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Like most people, Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain handles criticism one of two ways: He brushes it off or takes offense and gets defensive.
On Monday, two days after the Gators’ offense looked as hapless as it had been under the previous regime, McElwain took the latter route during his weekly press conference.
Facing questions about criticism over Florida’s lacking offense — not just against Florida State but throughout Year 2 of his tenure — McElwain pointed to the results he’s getting as proof that he is not only doing a good job but exactly what former athletic director Jeremy Foley asked upon hiring him.
“Hey, look. I knew when I took the job this is a fan base that really cares. You’re never going to please them all. I get it,” he began. “One thing I do know is I believe we’re in the SEC Championship again for the second straight year. Maybe not the way people want it, but ultimately, the idea is to figure out how to win a ball game and how to win the East. Now, the next step is how to win the whole SEC.
“That’s part of building it. We’re getting there. We’re getting a lot of really good things going on as far as a commitment to the facilities … that’s for the sustainability of the University of Florida football program and its brand. We’ve been way behind, but we’re catching up. I know that’s one thing that’s making a lot of people nervous around the country. And that’s a good thing.”
It’s fair to say that external nervousness is not readily apparent at this time. McElwain has recruited some talented players since taking over, but he’s lost way more battles than he’s won, especially for some of the top in-state prospects he’s pursued. He is also 4-4 against UF’s annual rivals. The Gators are 2-0 against Georgia and 0-2 against Florida State under McElwain and have split games against LSU (first win since 2012 this season) and Tennessee (first loss since 2004 this season).
McElwain said his goal this week, even more so than other weeks, is to ensure Florida gets the ball to its playmakers — wide receivers junior Brandon Powell, sophomore Antonio Callaway and freshman Tyrie Cleveland — in space as much as possible.
And while he admits “there were some big disappointments and have been already” this season, primarily due to the offense, he attributes at least some of those failures to playcalling, which many Gators fans would certainly agree with.
“We’ve got to do a better job of maintaining the art of deception. We’ve got to continue to do that throughout and not become so predictable, in some cases, of when we retake the field say after play 18 or 19,” he said. “That’s something we’re working on and something we’ll do this week as well.”
McElwain does not look at the 2016 SEC Championship Game as a mismatch between No. 1 Alabama, a team that is arguably head coach Nick Saban’s best (which is saying something) and a 24-point favorite against Florida.
Instead, he sees it as an opportunity, one the Gators are afforded because they are back playing in Atlanta for the second straight year, a fact he was sure to bring up one last time when questioned about the offense again before ending his press conference.
“It obviously is one of those things that you got to constantly evaluate and get better at,” he said. “I was also brought in here to get to Atlanta. How many years have I been here? OK.”