The Silver Lining: McElwain’s staff decisions, comments from Muschamp and Mullen

By Adam Silverstein
December 17, 2014

You’re getting what you wanted

Over the last two seasons – and a little before that as well – my inbox, the @OnlyGators Twitter account and the comments section here on OnlyGators.com have each been inundated with requests and demands for Will Muschamp to lose his job. And while it may have taken longer than many of you have wished, it happened. Muschamp was fired, athletic director Jeremy Foley hired a new head coach Jim McElwain and – though some of you were not pleased with that replacement – the program is headed in a different direction.

Well, you know what happens when one head coach gets fired and another is hired in his place? The coaching staff changes, too. That’s the name of the game. It’s how this process works and thinking otherwise is absolutely foolish.


There are only so many scenarios in which a new head coach retains staff members from a prior regime. They could be too talented to let go with no better candidate available. They could be a great fit for the new coach’s system or a person the coach is familiar with from another point during his career. They could also be so entrenched in their jobs that uprooting them the season a new coach is hired could be too much shock to the system.

Charlie Strong fit all three of these categories for Urban Meyer. D.J. Durkin and Brian White hit the first one, as there were few better special teams coordinators and running backs coaches in the nation when Will Muschamp was hired.

But Durkin is no longer Florida’s special teams coordinator. The fifth-year assistant (White is the only one more tenured, as he is set to complete his sixth season with the program) was the Gators’ defensive coordinator last season, a defensive coordinator with only two years of career experience in that role. He was also a defensive coordinator who learned the job under Muschamp and who does not have anything on his resume pointing to the fact that he could succeed at the position without Muschamp basically running the defense, which Muschamp did during his four years with the Gators.

So when McElwain on Tuesday decided to replace Durkin – a good guy and great coach – with a veteran defensive coordinator in Geoff Collins who has a proven track record of success and plenty of in-state recruiting chops, Florida fans should have been overjoyed. Instead, there were questions about why Durkin was not being retained and how “dumb” of a move this was by McElwain. Had Durkin still been in his special teams coordinator role, keeping him on the staff would have been a no-brainer. But his job changed two seasons ago and so did the qualifications for his current position with an offensive-minded head coach replacing a defensive-minded one.

It was not a dumb or short-sighted move by McElwain, not in the least. New coaches usually fill out a staff with new assistants; they don’t just take the top job in an organization and allow everything else to remain status quo. The point of hiring a new coach is to shock the system, turn things around and change the direction of a team. Keeping an entire coaching staff in place does not accomplish those charges.

Nevertheless, McElwain recognizes that there is some talent on the current Gators staff. It is why he is seemingly attempting to keep a couple assistants in place, including defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson and offensive line coach Mike Summers (and possibly defensive line coach Brad Lawing, too).

A source confirmed to OnlyGators.com on Wednesday what recruits have been telling reporters for the last two weeks: McElwain has discussed with Summers the opportunity for the veteran assistant to remain at Florida, and Summers plans to do so barring an unforeseen change of heart by either party. The most recent reports on Robinson are that he would prefer to stay with the Gators but first wanted to meet Collins face-to-face on Tuesday, seeing as Collins will effectively be one of Robinson’s two new bosses. The coaching recruiting chops of both men make them extremely valuable to the Gators; plus, some minimal staff continuity is good during a coaching change, especially for recruiting.

Durkin has spent five years at Florida and had much success during his tenure. In fact, I believe he could step into a MAC head coaching job and succeed immediately. But there should be no one complaining about McElwain’s first big coaching hire, especially not if the issue at hand is losing Durkin, a coordinator who is still inexperienced (despite holding the job title for two seasons) and would be tough for a new coach to trust with managing his entire defensive unit.

The inside story that really wasn’t

When I awoke Wednesday morning and saw that Foley had sat down with The Gainesville Sun to provide specifics of the Gators’ coaching search that resulted in Florida hiring McElwain, I figured there would be some newsworthy tidbits that could be included in this column. Instead, it was mostly a rehashing of Foley and UF’s version of the events that transpired two weeks ago with little learned or truly revealed.

Let’s first look at the few points of interest.

