Jim McElwain was exactly what the Gators needed

By Adam Silverstein
November 9, 2015

Leave it to a former coach to take some credit for the Florida Gators’ surprising current success.

After first praising Florida and its players for winning the SEC East on Sunday, Will Muschamp was sure to remind Auburn reporters that he told Gators fans the new coach should have no excuses when taking over the program as the cupboard was not bare when he left Gainesville, Florida.

“I’m extremely happy for those guys. Jim [McElwain] has done a fantastic job. He really got things going offensively, and certainly they’ve continued to play at a very high level defensively and on special teams. I’m really happy for those kids,” he said.

“I said it was a good locker room when I left, and I meant it. The foundation was set.”

On Saturday, in a 9-7 win over Vanderbilt that felt much more like a Muschamp-coached game than a McElwain-coached one (though a Muschamp game normally would’ve resulted in that score being flipped the other way), Florida’s offense was stagnant. “Obviously we’ve got a long ways to go on offense,” McElwain said, conjuring up memories of a year ago when an SEC East title was a pipe dream and not a reality like it is in 2015.

While the Gators struggled mightily, really for the first time all year on that side of the ball, they watched as Gainesville native Ralph Webb, who Muschamp did not deem talented enough to offer a scholarship, gashed Florida for what very well might have been the game-winning score had it not been for a late field goal off the leg of redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin (Muschamp’s lone commitment at that position, who to that point was 14/29 for his career).

Hours later, Alabama running back Derrick Henry, a Floridian who the Gators will likely face in the SEC Championship Game, became a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender after carrying for 210 yards and three touchdowns against LSU. Oh, you can bet Muschamp recruited him and had a scholarship offer out to Henry; he wanted the talented youngster to play linebacker.

Sure, Florida has plenty of talent on its roster; it is nearly impossible to fail to recruit at UF (perhaps less impossible after looking at the Gators’ offensive line numbers), but other things slacked under Muschamp. A foundation was set? He certainly cleaned up the program from the last days of the Urban Meyer era and provided some of the materials upon which a foundation could be built, but infrastructure is exactly what McElwain has been up in arms about since he arrived in Hogtown.

“I know this: [The players] were hungry when we got here. We were just real honest with each other as far as what it takes to really be successful, what it takes as an organization to really be successful,” McElwain explained.

“Now this isn’t just about these players, now. We’ve got a ways to go as a total organization – everybody that’s involved in Gator athletics and Gator football that touches the desk of the football coach. We’ve got to think above and beyond where maybe we are just OK with things, and our guys have done that. We’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to push every single day.”

So pardon me if Muschamp’s comments made me furrow my brow. Let’s get back to the guy who is the front-runner for SEC Coach of the Year and a contender for the national award in his first year leading a Power Five program.

Florida is winning in more ways than one under Jim McElwain. And the reason is simple: He’s not passive.

McElwain was not content with the status quo when he joined the Gators. He did not want a sub-standard indoor practice facility when he knew that UF needed a larger one to succeed. He refused to understand why team managers did not have coolers filled with ice at practice and why flags were not placed atop goalposts on the outdoor practice fields so kickers knew which direction the wind was coming from.

And McElwain sure isn’t passive on the field, either. He is not content to take a minute and 15 seconds, plus two timeouts, put them in his pocket and roll into halftime with a three-point score differential. He’s not prepared to kick a long field goal when he’s confident his running back can gain the extra yard needed to continue a drive that could end up in a touchdown. He was asked about his fourth-down philosophy after Saturday’s game, but his reply answered more than just the question offered – it described his entire coaching philosophy.

“I’m a guy who believes in going for it,” he said. “We’re going to press the mettle down and go score. And that’s what we have to do to be successful, and that’s the message our guys need to know.”

Going for it is what Florida is doing right now. Despite how woefully substandard the Gators’ offense looked Saturday, which has critics ready to anoint Alabama the 2015 SEC Champions three weeks before the game is even played, Florida has every opportunity it could dream of floating in front of its collective face.

“Let’s call it like it is: We’re on a championship run,” McElwain said after Saturday’s nail-biter.

