Image Credit: GatorVision
Don’t tell Mick Jagger, but you can get what you want and sometimes get exactly what you need, too … as long as you’re willing to show patience. Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain proved that recently when he swiped star recruiter and running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider away from West Virginia to fill a vacant spot on his coaching staff, though if McElwain had his way, Seider would have been with the Gators years earlier.
Upon building his first coaching staff at Florida, McElwain contacted Seider hoping to bring him over from WVU, but a family health issue occurring at the same time made such a move difficult for the young coach.
Seider learned in January 2015 that his son, Jaden Seider, had Hodskin’s lymphoma after doctors noticed and removed two tumors on the boy’s neck. Thankfully, following months of chemotherapy and check-ups, Jaden eventually kicked cancer’s butt, as Seider wrote on his Twitter account in celebration back in July 2015.
Just months after his son was diagnosed, Seider had to turn down McElwain’s initial offer to join the Gators. He did not feel the timing was right as not only was his son receiving treatment, he would’ve had to uproot his entire family at a difficult time. Even the tremendous resources in Gainesville, Florida, namely Shands Hospital, did not provide enough incentive to make a career move that Seider desired.
“I had an opportunity to come here before under Mac when he first got the job. But I had a situation with my son that was more important at the time. I was at a great spot, too, so it had to be right,” Seider explained before later discussing the situation in greater detail.
“First of all, with Florida, this is one of those universities that you don’t get these opportunities in life. To have an opportunity to work at Florida, that’s the standard and the prestige of this university. So saying no at that time was tough, but my son was the most important thing in my life at that time. When you learn your son is diagnosed with cancer, I’ve never been around it [before]. You hear about it, until you actually have somebody that’s close to you get affected, it changes. So my priority was being a dad and nothing is mattered at that time.
“[McElwain] understood that. They didn’t stop trying. They went a week and were like, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’ I’m like, ‘Yes coach.’ … I’m telling you, it made it hard to say no the first time, but I had two little girls I had to think about, too. So you can’t just uproot your family even though this hospital [Shands] may be ‘better’ here than there.
“So it was just an opportunity that I felt, at the time, I made the right decision, and I think Mac understood that. Because if he didn’t, I wouldn’t be standing here right now.”
McElwain said last week he was “finally glad to get” Seider in the fold, saying Florida was “where he belongs,” though he obviously understood and supported Seider’s decision years ago.
“It is family first. That’s how we run this program, so I totally understood that first time around more than most people do, having gone through something with my own son,” McElwain explained. “As I told him, when we got that next opportunity, ‘I’m not going to stop calling you.’ And I’m glad he chose to come.”
In other words, it was McElwain’s persistence and compassion that provided Seider with the comfort to leave his alma mater and return to his home state.
“It was a mutual deal where he respected me as a family man, and that’s why I work for guys. I don’t want to work for a person who’s not a family man because so much time we can talk about football, but it’s bigger than just football. I tell my players past and my players present, the game is only going to be played for four quarters, and in four years it’s over with but that relationship’s got to carry on beyond that if it’s done right,” Seider explained.
“[The delay gave] me a chance over these last couple years to get to know Mac and his staff and what the expectation was and the plan going forward for me to make this leap of faith. And then the thing that made it OK to come is the way they kept after me. They kept recruiting me with the guys on the staff, and I felt like the time was right to come now and be part of this great university.”
Seider called coaching the Gators a “surreal” experience. As a high school quarterback, he was recruited by Steve Spurrier and Charlie Strong, though he chose West Virginia despite a number of big-time names — Fred Taylor, Reidel Anthony, Johnny Rutledge, Louis Oliver among them — going from Glades Central High School to Florida.
Now his son, a healthy 16-year-old excited about his family’s move, gets to watch his father coach in the spring and summer for the first time since he was a little kid.
When that goes down, Seider will have some tough decisions to make. Will he rely on junior Jordan Scarlett, who broke out as the team’s lead running back in 2016, or move the Gators back into the rotation that McElwain appeared to favor early in the season?
“You always like a bell cow, but in this game of football, on any level, those guys get beat up. The key is that bottom guy shouldn’t be far off from your first guy if you’ve recruited well and coached well, and I believe that last guy being just as prepared as the first guy,” said Seider. “That’s just who I am as a coach. I don’t think you show a weak link in your armor. … I think [there’s] a lot of opportunities in this system where you going to see more than one back throughout the game.”
Before those decisions are finalized, though, Seider has plenty of evaluations to make. Lucky for him, he is familiar with the three main rushers on Florida’s roster as well as both incoming freshmen.
“Jordan, I’ve been knowing that kid since the eighth grade because he’s from an area that I heavily recruit. Lamical [Perine], a funny story with him the other day when I got here: I had an email and it was still in my [inbox] from someone sent me a random email and his name was in it. With Mark [Thompson], same way, I had an email from his school about recruiting him, but we were already done,” said Seider.
Three-stars Malik Davis and Adarius Lemons were also very much on his radar during their recruiting process. Seider called both “tremendous football players” who should be “ready to help us” right away. He said he recruited Davis and showed interest in Lemons early, though both big play backs ultimately headed in different directions. “They’re probably different structure-wise than some of the guys we’ve got right now, which ain’t all bad,” he said.
Seider plans to form his own opinions on all five players despite what he sees on film from last season. By doing so, he hopes to build a high level of trust in the running back room and with his players and the entire coaching staff. That trust, along with a high level of preparation and finding players that fit the system will benefit everyone, including himself.
After all, he’s waited long enough.