– Foley said he did not think about firing Muschamp until the Missouri loss. After the South Carolina debacle, it was too much to bear. “I was disheartened,” Foley said. “There was a lot of negativity that was going to be hard to overcome, especially in recruiting. This business is hard when a big ball starts rolling downhill and you have to catch it and roll it back up the hill.”

– Foley initially checked McElwain off his list because of the $7.5 million buyout…until learning that it was negotiable, which put him back on the list and made him a candidate again.

– Foley gathered information about Josh McDaniels but not Chip Kelly because of Kelly’s desire to stay in the NFL…rather than the NCAA issues that many attributed to Foley’s supposed lack of interest.

Now here’s where there are information gaps and a lack of logic.

– Foley does not discuss why he decided to keep Muschamp on staff after the Missouri game, leading into a bye week and rivalry game against Georgia, insight that many desired both at the time and after Muschamp was eventually fired.

– Foley says “you really don’t know if anyone is interested [in the job] until you talk to them personally,” noting that it is important “to find someone who wants the [actual] job” rather than a coach looking to improve his salary or stability with a program. Two weeks was spent “eliminating coaches who either were happy where they were or were not that right fit.” How Foley would be able to eliminate candidates under those circumstances while claiming to not have spoken to anyone about the opportunity other than McElwain is puzzling, as is the fact that he claims to have only interviewed a single candidate for one of the top jobs in the country. That’s an overly limited process, is it not?

– Foley claims there was never an offer made to Ole Miss’s Hugh Freeze. Foley says he never spoke with Freeze and did not even speak with Rebels AD Ross Bjork until Bjork rang him to ensure that was the case. Well, the last two parts of that may be true, but Freeze certainly believed there was an opportunity on the table to leave for Florida and that was not just created out of thin air.

– Foley reminds that he was well-aware there would be a high level of interest in the Gators’ search with plenty of rumors floating around. So the plan to “throw off” the media was to stop the booster plane (uncovered by OnlyGators.com) in Missouri despite Fort Collins, Colorado, already being part of the flight plan. “The one thing you didn’t want to happen did happen,” Foley said. Florida blacklisted its private jets after arriving back in Gainesville; had the Gators used those jets (instead of the booster plane) and gone to that length before takeoff, they might have succeeded in their goal to interview McElwain under the shade of night.

Look, the search is over and McElwain has been hired. Whether Foley got his first choice or not may never be known by the general public. But what is obvious is that no matter how much Foley wants to appear transparent, both in the coaching search and while making statements about facility upgrades, he’s only raising more questions. The only thing worse than not being transparent is pretending to be.

Not Only Gators: It’s not always personal

Much has been made ado about (mostly) nothing in regards to statements made by Muschamp and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen over the last week.

During a Saturday news conference in which he was introduced as Auburn’s new defensive coordinator, Muschamp mentioned how much he likes the improvements the Tigers’ have made from a facility standpoint since he was last with the program.

“All the facility changes and all the nice things that have happened within this campus is awesome to see,” Muschamp said. “I’ve seen the Wellness Center, and I know the student-athlete housing. On the recruiting trail, all the kids that would come to Florida would come to Auburn and tell me how nice the housing was here, so it’s good to be on that side of it now. I’m excited about that.”

Here are the headlines you’ve likely seen: “Will Muschamp fires rocket shot at Florida facilities,” “Did Will Muschamp take a shot at his former employer?” “Will Muschamp backhandedly rips Florida’s facilities” and so on…

How about: Muschamp praises improvement of Auburn’s athletic facilities? Because that’s what he actually said. Muschamp neither had a certain tone in his voice nor smirk on his face when answering the question. Did he perhaps insinuate that the Tigers’ facilities are better than those provided by the Gators? Maybe. But that’s no surprise considering the recent major upgrades Auburn has made. What Muschamp was specifically saying was that, in the eight years since he was last with the Tigers, he is impressed at how much the program has done and now understands what recruits were talking about when raving about Auburn’s new facilities. Period. End of sentence.

Similarly, Mullen made headlines on Tuesday for panning his former coordinator’s decision to leave Mississippi State for Florida. “I don’t like anybody leaving for what I would view as lateral moves, to be perfectly honest,” Mullen said.

