Why Florida’s coaching staff may not be complete until after National Signing Day

By Adam Silverstein
January 18, 2017
Why Florida’s coaching staff may not be complete until after National Signing Day

Image Credit: UAA

There’s a good reason the Florida Gators should not prevent media members — particularly beat writers — from being present for speaking engagements to crowds of fans and boosters. The media can help ensure speakers’ comments to such large groups are shared accurately and not misconstrued.

The opposite happened Wednesday night after new Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin spoke to one of the aforementioned groups in Orlando, Florida.

Stricklin, while presumably answering a question from the crowd about when the Gators will complete their football staff by adding two coaches, was misunderstood by at least two members of the audience. One “reported” that Stricklin directly stated head coach Jim McElwain will not make the hires until after National Signing Day. Another noted that Stricklin “strongly implied” that McElwain “can’t both recruit and hire assistants at the same time.”

To his credit, Stricklin responded directly on Twitter, calling these comments “a gross misrepresentation of what I said.”

However, Stricklin followed up by saying that McElwain’s “focus is on recruiting” at this time. He also went so so far as to say Florida football is at “full strength” on the road recruiting because “two off-field staff members have been cleared to recruit off campus in interim” while hires are being made.

A couple points to make off these comments.

1. McElwain’s focus should be on recruiting right now, especially considering the state of the Gators’ class, which is ranked 22nd nationally at this time — eighth in the SEC and behind both of UF’s in-state rivals.

2. However, though McElwain’s focus may be on recruiting, it’s clear that the Gators were blindsided by Mike Locksley‘s decision to stay at Alabama. If Locksley (or Mario Cristobal) was not the target, perhaps one that had indicated a principle agreement to return to Florida, there was no reason whatsoever for McElwain to wait until after the College Football Playoff National Championship to fill the open position. “Obviously want to have it done before we get back on the road recruiting after the first of the year,” the coach said back on Dec. 19.

3. Regardless of the Locksley situation, there is no excuse for Florida being so ill-prepared to not have a back-up candidate in place if the program was going to wait this long to make a hire. You have to have a Plan B and Plan C, even if you hold off on putting it in motion, especially considering the timing and recruiting situation. A staff being down one position coach (offensive line) is not a huge deal entering National Signing Day, but to be down two — with the other a coordinator-level assistant and presumably a recruiting specialist — is the furthest thing from “full strength” even if two additional bodies are on the road. And that’s not to slight director of player personnel Drew Hughes, who does a great job and is an asset. He should be filling in for the position coach missing on the recruiting trail, not the coordinator-level one.

4. Whether McElwain is “capable” of hiring two coaches while simultaneously recruiting is not at issue here. He should have never put himself in the situation where he would need to do both at the same time. And Florida should have never been in a position where it needed such upheaval so late in the game. McElwain has been notoriously slow-acting since taking over the Gators, and it’s one of a few flaws that he needs to fix immediately.

5. At this point, with the athletic director buying into Florida being “full strength” on the recruiting trail with two staffers on the road, it’s quite believable that one or both hires may not actually come until after National Signing Day is in the books. It’s plausible that some of McElwain’s candidates will feel loyalty and a responsibility to their current employers to play out this process, and it’s hard to blame them this late in the game with just two weeks left until the big day.

Coaches have notoriously switched staffs the days following NSD over the past few years, to the dismay of players and under the criticism of fans. So while it may make sense for it to go down that way at this juncture, that doesn’t make the situation any better.


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