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Let's talk about Florida Gators' Jim McElwain and the Oregon Ducks

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

29

November

USA Today's Dan Wolken, who brought us the possibility of Jim McElwain leaving for Texas, has raised a new scenario:

McElwain bolting the Florida Gators for the Oregon Ducks and their not-yet-open coaching vacancy.

Here's what Wolken wrote:

There also are whispers that Florida's Jim McElwain could be intrigued by the opportunity to return to the Pacific Northwest, close to where he went to college and started his coaching career at Eastern Washington. Despite winning SEC East titles in his first two years, McElwain has been a bit under-appreciated by the Florida fan base and just got a new athletics director in Gainesville.

I'm not sure where whispers fall in the spectrum of speculation (below rumblings, I guess?), but let's roll with it.

We'll start with the first part, about the Pacific Northwest.

McElwain shares plenty of stories about his days in the Big Sky Conference. He remains very much a boy from Montana, who uses phrases like, "Do you think I just fell off the turnip truck?" UF recently scheduled a non-conference game against his alma mater, Eastern Washington. His first head coaching job was at Colorado State. I think that area of the country still means a lot to him, and understandably so. So I wouldn't be surprised if he was intrigued by heading West, at some point.

The second part is much more interesting.

McElwain doesn't have a problem bringing up fans' discontent, despite back-to-back SEC East titles. Here's what he said after the 16-10 win at LSU: "I just can't tell you how proud I am of our players, our staff and happy for the Gator fans, you know, that, you know, don't think we're very good, but all we do is end up back in Atlanta, right? So that's pretty cool." It's worth noting that McElwain wasn't asked about fans' perception before that comment; he brought that up on his own, as part of his opening statement after the Gators' biggest win of the season (and the biggest road victory of his career).

I've been asked a few times whether this season is a success for UF, regardless of how it finishes. I'll have more on that later, but I posed the question to McElwain yesterday. Here's part of his response:

"Looking at it when I took the job, this is a fan base that, at any place that really cares, you're never going to please them all. I get it. One thing I do know is I believe we're in the SEC Championship again for the second straight year. Maybe not the way people want it, but ultimately, the idea is to figure out how to win a ballgame and how to win the East. Now the next step is how to win the whole SEC. And that's part of building it. We're getting there."

One more. He was asked yesterday about how UF hired him to fix the offense, which is No. 102 nationally in yards per play. His response: "I mean, it's obviously one of those things that you have to constantly evaluate and get better at. I was also brought in here to get to Atlanta. How many years have I been here? OK."

I don't know about you, but that sounds like a coach who feels under-appreciated to me.

The final part, about the new AD, is a wildcard. Scott Stricklin hasn't even finished his first month on the job, so it's hard to get a read on his relationship with McElwain, or his administrative style, or what that means for the football team's future.

What we do know is what McElwain has previously felt about UF's commitment to the football program. Remember what he said at SEC media days about Florida State's bowl/state championship rings? "I don't know whether our administration has it in our budget to do that." That wasn't the first crack McElwain has made about UF's resources.

To be fair, McElwain has also praised UF for upping its facilities. There's the new indoor practice facility, and the new academic center. A stand-alone football facility is coming, too. But UF doesn't have Phil Knight.
So what does it all mean?

McElwain likes Gainesville. He likes what he's building at UF, and he has some pretty good pieces for the future. The highly scrutinized offense has three explosive playmakers. All will be back next season. The defense, however, will lose almost all of its starters, and coordinator Geoff Collins could get while the gettin's good and become the next head coach at Florida Atlantic.

I'd be very, very surprised if McElwain left. But after pondering it, Wolken's rumor wasn't as crazy as I initially thought.

[Last modified: Tuesday, November 29, 2016 11:22am]

    

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