Look, everyone and their mother knows leaving the Bulldogs for the Gators is not a “lateral move.” This does not need to be debated. Mullen was very much doing his job by making this comment, especially considering he is trying to put Mississippi State football on par with the big boys like Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Florida. So why should the head coach of a program like MSU, which is trying to improve its prestige, throw his hands up and say, “I guess he had to take that job, I would too.” He wouldn’t, especially considering the Gators went to lengths to inform everyone they could that Mullen was not even a candidate being considered for its head coach opening.

Was it a bit of “shade” (as you kids say) thrown at Florida? Perhaps, but there is still a bit too much being made of it.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, Mullen also expressed his appreciation for how McElwain handled the process of plucking Collins from the Bulldogs.

“Jim McElwain called me yesterday, said he’d like to talk to him, which I appreciate,” he said. “I’ve found out on the radio before that a coach left. I appreciate him handling things the right way.”

This Week’s Movie Trailer

Danny Collins:

The Top 5 10 List
From the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska…

Condiments:
1. Honey mustard
2. Buffalo sauce
3. Barbecue sauce
4a. Ketchup
4b. Mustard
6. Hot sauce
7. “Special sauce”
8. Duck sauce
9. Eel sauce
10. Ranch

Thanks for reading. Leave your comments below.

53 Comments

  1. GatorNsc says:

    Ranch is 10?? Preposterous!!!!

  2. Steven says:

    Maybe you shouldn’t have thrown Collins under the Bus than Danny boy and no matter what you think or the current states of the programs. A move from Miss St to Florida isn’t perfectly lateral.

  3. Ryan D says:

    Thanks for clearing up those comments. The media misconstrues a lot of things. Do you like sriracha?

  4. Steven says:

    In regard to Foley and Florida’s facilities.

    I think we have a major concern on our hands.
    Reading between the lines Foley isn’t going to do whatever it takes to make the football team a winner.
    Obviously the football program is very important, but he wants a well rounded athletic program and loves that he is able to donate millions every year back to the school.

    Saying all that and not that I don’t find it admirable. The problem with it is that other schools are investing everything into football. I feel like he is running this athletic program like a non-ohio st Big 10 school.

    Foley says he doesn’t want to get into an “arms race”. Unfortunately that isn’t his choice, well not if he wants to compete for championships. You can’t send McElwain(or Muschamp for that matter) out with a spear when Nick Saban is rolling up in a tank.

    The facilities have to get better and it’s a shame that a school of our stature has facilities equal to a UCF.
    A cheap version of an indoor practice facility isn’t enough. We are just playing catch up at this point when we should be leading the movement. The bigger shame is that Foley isn’t doing anything about it.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Foley has too much autonomy. Before all you Foley homers start getting on my case, yeah, he’s done a good job in the other sports but, seriously, football is the engine that drives the AD. Whether he likes it or not, he is in an “arms race” where facilities are concerned and he shouldn’t be allowed to unilaterally make the decision that UF won’t engage.

      Hopefully the incoming president will be more involved where Foley’s decision-making is concerned and proactive in insuring that our facilities are where they should be: at the top of the college football world.

    • Gatorgrad79 says:

      Steven,
      While I agree we cannot always be playing catchup, the O dome will be under renovation as soon as BB season ends, so constructing a facility for use in August when lightning shuts down outdoor practice is essential. Kids want flash and to be a part of the ‘best’ and if our soft underbelly is even a PERCEIVED inferiority in facilities, all the other schools will exploit it in recruiting. Appearances are important, and in that they attract a certain calibre of player, they have substance. Takes money to make money and success breeds success.

  5. Steven says:

    At the risk of ranting I want to say one more thing.

    Muschamp likes to say that he is leaving the cupboard full for McElwain(paraphrasing)

    Completly disagree. Not that we don’t have players, we do.
    But these are the same guys who won 4 games last year and didn’t look too much better this year.
    Also the recruiting class he left McElwain with is a complete dumpster fire.
    McElwain is going to have to work his behind off to make it somewhat salvageable.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Agree and disagree. Only last year’s class was below our standards and there is still time for McElwain to pull a rabbit out of a hat in regards to this year’s class. There is still time to salvage a nice class, and plenty of incentive for the uncommitted 4 and 5 stars who don’t want to get in the lock-step assembly line promotion system at Bama and FSU.

