in the Big Chair and some guys wear it like a finely tailored suit. It’s about damn time somebody united the Gator Nation and took back Gator Country! FEAR THE SWAMP!!!

  9. Tom Thumb says:

    im looking forward to seeing FSU lay the wood on that guy and his yellow woodchuck teeth. McElweiner won’t save a thing at UF.

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