Final update added at 6 p.m.
Affable and entertaining, Jim McElwain was introduced Saturday as the 24th head football coach in the history of the Florida Gators.
McElwain came right out of the gate and detailed his high level of appreciation for the opportunity to coach Florida, calling the Gators job something special and one of very few at the highest level in college football. He went on to discuss some of his philosophies, his upcoming agenda and how he plans to move forward over the next month, all of which has been captured and broken down here on OnlyGators.com.
I got to tell you something now: what an honor, how humbling it is to be a part of one of the greatest brands in all of college athletics, to have the opportunity to be a part of something that’s real special. You look out and you see that stadium, you think about all the great players, people, traditions that have been built at the University of Florida. That’s something that is so exciting. I grew up in Montana. These are things you dream about. Yet along the way we’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot of great things, meet a lot of great people, learn life lessons that help you be successful. That’s kind of the goal here, not only in the athletic department, but when you look at the quality that is the University of Florida, that brand, what it brings with it. I can’t tell you how excited myself, my wife, my kids are. They’ve been through a lot now, all right? For us to be a part of Gator Nation is something that means so much.
“As we kind of build this moving forward, I talk about this for the people who are involved in what we do and how we do it. What I would ask? Let’s go affect the people around us in a positive way. Let’s be part of something special. Let’s keep pushing it to the next step. That’s really what it’s all about. As we create the process, as we create the infrastructure, as we put the pieces in place that gives you success, those foundations and fundamentals that all people have, let’s not forget one thing: it’s about these players.
“I want to say this. Coach [Will] Muschamp has been very helpful. You talk about a great guy, a great ball coach. He’s put together a heck of a staff here that’s going to go forward as I’ve talked to them about going and winning a bowl game. That’s what it’s all about right now. It’s about investing in these young men who are here. Our jobs as educators, our jobs as coaches, are to be involved in young men’s lives to help them as they move on down the road. One of the things that it’s going to be, being part of the Gator family, being part of this organization, is going to do nothing more than better you for the rest of your life. That’s really what it’s all about.
“Guys, I just got to tell you this. This is an honor. I’m excited. I sat on the other sideline in that Swamp one day, played against these guys. When you think of the Ring of Honor, when you think about the great players, you think about the great games, you think about the history and tradition that is Gator football, I cannot tell you how proud I am to be a part of that. I look forward to a long, long history. I guess a guy who said it best was when I talked with Coach [Steve] Spurrier. He said, ‘Mac, welcome to Gator Country.’ You know what? That means a lot. I look forward to rekindling a lot of relationships and moving forward. I’ll say it again. I’m proud to be a Gator and looking forward to the challenge ahead.”
COACHING STAFF: NOW AND THE FUTURE
McElwain was non-committal overall about his plans for Florida’s coaching staff, noting that he is still a ways away from evaluating the Gators’ current coaches and piecing together his collection of assistants.
“These guys have come here and done a great job for this university. We haven’t made any plans moving forward right now as to anything as far as that goes,” he said.
“As we kind of look through it, we’ll get a chance to visit with everybody in the organization. It isn’t just the coaches. It’s lost sometimes [that] it’s not just the coaches. It’s everything that touches the desk of the head football coach. A lot of that will be evaluated over time as we move forward and build the infrastructure that is success.”
McElwain met with Florida’s coaches late Friday, holding an extended meeting in the football offices to discuss the Gators’ recruiting board and needs going forward. He plans to hit the ground running on Monday and believes he will learn a lot about the coaching staff by watching them recruit.
Ahead are meetings with the entire Florida staff, including more sit-down sessions with the coaching staff on Saturday and Sunday before they all hit the road recruiting. From the way McElwain spoke about the Gators’ staff during an interview on SEC Network it sounds as if he is seriously considering a good portion of them, if they are interested in staying.
“This coaching staff has done an outstanding job here. What we’re going to do is evaluate everybody – everybody – in the whole organization, whether it’s coaches all the way through. Their opportunity is to go finish the season right for this Gator team and step us forward,” he said.
“Kind of at that time, we’ll evaluate those and then put that staff together and a staff that’s going to be not only strong coaches in recruiting but really going to be mentors and figures of trust for the players that we bring in to this program.”
As far as his plans for the coaching staff as a whole and when he expects to have one in place?
“Get the best that’s a fit for the university, get the best that’s a fit for the area. We’ll do that very diligently. I’m not sure there is a timeline,” he said.