      For studs who want to get on the field right now and start turning things around in an exciting new system, UF is the place to be!

  6. 5wideU says:

    Funny how a lot of people on these boards and blogs will never be satisfied. Whether it’s demanding Muschamp’s firing after every loss or who the new DC is or the fact McElwain didn’t start recruiting on Sunday last week instead of Monday or what have you …. just a sad commentary on a fairly big chunk of people who are clearly unhappy with life in general and likely never will be happy short of a NC every year.

    Here are some facts for the crowd:

    – We aren’t going to have a good recruiting class this year …. deal with it. It started off bad with Muschamp’s shaky status and won’t get much better with a new coach who has no time to build relationships.

    – We aren’t going to win a NC or SEC title next year … deal with it. Whether you’re Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, etc., etc., there are very few coaches who come in their first year in the SEC and have great success. Next year will be a transition year, implementing a new offense with the players getting used to all new systems with all new coaches.

    Bottom line, just sit back, relax and let the coaches do their job and hopefully, in 2 to 3 years, we’ll be playing for championships again. Until then, back off and try to enjoy some football when Sept rolls around.

    Regarding Mullen … I don’t like the guy and am glad he wasn’t on our list. Have a feeling MSU will slink back into mediocrity after #15 leaves.

    • Steven says:

      I have two goals for next year.

      1.)A semi-watchable offense
      2.)Beat FSU

      • 1974Gator says:

        I’ll be happy, with no reservations, beating FSU along with the Cocks. It’s reasonable to expect our D will be no worse and that we will score 10+ more points/game. With no really stupid, late game implosions maybe 8-4? No SEC championship game in 2015.

    • Nick says:

      There you go. My thoughts exactly

  7. scroud says:

    Outstanding article. Personally, I don’t think the Florida defense has been all that, despite the stats. Wasn’t it the Alabama game this year where they set a record for yardage. How many times this year was a receiver running deep down field with no one within twenty yards of him, five, six? Once a year is maybe understandable, but six? There had to be some issues there.
    So, I agree with the new direction and am looking forward to some pressure D next year. With two first round picks at corner, let’s see some heavy blitzing.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Man, I agree with you about our defense. It may have had some decent stats (which can be so misleading) but it tend to leak like a sieve when we needed it most. Awesome job against FSU but otherwise unremarkable as far as I’m concerned.

      I’ve also got this theory about Muschamp, that he’s a lot like Weiss. Weiss never did anything after he left the protective umbrella of Belichick and, as far as I’m concerned, Muschamp hasn’t done anything since he left the protective umbrella of Saban. We’ll see, I guess, just how good Muschamp–the alleged “defensive genius”–is.

  8. SE says:

    So why, exactly, is it important that the coaching search be “transparent?” As I recall, Foley promised to be “above-board” and not “cut back-room deals,” but that’s not the same thing as outlining every single move he’s going to make. It seems to me that some aspects of the recruitment and negotiation process benefit from a lower profile.

    Maybe–just maybe–getting the right coach is more important than driving media traffic. As you’ve helped make clear, there’s basically no one reporting on the Gators these days that isn’t a glorified paparazzo, and you’re all going to run with non-stories, rumors, and speculation non-stop until a coach is hired, facts be damned. So remind me again why Foley is obligated to do your job for you?

    • It does not have to be transparent. But if he wants to feign transparency, then it should actually be transparent…especially if someone is going to report on it from a behind-the-scenes perspective that is mostly just company line stuff.

      And I would argue with your last point…I think there’s a good handful of people covering the team that do not fit that profile, especially the site you’re reading right now.

  9. Conky3000 says:

    Is anything known about Lawing’s status?