“These guys are SEC East champs. They figured out a way to win. And I can’t tell you how proud I am of those players; and I can’t tell you how excited I am for Gators everywhere as we keep moving forward on this journey.

“We can talk and talk and talk about all the mistakes, the ‘what ifs,’ the ‘whys.’ But at the end of the day, there was a group of guys that were in that locker room that gave everything they had for this university and the state of Florida to win that ballgame. And I’ll tell you what, guys: That tells you something about who they are, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of them.

“Wow. That was something else.”

But that’s the thing about McElwain. He never settles. There’s always “something else” with him.

He’s not content with laying a foundation for the next guy. He’s focused on setting the groundwork for greatness … and it’s already started.


  1. Matt says:

    So with Muschamp’s notion that the cupboard wasn’t bare, is that his way of admitting that he’s a sub-par head coach? What a goof.

    • Jeremy says:

      Exactly, Matt. The irony of ironies is to say we have a ton of talent on this roster after you just got blown out for getting four wins and being bowl ineligible. What a pitch to recruits…”Come to Florida. You can hang out with other four and five star guys and get coached into mediocrity.” This guy was the Peter Principle personified. I echo you Matt…”What a goof.”

      • 305Gator says:

        Come on guys don’t be so hard on poor muschump, he just needed more time, and a different and better OC, and a better kicker to feel more secure settling for FGs, and……………….

  2. Sharon Milner says:

    Not sure what happened to the offense Saturday or why there were four turnovers. Better step it up if we have to play Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

    • Jeremy says:

      I agree but don’t forget that Alabama lost to Ole Miss earlier this year at home and were left for dead by many pundits. They slowly improved and are now playing solid football. We have three more games to get on track and get more consistent, which I think we will do. As long as we can stay healthy with our key players the rest of the way and have a full squad going into the SEC Championship, we can give them a run for their money. They are clearly better and deeper than us, but our defense will give us a shot if the offense can get back to serviceable and not making turnovers.

  3. SW FL Joe says:

    I wish somebody would ask Muschamp why his offense sucked so bad when he had 4 future NFL draft picks on his O Line. I wonder if some of those guys who came out early now regret that decision. I get it, if you are going to be drafted, you come out. But those guys who went out early are missing out on a really magical season.

  4. Buster says:

    Mac seems like a good coach so far.

    I have to say he has had the opposite of Zook luck so far and don’t forget that Muschamp would have had us in the playoff(if there was one at the time) in year 2.

    Let’s temper anointing him the next great coach and just go game by game.

    • No one is anointing him. Wasn’t the point of the story.

    • 305Gator says:

      How in the world could muschump have gotten us into the playoffs when he couldn’t get us into the SECCG?????
      And what is your deal with luck? What’s luck got to do with it? Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity and BigMac has prepared this team, has taught and molded this team like no other. Nothing that has happened to this team has been due to dumb luck like you imply.

      • Jeremy says:

        Good points, 305. I think that the best example of how things are different (in a good way) is in the only loss we’ve had this year. When LSU scored that TD right before HT to put them up 14 I reverted to Muschamp fandom and almost shut off the TV and threw in the towel. I assumed we’d fold like Muschamp’s teams did and end up losing 45-17 or some other embarrassing score. Instead, not only did we come back from 2 TDs down in one of the nastiest environments you’ll see, but we almost pulled it out in the end. That is coaching/motivation/pushing the right buttons and has nothing to do with luck. This is with a bunch of rookies and transfers on the OL, the loss of the starting QB, an average run game and a non-existent kicking game. I don’t think anyone is anointing Coach Mac as the next Spurrier yet, but if this guy hasn’t shown what good coaching and motivating is with the cards he’s been dealt, I don’t know what else he needs to do.

      • gatorboi352 says:

        He’s not wrong though. At or after the time of the SEC CG, Florida was ranked #3 in the polls. Had the CFP existed that year, Florida would have been one of the Top 4 in, and having been the beneficiary of not having to play (and thusly lose like GA did getting knocked out of the top 5) in the SEC game.

  5. Scott Cooner says:

    One game at a time Gators. I watched last years South Carolina game a couple weeks ago. That game pretty much sums up the Muschamp era. What a heart breaker. I can assure you the players remember that game and should be very anxious for this weekends game! Go Gators!

