Florida resolves buyout, announces Colorado State’s Jim McElwain as next coach of the Gators

By Adam Silverstein
December 4, 2014

Updated at 5 p.m.

Jim McElwain has agreed to become the 24th head coach of the Florida Gators.

“It’s an honor to be a part of the one of most powerful brands in college athletics in the Florida Gators,” said McElwain in a statement released by the school hours after his hiring was announced. “I’m humbled, yet very excited about the tremendous opportunity that Dr. Machen and Jeremy Foley have afforded me and my family. I can’t tell you how eager I am to get to Gainesville to set a course for who we are going to be and what we will be all about.”

ESPN‘s Chris Low first reported early Thursday that buyout terms had been reached, while the Denver Post‘s Terry Frei later reported that the “negotiated buyout has CSU receiving $5 million cash and $2 million for a single game at Florida in the future.”

The Gators initially announced their hiring of McElwain via Twitter with a press conference scheduled for Saturday.

Florida then announced that the University Athletic Association will pay Colorado State $3 million over a six-year period, while McElwain will pay the school $2 million on his own. Additionally, CSU will play a game at UF between 2017-20 for $2 million.

The Gators and Rams were forced to mutually agree to the buyout in order to move the process along and allow McElwain to leave Colorado State for Florida. McElwain signed a six-year deal with the Gators that averages $3.5 million per season.

“Coach McElwain was someone we targeted from the beginning of the search. The more we worked through the process and did our due diligence, coupled with our meeting and conversations with him and those around him, it was obvious he is the right person to lead the Florida Gator football program,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a statement.

“He has a proven track record on the offensive side of the ball, has coached in the SEC, won two national championships and has had success as a head coach. He has recruited the South and the state of Florida and has spent time coaching at the highest level in the NFL.

“He has an engaging personality and is someone who can connect with a variety of audiences and he operates with a high level of integrity. I welcome him and his family to The Gator Nation and I’m looking forward to working alongside him and his staff as they build a championship program both on and off the field.”


Added school president Bernie Machen: “It is with great pride and excitement that we welcome Coach McElwain and his family to the University of Florida. We look forward to his leadership in the pursuit of excellence, both on and off the field.”

After spending three seasons leading the Colorado State Rams, McElwain will return to the Southeastern Conference, where he last worked as an offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-11 under Nick Saban.

The 2014 Mountain West Coach of the Year, McElwain’s Rams posted a 4-8 record in his first season at the helm but improved to 8-6 in 2013 and most recently 10-2 in 2014. They have won 16 of their last 20 games overall dating back to the middle of the 2013 season. He is considered one of the best offensive minds in college football with Colorado State currently ranked 24th nationally in scoring offense (35.9 points per game), 13th in total offense (497.8 yards per game) and seventh in passing offense (326.3 yards per game).

McElwain also fulfills all of the requirements laid out by Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley when he detailed the characteristics he was looking for in his search for Will Muschamp’s replacement.

He is said by his colleagues to be the “high-integrity, high-character” individual that Foley values, and as a two-time national title winner at Alabama who reportedly does things the right way, he hits Foley’s “championship experience with integrity” mantra.

Foley also wanted a someone with head coaching experience who has proven to have “a track record of success on the offensive side of the ball” throughout his career. McElwain has received high marks for his leadership at Colorado State and is renowned for his offense, for which he has run both pro style and spread systems.

A native of Montana with numerous ties out west, McElwain played quarterback for Eastern Washington and spent the first eight years of his coaching career on EWU’s staff as a quarterback/wide receiver coach. He then served as offensive coordinator at Montana State (1995-99), wide receivers coach at Louisville (2000-02) and assistant head coach at Michigan State (2003-05). In 2006, McElwain spent a year as quarterback coach for the Oakland Raiders, but he returned to college the following season as offensive coordinator at Fresno State.

Since his time at Fresno State, McElwain’s teams have increased their win total – year over year – in seven of the last eight seasons.