  10. Michael J. says:

    What I think is refreshing to know is that it seems McElwain is the one making decisions on who makes up his staff, not the megalomaniac, Foley. The initial reports, before Foley ever left Colorado, were that McElwain had already agreed to keeping certain members of the current staff as a condition of being hired. Durkin was one of those named, along with Robinson and Summers. With the hire of Collins, it seems that is not the case. It’d be nice to know that Foley is not popping in to watch film with the new coach, something he did to Muschamp. It was ridiculous since Foley has zero qualifications to watch film. The demise of the Dallas Cowboys began when Jerry Jones became the general manger of the team. Some people are too stupid to know when they should stay out of affairs they are not qualified for. Jones is the best example of being a moron. I hope McElwain has the gumption to tell Foley to take a hike if he tries to “watch film.” I think Foley is an idiot. Do you realize that Muschamp will be paid more than McElwain over the next three years because Foley was so stupid? Foley needs to stay away from the coaches’ office. The only thing he needs to do is act like a fool after beating Kentucky and Tennessee, like he did this year. He does no harm being a clown, but expounding the nonsense he spews out in an interview is pathetic, just shut up already!

    • Fatback says:

      A megalomaniac stupid idiot fool clown? Next thing you know Foley is going to be calling
      people he doesn’t know degrading names on the internet.

      It amazes me how people can be so convinced and passionate in their convictions based only on the perverted fraction of information they get off the internet.

      • Daniel M. says:

        Fatback, you sir, have nailed it. I would be hugely embarrassed to assign my name to Michael J.’s comments.

    • Ken (CA) says:

      Foley is anything but a megalomaniac (being an FSU fan, that word may be too large for you to understand so you should probably use smaller words). Everything I have always seen with Foley is he hires the coaches lets them do things their way and trusts them. Parsing that “they agreed to retain some coaches” means that Foley dictated to him is ludicrous (sorry, another large word for you).

      It is far more likely that they discussed what direction Mac would want to take the program and then they both agreed that in that transition some continuity would be important especially for recruiting purposes, and thereby agreed that some coaches would be retained (then the wonderful media started making lots of assumptions as to whom that would be).

      Many of these reports started with the Colorado newspaper (Colorado Times Union, I think it was?) that got details wrong time after time, and the rest of the media often ran with them as the media is incredibly lazy today in doing their own research or investigation, often not even validating sources.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Ha ha! There was some funny stuff in there. You and I usually go at it, but I enjoyed some of that, lol.

      I don’t hate Foley, but I think he’s gotten a little too big for his britches and he’s got way too much power without the oversight that should come with it.

  11. Mike The Red says:

    McElwain was a good choice. While I am not especially convinced that Foley handled it well, McElwain was an obvious choice for us, and fortunately, we were an obvious choice for him.

    As for Muschamp and Mullen… I really do not care what they think any more… all I care about is my Gators….

    Any word on Roper or a new OC?

    • 1974Gator says:

      McElwain can run the offense thru Roper. It will be a good learning experience for Kurt. Maybe later another HC will tap him to be his OC when he adds the McElwain viewing experience to the Cutcliff viewing experience he got at Duke.

      • Michael Jones says:

        Is that what we want to do? Help Roper get some good OJT? That being said, you may have a good idea there, but not sure that McElwain will go for it.

        Interestingly, Roper was advertised to be like McElwain: a guy who evaluates his talent and then modifies/adjusts his offense accordingly. However, I don’t believe that ANY offensive coordinator under Muschamp was allowed to do his thing. I believe that their hands were always tied by his overly conservative, scared, play-not-to-lose offensive philosophy.

  12. Mike The Red says:

    … as for DJ Durkin… I think that McElwain made a good decision… I had my doubts about him at the beginning of the season, and they never went away. I often wondered if he was the driving force behind the defense, or if it was Muschamp. I often wondered if Muschamp was spending too much time being DC and not enough being HC.

    • Ken (CA) says:

      I too have wondered why people are so up in arms about Durkin not staying. Aside from his (lack of) true credentials as a DC, his “specialty” special teams has been atrocious the last 2 years. Field goals bleh, punting (with supposedly one of the best punters in the country) bleh. Just look at Mizzou this year to see all special teams falling apart in the same game. He wasn’t even managing that well let alone a whole defense that I believe was highly over-rated. The stats don’t tell the whole story when you have games like Mizzou where the offense had to do nothing, Bama which let off the gas because Saban actually felt sorry for a friend, etc. We frequently couldn’t stop the run and when we could they would torch most of the middle of our secondary for huge gains. Let’s not forget never defending against the 3rd and 20+ screens they continually were successful at that apparently couldn’t be adjusted to prevent.

