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.
Photo Credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press