For Jim McElwain, this was likely the World’s Largest Outdoor Going-Away Party.
Speaking in a resigned and acquiescent tone after his Florida Gators were destroyed 42-7 by Georgia on Saturday, the Florida Gators coach left little doubt that this could have been his sad, surreal sendoff as UF’s football coach.
“At end of the day, I was brought here to win and we haven’t done enough of it,” McElwain said after being peppered with questions about the rumblings that UF athletics director Scott Stricklin could make a coaching a change as soon as Sunday.
“I know what I was brought here to do. We haven’t been good on offense, I get it. We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t won enough. We haven’t won a championship. That’s real; that’s this business.”
This bizarre week started with McElwain talking about getting death threats; and it ends with what feels like a coaching funeral procession out of Jacksonville.
Except I don’t believe McElwain’s explanation that his seemingly inevitable demise will be based on wins and losses. Otherwise, why would word of his possible dismissal have started leaking out before the game against Georgia? That’s when sports agent Darren Heitner tweeted out the UF was trying to negotiate a buyout with McElwain.
UF’s Stricklin responded with a statement in which he said there have been no conversations “regarding a buyout of [McElwain’s] contract.” Probably because UF isn’t planning to buy out McElwain and the five years and $12.9 million he has left on his contract. The Gators are likely going to attempt to fire him with cause because he refused to answer his employers’ questions about the death threats and led UF’s administration to believe he fabricated the unsubstantiated threats.
Hard as it is to believe, McElwain’s seemingly imminent dismissal has little to do with the Gators’ abysmal performance against the Bulldogs.
Of course, it certainly doesn’t help that Georgia coach Kirby Smart has built the ’Dogs into a national championship contender in only his second season while McElwain’s Gators — in the words of late, great Gainesvillian Tom Petty — are in a state of “Free Fallin.”
I believe McElwain’s downfall at UF is not so much because he’s a bad coach, but more because he’s a bad employee. He comes from the Nick Saban coaching tree and that’s one of his problems. He has the arrogance of Nick Saban but the résumé of Lou Saban.
The most recent evidence of this started on Monday during McElwain’s weekly news conference when the coach — without prompting — nebulously broached the issue of death threats being issued to him, his family and his players.
This was a complete shock to Stricklin, who apparently was livid that McElwain dropped this bombshell on the media without bothering to tell UF’s own administration. Then, when McElwain was not forthcoming with information on the death threats, UF threw McElwain under the bus with a brusque statement that oddly revealed McElwain “provided no additional details.”
The reason UF was so angry is two-fold. (1) If there were death threats to players and UF’s administration did nothing to protect them, the Gators could be legally liable for a mega-million-dollar wrongful death lawsuit. (2) If McElwain exaggerated the death threats or made them up entirely, then he effectively painted UF’s entire fan base as a bunch of blood-thirsty lunatics who threaten to kill their coaches and players at the first sign of adversity.
Seriously, what recruit’s parent is going to want to send their kid to a place where his life will be threatened if he drops a key pass or misses a crucial block?
McElwain compounded the issue when he told the media during another news conference later in the week that he would offer more details about the death threats “when it becomes unmanageable.”
As if there is ever a manageable death threat.
But this is about more than McElwain’s comments about death threats; it’s about his relationships with his UF superiors and colleagues. Believe me, if his bosses liked him, they would find a reason to keep him. But since they dislike him, they have found a reason to ditch him.
Let’s face it, on performance alone, he probably deserves one more year — despite getting destroyed by Georgia Saturday. He has, after all, taken UF to the SEC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons — albeit with teams that have been perennially pathetic on offense. Still, there’s no question he would get next season to turn around the program if he weren’t so unpopular.
Former Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley built the Gators into an all-sports giant by building an all-for-one, one-for-all atmosphere among the coaches in football, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and UF’s other highly successful programs.
But McElwain marched into UF’s athletic complex like he owned the place. He rubbed his superiors the wrong way immediately, complaining publicly about the facilities, questioning the school’s commitment to excellence and essentially denigrating the administration.
Ultimately, Jim McElwain’s downfall at UF will be his ego, not his offense.
When the end ultimately comes, it will be because his win total simply could not overcome his arrogance level.
Email me at email@example.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.
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