      I thought Muschamp was a nice hire but not overwhelmed when he first got here, and that honeymoon lasted almost no time at all as soon as he hired Weis to be his OC. This hire I am actually quite excited about and really like the way it has started and his general demeanor. Quickly identified areas of need on the field and filling them. Comfortable with the media and the scrutiny that is to come. Finding the weakness and strength of our coaching staff and adjusting it accordingly.

      There is still time to make this a top 20 recruiting class and I believe he will get there with some of the big names who were just waiting to see what would happen. Ivey, Jefferson, and Cowart alone, getting 2 of those 3 would probably propel us into the top 20 and there are a number of others we can still get even though the pool is quickly shrinking.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few flips before NSD as well from other schools. Even while he may not get the best of the elite this year on short notice, he will get areas of need and we have seen he can coach them up and bring them along.

      • senuod says:

        Special teams may have been atrocious specifically because Drukin couldn’t focus on that aspect of the game anymore. As DC, special teams were no longer his responsibility and delegated to a new coach (whose name I can’t remember right now).

        Not jumping to Durkin’s defense in general, but special teams performance over the last two years was not his fault.

  13. 305Gator says:

    I don’t get those who say Foley did not handle the hiring process well, to me he did just fine. In the end we got the right guy it seems.
    Same with the hiring of Collins, when you break it down like Adam did in this story it makes all the sense in the world.
    Then there are those who still rag and complain about Foley, all the while he is regarded as one of the best and most powerful ADs in the country. But of course since we post here we know better.
    So far with Mac and Collins we seem to be headed in the right direction, now if we could shore up some recruiting we will be fine.

    Honey mustard is so limited, besides chicken tenders what else can you use it for? Ketchup is the most versatile, you can use it on lots of stuff. A1 should be on the list too.

  14. MAR says:

    Michael J – you don’t like Foley because he runs an athletic program that dominates FSU (and the SEC) both academically and competitively year in and out. Even when the football team is down, which happens to all big programs at some point, the athletic department represents the state and conference like no other school.
    I like Foley’s hire and back him 100%.
    It’s great to be a Florida Gator!

  15. Brian says:

    Adam,
    Best post I’ve read in the last few weeks on any Gators fan site. Completely agree on all the above, including Durkin- Collins is proven, while having coached inferior talent. Whether Durkin is spectacular or not at DC is still an unknown, and would be a roll of the dice, ala Muschamp, at this point (Pease, Roper without Cutcliff, etc… although QB issues are a different story altogether).
    In regards to T-Rob, I wouldn’t like to see him go, but feel it would only be a small blip on the Coach Mac era. Agree or disagree?
    Thanks!

  16. Michael Jones says:

    Provocative trailer. Looks good and like one of those rare flicks that can work as a guys’ film and a chick flick date combo thing at the same time.

    Was surprised to find blue cheese dressing not on the list and stunned to read mayonnaise (especially Hellman’s) being bad mouthed! Oh well. . different strokes.

    As for Mullen, nice to read you write the words: “everyone and their mother knows leaving the Bulldogs for the Gators is not a ‘lateral move.’” Exactly. Hence the magnitude of what Mullen has accomplished there. And of course he had to call it a “lateral move” for the reasons that you stated.

    Good, well-reasoned treatment of the Collins v. Durkin situation.

    Man I hope T Rob stays!

    Go Gators!!!

  17. Tim says:

    Adam, definitely check out “yum yum” sauce. Wow! Good stuff.

    • That’s included under “special sauce.”

      • Frank says:

        Adam- You might try my rendition of “Scooter Sauce” from Gator’s Dockside/Lakeland…Equal parts of Crystal Hot Sauce(or your favorite) and Honey with a desired amount of minced garlic. Baste my wings on the grill with this concoction, but have been known to dip assorted appetizers in its deliciousness. Happy Feasting! Hey you ought to look into Coach Macs favorite sauces, etc. Sounds like he’s quite a griller/chef 😉

        • I use something similar to that for my chicken and waffles at home: half Texas Pete, half syrup.

          That sounds good though. I’ll try that next time I make wings or something.

          But this was a list of condiments/dipping sauces.

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