A tumultuous week in Gainesville culminated with what seemed like an inevitability when Jim McElwain walked off EverBank Field with a sheepish grin following Florida’s 42-7 loss to Georgia on Saturday. He knew his time was up.
The Gators announced Sunday that they have agreed to part ways with McElwain. Defensive coordinator Randy Shannon will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season as Florida (3-4) looks to become bowl eligible with four games left.
McElwain and Florida athletic administration remain in negotiations over terms of his buyout, according to the school.
“We want to thank Coach McElwain for his efforts in leading the Gator football program,” said athletic director Scott Stricklin. “We are confident Coach Shannon will provide the proper guidance to the players and rest of staff during this time and we will begin a national search for the next head coach.”
McElwain’s buyout is estimated at more than $12.75 million. The Gators, who leaked during Saturday’s eventual loss to Georgia that they were looking for ways to fire McElwain without cause, will hope to see that sum come down in negotiations with agent Jimmy Sexton. Florida will also have to buy out any assistants not retained by the next coach.
McElwain won SEC East titles in each of his first two years with the program and became the first coach in league history to advance to the SEC Championship Game in his first two seasons, but he did so amid massive offensive struggles that he was brought in to correct following the four-year Will Muschamp debacle. In Year 3, with a roster that’s filled with players he recruited, the program took a massive step back defensively, got off to its worst start since 1986 and heads into November as a potential underdog in three of its last four games.
The news comes after a, when he mentioned during his weekly press conference that his family had received death threats following the slow start to the season — something that didn’t seem to sit well with an administration that was unaware of them at the time. Florida released a statement later that day saying that, in a meeting with officials, McElwain provided “no additional details” regarding any specific threats.
That seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back in a relationship that, despite two straight SEC East titles, had gone south behind the scenes due to McElwain’s often-public pleas for athletic department initiatives to be accelerated.
The SEC Coach of the Year in 2015 was 22-12 during his two-and-a-half seasons in Gainesville, 16-8 in SEC play. Prior to his time at Florida, he spent three seasons as the head coach at Colorado State, where he went 22-16 and led the program to a 10-3 record during his final season with the program in 2014.
He won two national championships (2009, 2011) as Alabama’s offensive coordinator prior to landing the gig in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was that offensive success with 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, quarterbacks Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron and wide receiver Julio Jones that seemingly made him a perfect fit for Florida after the ill-fated Will Muschamp era of offensive futility.
But Will Grier — his primary quarterback during his first season with Florida before he transferred to West Virginia — was suspended midway through the season for performance enhancing drugs, an incident that stymied any offensive momentum McElwain generated. Grier claims McElwain told him it would be better for all parties if they parted ways, leading Grier’s transfer to WVU. Treon Harris, Luke Del Rio, Austin Appleby and Feleipe Franks all started games over the next two years under center for the Gators, but the offensive struggles persisted.
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