“IT’S RECRUIT DAILY OR DIE RIGHT NOW”
There is no questioning that McElwain understands the importance of recruiting. In fact, he spoke more about recruiting on Saturday than he did the current Florida team or his coaching philosophies.
“We’ll hit the road next week, get to as many places as humanly possible from the recruiting standpoint because it’s one of those things. It’s recruit daily or die right now,” he said early in his press conference.
“We’ve got to make sure we secure a great class. There’s some great commitments right now. There are guys waiting to see what’s going to happen, what’s going on. That’s first and foremost – what we do is go out and do that.”
McElwain has experience recruiting the state of Florida from when he was at Louisville, Michigan State and Alabama. He said one of the things he is most excited about is “rekindling the relationships” he had with high school coaches throughout the state.
The plan right now is for McElwain to stay out on the road from Monday afternoon through the start of the dead period (about 10 days away, lasting for a month). While out on the road, this is the pitch he plans to give to the players he meets.
“You’re going to get an opportunity to play, number one, in the best conference in America, number two, against the best people in America. But more than that, you’re going to get an opportunity to grow as a person. You’re going to be able to be better for the rest of your life because of the experience you’re going to have at the University of Florida. This runs a lot deeper than just those four years,” he said during his SEC Network interview.
EVALUATING THE PLAYERS
McElwain has a long way to go in terms of determining how he would like Florida’s roster to shake out. The good news is he’s already gotten started, but it will take him a while to come to legitimate conclusions.
“This is one of those deals that first needs to be evaluated. You don’t make snap judgments, right? What you got to do is you have to sit back, reflect, learn, take in, then make the process move forward,” he said.
A meeting between McElwain and the Gators will come on Monday. While there, he will tell Florida’s players to “embrace what they’re doing” and “go win a bowl game,” but he will also deliver a message about moving forward under new leadership.
“Each one of our lives, anytime anything’s different, there’s a sense of, ‘Oh, what’s next?’ One of the [most important] things is just about building the relationship, building the trust. These guys are going to know I’m not one of these guys that’s going to come in and say, ‘You’re someone else.’ That isn’t how it works. You’re a Gator. I’m a Gator. Give me an opportunity to be part of your life and impact it in a positive way,” he explained.
“It’s not for everybody. Those are choices and decisions we all make. My deal is to understand. You trust me; I trust you. It’s a two-way street. Developing that, it happens over time. It’s hard, yet I look forward to that. I look forward to being part of these guys’ lives.
“This isn’t just about ball now. This is about creating a brand for yourself. This is about setting you apart for the rest of your life. That’s kind of been how I do it. I look forward to being involved in these guys’ lives. Part of that is winning some ballgames. You know what? I’ve got a blueprint on kind of how that works, yet every place is different so you need to adjust the blueprint based on what’s there. It’s that simple.”
Having not yet evaluated the signal callers on Florida’s roster, McElwain felt it would not be fair to discuss the players and what he thinks about their ability. Rather, he believes he will get a good idea about each player while watching them interact with each other and practice during preparations leading up to the bowl game.
In the end though, McElwain said he was unconcerned about who winds up playing behind center next season.
“You got to understand this. I believe I can win with my dog Clarabelle. That’s the attitude. There’s good players here. That’s just our responsibility,” he said.
Is she really that good?
“You ought to see how quick she is. She can really go,” he said with a laugh.
Back to being serious, McElwain did share his general concept for teaching and helping a player learn how to serve as a big-time quarterback at this level.
“Eliminate the clutter. That’s the key. Eliminate the clutter and understand the important things,” he began. “First and foremost, the most important thing is affecting the people around you in a positive way. That’s first and foremost. Second thing is be one of those guys that’s going to out-study every person there is on what you need to do from a game plan standpoint, what you need to do from a characteristic standpoint, to stand apart.
“The last thing is throw it to the colored jersey we’re wearing.”
REPLACING A GOOD GUY AT A SPEICAL PLACE
McElwain spoke on a number of occasions about the respect he has for Will Muschamp, calling him “one of the great guys in the game, one of the great ball coaches in the game.”
“Let’s not downplay… Will Muschamp is a heck of a ball coach. He put his heart and soul into this place. He surrounded himself with good people,” McElwain said on the SEC Network. “Will has left us in good shape and let’s not forget that. He can coach with the best of them.”
To that end, McElwain is also exceedingly excited about coaching the Gators, noting that he knew Florida was the best program in the state one he started recruiting it a long time ago because he “saw the influence and saw what it’s all about.”
