Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain is rarely specific when he speaks with the media. While he may offer some praise here and there, criticisms are generally kept under wraps and those attempting to discern what he means are often forced to read between the lines of what he actually says.
So on Tuesday, when McElwain spoke ahead of the 2016 Citrus Bowl against the Michigan Wolverines, there was plenty to ask the coach but only so many answers that came back. However, if one looks closely enough, McElwain’s opinions are not that tough to discern.
The coach spent some time discussing the progress of the Gators football program, which he described as “a long ways away.” Though in the past he’s said he’s proud of how far Florida has come in one year under his umbrella, he also noted that he did not want to take any shortcuts that can “maybe make it look pretty early” but come back to bite you later.
“We’re still in the process of making sure we understand where we need to be as a program, total program,” he explained. “There’s a lot of things as you move forward that will continue to [progress]. Some of those core things, as far as how you approach your day-to-day life, how you approach your day-to-day work load, is something that our guys are starting to see what that is. And that’s a great starting point. And yet, we’ve got a long ways to go, but I’m sure excited to see where we’re going to end.”
To that end, McElwain has previously offered some praise for Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, noting that the administrator footed the bill to expand plans for the indoor practice facility and expedite its construction. Foley and the University Athletic Association also invested heavily in McElwain’s desired support staff and a number of other behind-the-scenes additions and changes.
But does that mean McElwain is completely satisfied with the buy-in? Here’s what he had to say, following a pause and knowing look, when asked about the Wolverines, his opponent on Friday: “They haven’t spared any expense in anything that they’re doing.”
McElwain was also asked about the success of his coaching staff in year one and how please he is that the group was able to remain together despite a large number of shifts throughout the coaching landscape this season. He began with an explanation about his philosophy and praise for his assistants … and then insinuated that those previously with Florida may not have shared his mindset.
“In this business, you cross paths with a lot of people. Part of what you try to do within the total organization is put people in that aren’t independent contracts that aren’t just in it for themselves, that actually care about people and actually care about players, not just what their next job is and looking at everything through a straw,” he began.
“I think you guys probably worked with some of those people. That’s not what I hired; I hired really good people, guys that care about the organization, care about each other and are willing to give up themselves for the benefit of others.”
McElwain’s final read-between-the-lines moment on Tuesday came when asked about the sudden transfer of redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier, who is still serving a year-long NCAA suspension for use of a banned substance that was reportedly performance-enhancing.
The coach said he would “never beg someone to do anything” like stay with his team because “you’ve got to have it in your heart” to get the job done. “To be successful at anything in life, it’s got to be a passion,” he added.
Then McElwain struggled to find the right words to describe the Grier situation, though he ultimately arrived at the right one to get his point across.
“Sometimes in life we all maybe look for … um … what to say … maybe … ‘sure things,’ you know? ‘Guarantees.’ There are no guarantees,” he said. “I just want him to be happy. I want him to be excited about wherever he chooses to be. And we’re here to help him, as I am everybody on this football team.”
Overall, McElwain said Florida had “been practicing pretty darn good” leading up to the Citrus Bowl, which is set for New Year’s Day at 1 p.m.