  6. Gator Sam says:

    Will always be grateful to Muschamp for cleaning up Urb da Turd’s mess, but he drove the Caddie like a Vega! Coach Mac may not have it firing on all eight cylinders yet, but he is pretty bang close. He has won 3 games this year that would have been L’s if Muschamp was still here.

  7. merc says:

    Great article Adam. High character staff has us winning in the right way, with discipline. Gatornation has gotta love that he takes calculated risks. It’s fun to watch Gator football again.

    Sidenote- Why are more plays not going to Calloway…and is Ahmad Fulwood ever going to show up in games?

    • Thanks. Callaway is now drawing some double coverage as he’s by far the most electric weapon the Gators have. That allowed Robinson to be open a bit more this week. Regarding Fulwood, doesn’t look like it.

  8. G2 says:

    Coach Mac pushing all the right buttons for sure. I thought we were in trouble Saturday with no offense and desperate for a score, then Hardin nails the kick. Last year that kick would have been blocked or shanked….what a turnaround in attitude!

  9. Robert says:

    The cupboard wasn’t bare ….. On defense .

  10. KB says:

    Season is not over but exactly what we all said and knew that Mac had to do he has up to this point.
    1.) Improve Offensive product on the field. (except for Sat. check)
    2.) Develop guys on the roster making them better and more productive. (Check)
    3.) Win the games you should win and one or two you were not expected to win. (Check)
    4.) Keep the defense he inherited at the level they had been playing at. (Check)
    5.) Be that competent CEO type with confidence and leadership at the HC position. (Check)

    What remains is to finish what they started and build off this season with some elite recruits.
    Possibly playing in F4 playoff or Big 6 bowl win would be icing on the cake for this first year.
    How it will play out the rest of the way we will see but pretty damn good so far with plenty of work remaining in getting this thing back where it should be.

  11. Razzlegator says:

    You’d think champ would keep his mouth shut. The obvious inference is, Yeah you left a full cupboard, so it must have been your crap coaching that was to blame.

  12. Nick says:

    Adam, I’ve read a few posts trying to explain the Muschamp-Mac. difference. You nailed it. Muschamp was trying to run an organization with a 100 million a year operating budget by the seat of his pants and Mac came with a plan. He said he keeps an 18 month, rolling calendar detailing everything that needed to be done to win.

  13. Green N. Scaly says:

    Muschamp should be scribbling notes at a furious pace on the off chance he gets another shot at being a HBC.

    As Coach McElwain is proving, there is so much more to being a Head Ball Coach than recruiting DBs and taking Delay of Game penalties.

    While Muschamp took the program to new lows and continues to draw comparisons to Ron Zook, McElwain has revamped the organization, changed the program mindset and is having tremendous early success not unlike Steve Spurrier circa 1990.

  14. Robert Hilger says:

    Mushchamp still makes me sick. I gave up my 4 Quarterback Armchair seats after going to all games in the swamp since Doug Dickey days. I totally disliked Muschamp but UF hung on to him to long so I gave up all my seats.
    Now reading his comments makes me ill again. He is clawing for undeserved credit. He was a joke at UF !!!!!

  15. Corey says:

    These are all good points, but I think you’re being a little hard on Muschamp. I think cleaning up Zook’s and Urban’s mess was a bigger job than many of us want to recognize. They really fostered the stereotypical big program criminal culture that Miami, FSU, and Ohio State made famous. Well, that’s one blueprint for success, and kudos to Gator Nation for pursuing a different one. Muschamp deserves some credit on that. The Mac train would be a little slower if he had to deal a group that had formed around the likes of Will Hill, Chris Rainey, etc etc etc. It’s okay. The world can be complex. The Gators could be benefiting from multiple efforts of different people at different times at different levels. Mac is just what we needed at this time, though. No doubt about that.

  16. Corey says:

    I”d also point out the Collins and Shannon have not built a defense this good in their lives. But Muschamp has. He deserves some credit there as well.

  17. Nick says:

    Muschamp was a good, sometimes very good, DC before he got here. Here, he built his defense by robbing his offense.

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