He had no choice but to ensure that nothing stood in his way of the Gators job – including a huge buyout he agreed to in order to get a raise at Colorado State a few months ago.
“Well, you got to understand this. There’s only a couple of these in the United States of America, and one of those is the Florida Gators. To be able to have that opportunity is something that I’m not sure I could have lived with, if given that opportunity, to let it pass by. I’m never one to let things kind of pass by. I kind of roll up my sleeves and go get it done. ”
TOP EIGHT QUOTABLES
On his candidacy and Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley: “Look, what you got to understand in collegiate athletics, when certain names come up, Jeremy’s name is on the top of that list. As he did the research on me, I did the research on him now, OK? I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday, all right? Every person I talked to spoke of integrity, quality, great person to be with. It didn’t disappoint when he was able to come over and visit with us, my wife and I, at the house. That was special. Then to meet the other people around that, that’s special. At that point really what happens is, let’s figure out a way to get this done. I know how excited I am to be here, how fortunate I am to have this opportunity.”
On literally buying in to coach Florida: “Here is the beauty: pressure is awesome. That’s why we do this. The one thing I love is pressure. Now, I never look at it as feeling the pressure. I always look at it as applying the pressure. I’m excited about that part of it. You know what? If there’s no pressure, why wake up in the morning, right? That’s really what drives me.”
On the winning football games: “That’s a big key, by the way. Somebody told me that’s what we’re supposed to do. I like that. That’s a good opener.”
On how much rebuilding needs to be done at Florida: “Every task you handle is big, OK? It doesn’t matter. Brushing your teeth in the morning sometimes is really big, right? Well, I got to tell you this. The bigger, the better. That’s really what it’s all about. That’s why I’m here.”
On what he hopes to accomplish with the Gators: “When you play the Gators, bring your lunch pail, ’cause it’s going to be a long day.”
On his plans for Florida’s bowl game: “Eating popcorn. I’m going to see what the normal guy does. Maybe we’ll go tailgate. Can we go do that, Bernie [Machen], go set up a grill?”
On coaching at the “highest level” in the NFL: “Some people would say I didn’t coach in the National Football League, I coached at the [Oakland] Raiders, OK? What a great experience that was. I have to say this, Mr. [Al] Davis was great to me. I was fortunate for the opportunity.”
On next seeing the media in February on National Signing Day: “Do I get to see them on signing day? You haven’t told me that yet. Here is what I want to know. What does he serve for lunch when we do this stuff? I got to know, right? I’m [still] doing an interview. What is it?” On whether he plans to cook for the media: “You know what? I hope to have the time.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
On what he learned from Nick Saban at Alabama: “I guess one of the good things is being at a place like the University of Alabama, really learning under one of the greatest. I mean, he was great to me. I got to see how the organization is built, not just the Xs and Os, but what goes into the nuts and bolts that is success. Success in life, success out on the field, success on the practice field, success in the classroom, all of those things are built.” On Saban giving him a chance: “He obviously is a guy that means a ton to me. For him to take a chance on an unknown guy from out west to come run his offense and be a part of one of the best organizations from that standpoint, I owe him everything. He’s been very supportive ever since then. His wife Terry is fantastic with Karen. I owe him a lot. I hope the next time I see him will probably be in Atlanta around this time of year.”
On leaving the west for the SEC: “As far as moving up, moving on, however you want to work it, the opportunity to be at this place, that’s something that drives you – the opportunity to be at the top, really take your shot with the best. The best being the SEC: the best players you’re going to play against, the best coaches you’re going to coach against. I never look at anything like that except what a great challenge, what a great opportunity to match your skills against the best. That’s really what it’s all about.”
On using one particular play from Steve Spurrier throughout his career: “He’s got one that we actually used against him, that I’ve actually carried with me. We call it ‘Cadillac.’ Why? Why not? I don’t know. He didn’t teach it to me. But I looked at it enough on film or cut-ups. … Obviously the brand of ball he plays is something that I’ve always admired from afar.”
On Billy Donovan: “By the way, I’m a huge basketball fan, so I’ll probably be bothering the heck out of him.”
On leaving Colorado State and his players: “That was hard. Why was it hard? Because these young men truly invested in something that was bigger than themselves. They gave of themselves, really changed a culture. I was so proud of them. They will always obviously have a special bond in my heart. But that’s who I am. I care about people. I want them to be successful so bad. You know what, I owe them a lot. Those guys meant the world to me.”