Image Credit: ESPN Images
When what’s commonly known as the “silly season” gets into full swing, it’s always important to take media reports and statements from coaches with a grain of salt. This is why the comments made Wednesday by Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain about interest — one-sided or mutual — in the Oregon job were quite clearly dismissals, not denials.
“It’s always interesting, this time of year, how whatever comes out. No, I haven’t heard from Oregon. The things that get thrown out there, at times, I don’t know how it [happens] sometimes. I guess slow news day,” McElwain said Wednesday at a scheduled press conference.
“I got my hunch there might be some recruiting things behind it. I don’t know. But we got that taken care of a lot of time on the phone last night, obviously. And yet, at this time of year, I can even remember those years I was at Alabama, it was every year Nick was going to the NFL, whatever it was. It’s part of what you deal with. You guys know I probably don’t take this stuff too seriously.”
Pressed as to whether that meant there was not interest in the Oregon job, McElwain confirmed that thought without saying the words. “Yeah. I mean, look, I’ve got a heck of a job, in case anybody checks, it’s the University of Florida, and we’re playing in what they call the SEC Championship Game. It really hasn’t crossed my mind.”
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) December 1, 2016
McElwain was then asked about reports that he was considering leaving for Oregon due to a supposed lack of appreciation from Gators fans.
“Here’s what’s the good thing is, and I’ve talked about it before. Here’s what’s great: We’re at a place people care. I’ve been at places you’re hoping people care. That’s part of the gig. We all go through it as coaches. And yet, [media members] hear it more than I do,” he explained.
“I just know we’re doing one heck of a job with what we’re trying to do to build the organization and the direction we’re headed. To answer you, quite frankly, I don’t know what they’re saying.”
And finally, asked again if his plan was to say at Florida, McElwain simply stated, “Yeah.”
But while McElwain did address the elephant in the room, he did what most coaches do this time of year: 1) Dismiss the reports as rumors, 2) claim he has no interest in being anywhere else, 3) explain that he is unaware of any contact with a potential suitor. (Schools never speak directly with active coaches, especially during the season. Conversations with agents allow coaches to dismiss the notion of contact without lying.)
Here’s Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, who was absolutely the leading candidate for the LSU job each of the last two years, from earlier this month: “Here’s the thing, I’m not going to talk about any jobs,” Fisher said. “I love being at Florida State, I plan on being here and I’m just getting ready for Syracuse. That’s the last thing I’m going to say on that.”
Again, no denial, just a dismissal.
And both McElwain and Fisher have two massive reasons to dismiss and not deny interest in other jobs: money and security. They also have something else in common: super agent Jimmy Sexton.
“[It’s] pretty easy to say, ‘I love my job at the Univ[ersity] of Florida and I will be the coach here next year,'” explained Football Scoop’s Scott Roussel via his Twitter account.
But making it easy and being clear about your intent to stay with a program does not put pressure on your school’s athletic director, especially a first-year guy like Florida’s Scott Stricklin. The last thing Stricklin wants his first season in charge of the Gators is to see it end with his back-to-back SEC East title-winning football coach leaving UF — a top-five program in the nation — in the lurch to go to Oregon … no matter how the fan base may feel about the lack of progress Florida’s made on offense.
So that’s why McElwain, despite saying his intention is to be with the Gators, did not deny interest from — or interest in — the Ducks. It would do him absolutely no good, whereas making the statements he did may result in another million dollars per year on his contract and an extension, which just so happens to also add to a worst-case scenario buyout payment. And if for some reason McElwain did actually have interest in coaching the Oregon, nothing he said Wednesday can be thrown back at him as a lie.
In the end, it’s much more likely than not that McElwain remains at Florida. But by leaving the door open even just a crack, there remains a shadow of a doubt that will likely only be wiped away with some white paper and a ballpoint pen.