Updated on Tuesday at 11:50 p.m.
A native of the Pacific Northwest, Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain has come a long way from his roots in rural Montana. But that apparently does not mean he has lost interest in returning to where he is most comfortable.
According to USA Today’s Dan Wolken, there are “whispers” that McElwain “could be intrigued by the opportunity to return” to that section of the country as head coach at Oregon.
Born and raised in Montana, McElwain played college football and began his coaching career at Eastern Washington (1980-94) before serving as offensive coordinator at Montana State (1995-99). He returned to the West Coast in 2006-07 during stints with the Oakland Raiders and Fresno State, and he most recently spent the three seasons before joining Florida as head coach at Colorado State.
Wolken lists McElwain’s name fifth behind Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, Penn State’s James Franklin (who is about to be extended by the Nittany Lions after rebuilding the program and unlikely to leave) and North Carolina’s Larry Fedora. Nevertheless, Wolken notes the crux of McElwain’s interest would likely be the fact that the Gators have a new athletics director and Florida fans are under-appreciating him for bringing the program back-to-back SEC East division crowns.
When/if Oregon opens, the expectation is that Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck and Boise State’s Bryan Harsin would both be prime candidates. But don’t be surprised if Oregon pursues splashier names such as Penn State’s James Franklin and North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, who are both at Nike-affiliated schools. There also are whispers that Florida’s Jim McElwain could be intrigued by the opportunity to return to the Pacific Northwest, close to where he went to college and started his coaching career at Eastern Washington. Despite winning SEC East titles in his first two years, McElwain has been a bit under-appreciated by the Florida fan base and just got a new athletics director in Gainesville.
However, FootballScoop.com reported that that “none of the coaches we’ve spoken with belive” McElwain is a candidate “nor do any think this would be a good fit for what Oregon and Nike are looking for.”
#Oregon is an excellent job w/ some good young off. talent..Curious if Jim McElwain would be tempted to leave UF to return to the Pacific NW
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) November 30, 2016
What should be noted here is that McElwain, like most coaches in the nation, has an agent (Jimmy Sexton) who is undoubtedly angling to get his client a raise after what they deem to be another successful season in Gainesville, Florida. Just look at how Houston’s Tom Herman and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher were named as coaching candidates at LSU only for both to turn down the Tigers (Fisher to return to the Seminoles likely for a more substantial contract).
However, any reports at this time of the season should be taken seriously, and if McElwain were to leave, he would become the first Gators coach to jettison the team for another college head coaching job since Charlie Bachman went to Michigan State after the 1932 season.
While it is accurate that Florida fans under-appreciate McElwain for winning consecutive SEC East crowns, the reasoning is due to his to-this-point inability to turn around the Gators’ much-maligned offense despite two years at the helm. Florida is actually ranked lower in nearly every offensive category in 2016 than it was in 2014, Will Muschamp’s final season. It’s also true that McElwain was not hired by current UF athletic director Scott Striklin, though there’s nothing out there at this time to believe that they do not have a healthy relationship.
Furthermore, McElwain would be delivering an incredible blow to the Gators’ brand, which stands as one of the top athletic programs and college football teams in the nation. Considering he has stressed “brand” for two years and gone to great lengths to improve Florida’s behind-the-times facilities, it would be quite hypocritical for him to leave UF for Oregon.
Perhaps most importantly, the fit seems strange. Whereas Fleck and Harsin are young, excitable coaches that could reignite passion in the program, McElwain has a more laid-back demeanor and is not as apt to make noise outside the program.
So will McElwain wind up at Oregon? You never know, but odds are he’s back at Florida for a third season looking to continue building what he claims is headed in the right direction.