McElwain needed to go

By Justin Hubbard


Georgia spanked Florida so badly last Saturday the Gators fired their coach.

Obviously, that’s a hyperbolic statement. The 42-7 loss to the Bulldogs certainly sealed Jim McElwain’s fate but let’s not kid ourselves – he was one step out the door before kickoff Saturday.

After all, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin had this to say during a press conference held Sunday night to officially reveal McElwain had been ousted:

“This was more than just wins and losses, and I'll leave it at that."

Of course it was about more than wins and losses. On the surface, McElwain looked like a pretty good coach during his time in Gainesville. And he is a good coach; he just wasn’t what the Gators wanted or needed when they hired him.

McElwain took Florida to two-straight SEC championship game appearances his first two seasons at the helm. He is the only head coach in SEC history to accomplish such a feat.

It would be too easy to say the problem was McElwain couldn’t win those games. That was part of the problem, of course, but you have to think he was given a pass for losing to the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide in both those games.

McElwain’s problems at Florida go much deeper than his record.

The offensive units he put on the field the past three years were abysmal by comparison to other teams. The defense was always strong but that was a feature of Will Muschamp’s Gator teams. Muschamp was booted and McElwain was brought in because the Gators couldn’t move the ball.

A couple years ago, it seemed Florida was finally headed toward brighter days on offense with quarterback Will Grier under center. Unfortunately for them, Grier was busted for taking illegal substances to boost his performance.

In this sports writer’s opinion, Grier was the best Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow. I was a fan of his from the start because of his electric ability. Grier just had a way of willing the Gators to victory.

After the result of his positive PED test became public knowledge, Grier was unceremoniously pushed out of Gainesville by McElwain. Since then, Grier has opened up about the positive PED test – which, to me, doesn’t sound quite as bad as most believed two years ago – and McElwain’s demeanor in the immediate aftermath.

In 2017, Grier, playing for West Virginia, has achieved a fair amount of success leading the Mountaineers. It’s clear the Gators miss him. Despite the three-man stable of quarterbacks they have, arguably none of them have as much to offer as Grier. McElwain cost the Gators big time by giving up on the best quarterback the team had seen in nearly a decade.

Away from the field, McElwain’s sometimes quirky behavior did not resonate with his program’s fans or its administrators. He said questionable things during press conferences, too. There was a moment earlier this year when McElwain questioned the school’s commitment to him and his coaching staff.

McElwain, after beating Iowa in the Outback Bowl, said, “We’ll look for the commitment that we get from the administration moving forward, see where that’s at.”

Keep in mind, McElwain was already rolling in the money at that point and was destined for an extension. He got it in June, and his annual salary increased to $4,486,000. In total, McElwain was set to make nearly $27 million before his contract expired. He won’t see that money now, but it’s not because the athletic department wasn’t committed to him.

Last week’s antics with the media did McElwain no favors regarding his job status. During a media day event in preparation for the Georgia game, McElwain said he, his family and his players had received death threats. When pressed, McElwain wouldn’t elaborate.

Later that evening the athletic department released a statement regarding McElwain’s comments. The statement said McElwain was asked about the alleged incident(s) in private and “he offered no additional details.”

The statement essentially threw McElwain under the bus. It made it clear he didn’t elaborate behind closed doors and didn’t make an effort to defend him. At that point, the proverbial writing was on the wall.

All that was left was for McElwain to get blown out Saturday in Jacksonville. The Gators wasted little time cutting ties with him, as he was gone by Sunday afternoon.

What’s next for Florida remains a mystery. Jon Gruden is a popular name that’s been thrown around as a potential replacement. I’ve got a hunch Lane Kiffin could be headed to Gainesville. Regardless, all of that remains to be seen and will be sorted out this offseason.

What we know right now, though, is that McElwain simply had to go. He’s not a bad coach and he had the on-field record to prove it.

Off the field, however, it was clear McElwain’s tenure at Florida had jumped the shark.

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