Taking over at Colorado State after winning two national titles in four seasons with Alabama, McElwain oversaw a transformative shift for the program. After struggling to a 4-8 record in 2012 with the 100th-ranked scoring offense in the nation, his Rams made the second-biggest jump among FBS schools in 2013, finishing the season 22nd in scoring offense. The only team that bested McElwain’s Colorado State was Auburn, which improved from 112th to 12th under the leadership of Gus Malzahn.

In 2014, McElwain’s starting quarterback and leading wide receiver are posting some of the best numbers in the nation. Signal caller Garrett Grayson was named Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year on Tuesday; he is second in the country in passing efficiency, having thrown for 3,779 yards and 32 touchdowns with six interceptions. Wideout Rashard Higgins is one of the most proficient pass catchers in the country, hauling in 17 touchdowns while averaging an NCAA-best 149.1 yards per game. CSU’s 10 wins in 2014 are its most since 2002.

McElwain has a $7.5 million buyout in his deal with Colorado State, though as OnlyGators.com first reported on Nov. 17 and reiterated on Nov. 30, the entire buyout is negotiable and can either be reduced or eliminated as the school sees fit. This was an issue for UF after it came to terms with McElwain and stalled negotiations at least 24 hours, but it was seemingly resolved Thursday morning.

OnlyGators.com first reported Tuesday afternoon that a contingent of Gators officials were on their way to Fort Collins, Colorado, via a private jet owned by a Florida booster. ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy then reported that the Gators had zeroed in on McElwain as their coach of choice. After arriving in Fort Collins, Foley and Florida’s contingent drove immediately to McElwain’s home, where they stayed for the duration of the evening. Fox Sports‘ Bruce Feldman reported late Tuesday night that UF and McElwain were in the final stages of reaching a deal.

According to FootballScoop.com, Foley and McElwain have agreed that it would be in the Gators’ best interest to retain some of their assistant coaches, most prominent amount them defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson. Durkin is in his fifth season at Florida and is scheduled to serve the Gators’ interim coach for their yet-to-be-determined bowl game.

OnlyGators.com will update this story as applicable.

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Photo Credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press

48 Comments

  1. Ryan D. says:

    Thanks Adam! Let’s get this new era going and get behind this guy! Clean slate!

  2. Matt says:

    Minor edit (know you are tired): first sentence “Mark Long all reported early Thursday afternoon that buyout terms” , probably reported earlyi Thursday morning…given the time is still before noon.

  3. 1974Gator says:

    I hope he can stand the alumni pressures better and/or present a more professional persona for us than our past 3 coaches.
    I’m looking forward to no more excuses just positive results.

    • Sammage says:

      Having coached at Bama he may have a much better idea of what kind of pressure the fan base will bring. Hope so anyway. I’d like for him to be really successful for a really long time.

  4. Dave massey says:

    AttaGator! And he can handle the pressure from fans and alumni. Bama fans are worse than florida’s in that regard, just listen to Phyllis. Damn tree killers too.

  5. Dave massey says:

    Hey Adam , DLine coach Lawton?

  6. scroud says:

    Hope we can keep the O line coach as well, I think they were night and day better from last year

  7. Blake says:

    Bad hire. Hope I’m wrong but this is definitely not a big splash hire. Unknown guy who coached at a lower-level school in a lower-level division. And for everyone that says oh he coached at Alabama so he’s a good coach, that is bolonga. With the horses Alabama has had recently anyone can have success there. Doesn’t take a great mind when you have Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, and Julio Jones and an NFL offensive line, to have success as an offensive coordinator.

    • MAR says:

      “Unknown guy who coached at a lower level school in a lower level division…”
      This is exactly what I like about him. You could say the same thing about Spurrier and Meyer when they were hired. They both came to Florida and not only won, but changed the way football is played in the SEC. Spurrier permanently changed the SEC as it was a non passing league before 1990 and, although short lasted, Meyer brought a system that no defensive coordinator could figure out leading to 2 titles. Coaches who fit this profile are eager to win and show what they can do on a bigger stage. I like this hire way better than a big name coach.
      Thank you Mr. Foley and Go Gators!!

