Why a Division I-AA coaching staff is sleeping in Jim McElwain's garage
UPDATE (March 21): Jim McElwain encouraged reporters to talk to Eastern Washington's staff about the visit. So I did. You can read the details here.
GAINESVILLE - Don't worry about the coaches in black and red who were roaming around Tuesday's Florida Gators football practice.
They're just Eastern Washington staffers who happen to be crashing at UF coach Jim McElwain's house.
"They're sleeping in my garage," McElwain said.
Of course they are.
It's not unusual for coaching staffs to visit each other during the spring. They can network, talk Xs and Os and learn new techniques or drills. It's not surprising that Eastern Washington would want to stop by; the Eagles can probably learn a lot from an SEC staff.
And it's not surprising, either, that McElwain would want Eastern Washington to visit. He went to school there, and he was quite happy when his Gators scheduled a 2020 non-conference game against the Eagles.
More than that, McElwain is proud of his roots in the Big Sky Conference.
He played at Eastern Washington. His coaching career began there, then continued at Montana State. He started Tuesday's football news conference with a story about the time Montana State played UCLA in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the John Wooden dynasty. Later on, he brought up his guests and their lodging arrangement.
"That's what you do at that level," McElwain said. "You can't afford a hotel room, so they're sleeping in the garage."
In fairness, McElwain said he did give his visitors some blow-up mattresses to sleep on. But the anecdote says something more about McElwain: He really feels fortunate to be where he is.
More than most other coaches, McElwain likes to look back on his journey to UF. He mentions obscure players you'll have a hard time Googling. Ask him about rivalries, and he'll tell you that the Montana-Montana State game is "as vicious a rivalry as you'll ever be a part of." This from someone who has coached in the Iron Bowl and the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Which leads back to the out-of-town Eagles who don't have the budget for a Budget Inn.
"It's amazing how you don't get spoiled when you're at those places," McElwain said. "You appreciate all the little things."
McElwain isn't at one of those places anymore. He's at a top-tier program in a talent-rich state with three national championships in the trophy case. But it's clear he still appreciates all those little things just the same.