Thursday, September 20, 2018
Florida Gators

Jim McElwain is gone, and yet the McElwainless Bowl will go on. That’s pretty cool

GAINESVILLE — When Florida's game against Colorado State kicks off Saturday, Jim McElwain will be coaching receivers for No. 19 Michigan, about to enter the second quarter against visiting SMU.

And yet, his impact will be felt 1,000 miles south in the McElwainless Bowl.

It will be weird.

The game exists because of the $7 million buyout that Colorado State required to let McElwain leave for UF in December 2014. The teams agreed that $2 million could come through a game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. That means the Gators are doling out the nation's largest guaranteed payday because they wanted to hire a coach they paid $7.5 million to fire less than three years later.

Weird, right?

"I never really thought of it that way," new Florida coach Dan Mullen said.

That's probably because Mullen is too concerned with trying to fix the problems McElwain left that will be evident this weekend.

RELATED: The real reason ex-Gators coach Jim McElwain took a loss on his Florida home isn't so funny

When McElwain bolted the Rams after three seasons, he took over a Gators program with a pretty cool situation on defense. All four starting defensive backs were taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, helping the Gators back up their talk as DBU.

Now? It's more like DB-less U.

By Mullen's count, Florida was short four defensive backs entering the season. One culprit was McElwain's first recruiting class (2015), which featured only two defensive backs. One (Chris Williamson) transferred to Minnesota, and the other (Kylan Johnson) became a linebacker.

Injuries to four of UF's remaining defensive backs shrunk Mullen's secondary more. The biggest, latest blow came last week when starter Marco Wilson suffered a season-ending torn ACL.

RELATED: What makes Florida Gators' Dan Mullen a quarterback guru?

"After Game 2, you're down eight DBs, which makes it a challenge for guys," Mullen said. "The other guys are going to have to step up."

They will have to step up fast; Colorado State (1-2) boasts the nation's No. 10 passing offense and threw for almost 400 yards against visiting Arkansas last week, overcoming a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull off a 34-27 upset.

The Gators' other pressing concern is finding physicality along both lines to avoid getting pushed around, as they were in last week's historic loss to Kentucky. That, too, has roots in the McElwain era.

Florida's strength and conditioning were so lacking under McElwain that some players hired personal trainers. The Gators talked all offseason about how they transformed their bodies with the new strength program. The evolution wasn't apparent after one SEC game.

That could be because of the team's practice methods, which aren't intense enough for Mullen. The implication is that the habits players developed under McElwain haven't created the toughness Mullen demands.

""It's old dog, new tricks," co-offensive coordinator and line coach John Hevesy said. "What we have to have has got to change."

There are other issues that will take also time to change, such as Mullen's stricter discipline.

McElwain's recruiting classes never finished higher than fifth in the SEC. The talent gap might not be as glaring against Colorado State as it will be next month against Georgia. But Mullen's attempts to fix it will be on display, especially if UF continues to target receivers Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes — quick-fix transfers Mullen brought in.

None of this should discredit McElwain's accomplishments. He was the SEC's coach of the year in 2015 and was the first coach ever to make it to the league's title game in each of his first two seasons.

But his tenure seemed worse than his 22-12 record and ended with a quick, semi-self-inflicted fall.

The whole thing was weird.

It's only fitting that a game played because of him but without him will be weird, too.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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