    • Dave K says:

      Blake, the only ‘baloney’ on this table was brought here by you…

    • Scott says:

      Blake, you were probably thinking Stoops, Gruden and Chip Kelley were the guys to pursue…

    • Dave Massey says:

      He may be unknown to you, but he is not an unknown. He was directly related to recruiting those and other great players at Alabama such as Amari Cooper. And it’s not like you can just plug a computer program into these guys and put them on the field and they play well. His offenses set the record for the three highest yardage totals in the history of the Alabama program in the four years he was there. It does take a great football mind to do that no matter how much talent you have. We are the perfect example of that. He also had to do something in order to get the Alabama job, like being the assistant head coach at Michigan State. You are full of baloney.

  8. Gatoralum88 says:

    Whew! All’s well that ends well! While I think he’s the best available option & applaud the hire, I don’t quite consider it a “homerun”. It’s definitely a solid “ground-rule double” though. Spurrier (Arnsparger hire) was a “Grand Slam” off a tee…while Meyer was a homerun (OK, enough with the baseball analogies).

    McElwain has been at or near the top of every “coaches on the rise” lists since last year & his offensive background and track record are impressive & can’t be denied. He’s definitely the anti-Muschamp (great at stopping offenses…including his own). He was the best mid-major option out there IMO. I’ve read he was Amari Cooper’s main recruiter before taking the CSU job so I’m not at all worried about his ability to recruit. Let the offensive (& program) turnaround begin! Go Gators!!!

    • Michael Jones says:

      It’s waaaaaaaaaay too early to tell if it’s a swing-and-a-miss or an extra-inning, 7th game, walk-off grandslam . . not sure why everybody wants to classify it one way or the other at this juncture. It’ll be a few years before we know the answer to that. It’s just like a recruiting class. . you can’t evaluate them until after they’ve graduated.

      But my money is on the 7th game grand slam. There is just so much to like about this guy. Just ask Bama nation what they think (okay. . “thought” before becoming a Gator) about him.

      For now, I’m just happy that he’s here and that we’ll be moving forward with a bright, talented, and creative energy at the helm.

      Go Gators!!!

      • Gatoralum88 says:

        Ha! I wonder why we use all of these baseball analogies?…even hoop analogies? I just read Pat Dooley’s (G’ville Sun) column who writes “it may not be a slam dunk but it’s worth two points”. Aren’t there any good football analogies? How about “It’s a Touchdown!!! 🙂 Anyway, I’m with you Michael. The more I read about him the more it fires me up! I can’t wait for recruiting to turn around and spring ball to begin! Go Gators!!!

      • Michael J. says:

        I agree. Who knows if he will be a good coach. After his third year is when some type of judgement can be made. He needs time to rebuild UF. I know some folks thing UF is full of talent, but hte 10-13 record of the past two years is evidence that is not the case. It’s to be expected that UF will struggle this year in recruiting and on the field this next recruiting cycle and next year.It would not be a stretch to see the same struggle on the field the second year with an improvement in recruiting. The third year is when you should expect to see improvement on the field. I’ll wait until after that season to make any judgement of McElwain’s abilities.

  9. Sammage says:

    Would love for him to keep Chris Leak on staff too. He could move to QB coach and learn from McElwain.

  10. Marlex says:

    Ready for the new era. Go Gators. Welcome to the nation, coach.

  11. 305Gator says:

    Welcome coach Mac, wife Karen and family to Hogtown and Gator Nation.
    Can’t wait for him to unleash the Big Mac Attack.
    Guess Mike The Red and company got bad intel about Karen McElwain being pissed off that Foley barged into her kitchen late at night and raided her fridge. Seems like the holdup wasn’t about that but about the buyout instead. Don’t sweat it Mike we all make mistakes sometimes.
    Now let’s find out about the assistant coaches and the recruiting.

    Good times coming back to Gainesville.
    Gooooooooooooooooooo Gators!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Mike The Red says:

      I never claimed to have intel. I just thought that our handling of the matter reeked of arrogance.

      Glad that Foley bit the bullet and coughed up the money. McElwain has always been one of the top two on my list.

      • 305Gator says:

        It’s all good Mike, I was just busting your chops a little with the whole wife thing that I believe you brought up all by your lonesome. Think big picture, if someone was coming to offer you a 3.5 mil job, your wifey would probably welcome him at any hour and make him a drink to boot, mine would .
        Let’s all get behind Mac and lets Go Gators!

