What head football coaches demand more than anything else is consistency. Jim McElwain should try it.
The Florida Gators coach has suspended five players ahead of their opening game of the season on Saturday, Sept. 3 against the UMass Minutemen. We know four of them. We don’t know one for sure. It’s perplexing as to why.
Consider these quick case studies.
Jalen Tabor and C’yontai Lewis: McElwain announced that two potential starters, a junior cornerback and redshirt sophomore tight end, were suspended for the opening game with a full story on the team’s website and lengthy seven-sentence statement the program shared on social media. Though the team did not announce the reason for the suspensions, it was quickly learned that it was due to a “nasty fight” the players had in practice, and McElwain did not shy away from discussing that in a round-about way in subsequent media availabilites.
Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells: The freshmen wide receivers were busted over the summer for shooting BB guns outside a dorm on campus. Each was arrested on two felony charges, though the State of Florida has not yet decided how to formally charge them. McElwain ambiguously announced that “two freshmen” would miss the game, not providing the names of either player even though it was quite obvious who they were. Upon being asked directly whether it was those two, he relented and nodded yes.
Mystery senior: At the same time he announced the suspension of Cleveland and Wells, McElwain noted that a third player — an anonymous senior — would also miss the game. The media in attendance did not ask a follow-up question until McElwain had already walked off his podium. He quipped, “You had your chance,” at the time and did not answer. Hours later, Florida released a Week 1 depth chart that included every returning scholarship senior except one, WR Chris Thompson. Florida’s media corps gave McElwain another chance Wednesday to name the player, and here’s the response they got.
McElwain got somewhat passionate and heated while explaining why he, for some reason, refused to name this player. Remember: He had no problem calling out two and eventually relenting and providing the names of two others also set to miss the game.
“Yeah, you know what? I’m here to educate, I’m here to help and I’m here for our players, first and foremost. These are good players and good guys who sometimes make choices that aren’t the greatest,” he began. “I’m here for them. Learning from our choices and the decisions we make, that’s really what it’s all about. … You protect them, too. They’re kids. You know what? Sometimes, some of the things we do, maybe we’re not real proud of and we got to learn. … So there’s your reason. These are good players and good kids and they mean well. Don’t ever forget that as we write the negative all the time.”
It is tough to understand how McElwain is drawing these distinctions. Those asking for a name are trying to do their job. I highly doubt anyone would taken a deep dive into the reason for the suspension. It’s not difficult to say “X is suspended for a violation of team rules.” Hell, it’s one of the Gators’ favorite catch phrases.
And really, why even mention the “senior” in the first place?
By being difficult for difficulty’s sake, you’re asking the media to pursue it and turn a non-story into a topic of conversation.
A story with a true lifespan of a minute — a single tweet, perhaps — will now last six days. Don’t think for one second a media member with binoculars at the Florida-UMass game won’t scan the sideline to determine the lone senior absent or not dressed. As they should.
A nonsensical and inconsistent policy has the Gators putting the suspensions of two players in the spotlight and trying to push three others (one somewhat successfully) under the rug.
There is no questioning McElwain’s discipline here. He’s been consistent in teaching players lessons and ensuring his expectations are met both inside the locker room and out of it. Accountability had been lacking at Florida for quite some time, and he’s certainly brought some of it back.
But in terms of McElwain’s unrelenting decision to remain more vague and inconsistent than necessary regarding suspensions and injuries, it is apparent and even somewhat distracting.