  12. Bradley says:

    I don’t think this is the splash hire the Gator Nation were looking for but I hope he can get the job done. His successful tenure at Alabama as their OC can be deceiving considering the superior talent he had; Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, Julio Jones, etc. Anyone can be successful with that kind of talent at their disposal. And his success at CSU is good but not impressive enough to put him in an elite class. He’s still an unproven coach. I like what I’m hearing about him as coach though. On the bright side he can’t be any worse than Muschamp. We can only go up from here. GO GATORS

    • Scott says:

      Hey guys, we have always had good talent as well. But you have to develop it and get them to execute. That is the job of the coaching staff! Don’t act like players just go out and play.

      • Michael Jones says:

        Thank you, Scott. Agree 100%. Been saying that for years. Even in the years when we supposedly don’t have talent, we have talent (e.g. I have to laugh at the receivers in the NFL that played for us during the years when we had no receiver talent).

        UF will always draw talent. I heard an announcer the other night say that you can stand anywhere in Florida, close your eyes, and swing a cat by the tail and hit 10 four stars by accident. Can’t wait to see what Coach McElwain does with it.

  13. Mike The Red says:

    Good hire. Hoping for the best.

  14. Michael Jones says:

    Congrats, Foley. Good job in doing what you had to do to make this happen. I think you made a good investment into our long term football future.

    Welcome to Gator Nation, Coach McElwain!!! Now let’s get started on the process of returning Gator football to Gator football. Let’s get 100% behind our new coach!!!!

    All you recruits out there. . come on, man. We need you. Come help us get back to winning championships!!!!! Come be a part of the excitement!!!! There’s no better place to play football or to go to school!!!!

    GO GATORS!!!!!!!

  15. Daniel M. says:

    Outstanding. Foley was very decisive in this process. None of us know the exact details about how the deal was closed. We never will, and that’s fine for us measured fans who trust Foley, one of the most respected AD’s in the nation. That’s fine as the final outcome is what we are all after. Seeing fans blast Foley on this site (last night) is laughable. They have zero insight on the fine details of the hiring.
    Let’s hope this puts the chapter of futility behind us for good. I know I’m very excited and look forward to seeing a reenergized fan base and a big shot in the arm for recruiting.
    Thanks for all your hardwork Adam. OGGOA is a great resource for Gator Nation. Pauly Castronova dropped your sites name on air yesterday.

    • Oh, what did Paul have to say? I’ve met him a few times.

    • 305Gator says:

      Agree with you 100%.
      If I remember correctly the fool who was leading the anti Foley tirade was the Nole Troll that comes here pretending to be a Gator so you can disregard whatever he says.
      Then there were a few misguided fans like Mike The Red who determined that Mac’s wife was pissed at Foley for showing up late at night and trashing her house and who would have preferred that business had been conducted at the Fort Collins Olive Garden with unlimited salad and breadsticks rather than at Mac’s house. Mike hasn’t revealed his source for all this pertinent info about the shortcomings of Foley’s negotiating tactics. Maybe it came form the night manager at the FC Olive Garden

      • Mike The Red says:

        We can arrange a private plane. Are you telling me that we cannot arrange an undisclosed meeting place with security?

        Obviously, it proved to be a non-issue, but honestly, my first thought when I saw that picture of Foley and staff in McElwain’s dining room with a media circus outside was “WTF? Did he really just do that to McElwain’s family?”

        I am glad that we closed the deal. All good. 🙂 Go Gators!

        • Dave Massey says:

          Shouldn’t those issues be more blamed on the media and their papparazzi attitude than Foley? Maybe he should have arranged to meet them in some flea bag hotel than their own damn house, Get over it already.

  16. Alex says:

    This is a solid hire

  17. Aligator says:

    This may not be the sexy hire everyone wanted, but it is a solid, long haul hire. He is an offensive coach, who worked at Alabama under Saban then took over a program at a mid major and turned it around. This is what we had wished for. Will we beat the crap out of everyone? Not likely. Will we have a bunch of thugs and idiot athletes? Probably not. Will we compete for championships, yes winning a few.

    This hire reminds me of Mark Richt. He seems like a nice guy with a bright mind and solid track record, coming from a great background. we will probably get back to being a 10-2, 11-1, 9-3 program year in and year out and going to the SEC championship game, winning some … losing some, every couple of years.

    Our league is tough now, tougher than in was in the 90’s. Tougher than the 00’s and there are a lot of good teams now. Rest assured we will be back in the hunt now and everyone can stop flipping out about how bad things have gotten.

    Go Gators and welcome back to a bit of sanity.

  18. Mike The Red says:

    Never claimed to have Intel. I just thought that our handling reeked of arrogance.

    I have done business with polished successful executives and CEOs. If this accurately reported, Foley ain’t.

    Glad that we made the hire. He was one of our best options. Go Gators.

    • Dave Massey says:

      The CSU president lied to him. His actions were not borne out of arrogance, he talked to the guy before he ever went out there. You are still imagining things.

      • Mike The Red says:

        The CSU president did not lie. He did negotiate. He also fulfilled his obligation to look-out for the best interest of CSU.

        McElwain looks to be good hire. I am glad that we got him. Go Gators!

        • Dave Massey says:

          When you say one thing and then do another that is called a lie in the universe where I live. You seem to be living in a different universe than the rest of us with all the comments you have been making. Foley called Franks and was told that the buyout was negotiable, which is the same thing he told Mac when he had him sign the contract extension, saying, according to four witnesses, that if a dream job comes along he will reduce or eliminate the buyout. So when Foley shows up with absolutely no hidden agenda and wanted to hire Mac, Franks turns around and says the buyout is not negotiable and he wants the full amount. The only arrogance is on the part of Franks not UF. He basically only reduced it a half a million dollars with UF paying 3, Mac paying 2, and UF paying CSU 2 to come play at Florida between 17-20. Good luck on his new coach search now that everybody in the country except you knows he is a deceitful liar. This info is all on Adam’s posts and I think I will take his word over yours. The sad part really is that Mac trusted this guy when he signed his extension and the guy totally stabbed him in the back by LYING and Mac has to pay 2 mil for his misplaced trust. I can’t wait until they roll into town to get their well deserved ass whipping. Too bad Franks won’t gear up.

          • Mike The Red says:

            This is the arrogance to which I speak. He did negotiate. He reduced the total amount and allowed them to restructure the payment.

            Your expectation (and the UAA?) is that he roll-over when the Gators walked into the room. Sorry that he did not give you the terms you wanted.

            There was so much ambiguity in the verbal agreement that it was meaningless.

            • Dave Massey says:

              You really do need to divulge your source on all these facts you claim to have.

              According to the witnesses not named Mike the Red Franks told Mac that if a dream job came along he would substantially reduce or eliminate the buyout. Don’t know where you alone find the ambiguity there. Reducing it 6.7% is not a substantial reduction where I come from. Verbal agreements are binding by law. And where I come from a man is only as good as his word. Franks went back on his. Good luck on their future coaching searches and contract negotiations at that powerhouse program of Colorado State, nobody is going to trust him anymore as this is being widely reported. University presidents are supposed to be brilliant people and this guy used his leverage. I don’t have a problem with that, the problem is that he said he was going to do something different. I got a stomach full of that kind of nonsense from Meyer. University presidents should leave these matters to AD’s.

              That much money over time is a small bump in the road to UF. 2 mil to Mac is a kick in the teeth, but I can see why he did it. Just to get away from a lying president if nothing else. It’s only one year of a raise and money well spent.

  19. Jon says:

    CSU didn’t budge a bit on the buyout. I think it will hurt them eventually, especially when it comes to hiring the next guy. They are a stepping stone program. Hope we score 80 points on them when they come to the swamp.

    I think it’s awesome that Jim is giving way $2M of his own money to come coach the program. Isn’t that ridiculous? He is essentially giving one year of his Florida deal to CSU (3.5m after taxes probably close to $2m).

    What a way to demonstrate that he really really wants this job. That action made me that more excited about him.
    Go Gators!

  20. Terry says:

    -Adam,

    Do you think McElwain will keep Roper as his OC ?

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