After then-Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain mentioned death threats at his Oct. 23 news conference, I went looking for proof.
I called the local and federal authorities, who didn't have any reports to corroborate his claim.
I also asked to see his emails, through a public-records request to UF. Intense fans show up often in my inbox, so I assumed the same thing was true for McElwain. I was surprised by what UF provided late last week, after the Gators and McElwain mutually parted ways.
There were no death threats – or any angry notes at all.
McElwain received some of the same mundane emails any office worker will recognize. A travel itinerary. A copy of a hotel bill. A note from IT that his University Athletic Association password was set to expire in 14 days. Someone politely suggested he run a fake punt against Georgia.
But there were four emails of support.
This one, from FGCU president Mike Martin: Coach, hang in! You are doing what is right. Comes at a price no doubt. Integrity can't be compromised. And championships will come as well.
And one, from Tampa attorney Charles Carver, who wrote: I've never written to a UF coach before, but I feel the need to let you know my wife and I are behind you and the team 100%. Unfortunately, the advent of the internet gives every naysayer a public venue to express their negative opinions, sometimes in a way that is surely hurtful to you, your staff and the players. Sadly, their opinions often seem to be the norm… I want you and the team to know there is a silent majority of fans who support and stick with the Gators through all kinds of weather. We don't like losing, but we know no one dislikes it more than you and the team. … So, when you or a player hears or reads the rantings of a naysayer, remember that for every naysayer there are hundreds of "silent" Gators fans who support you and root for the Gators, win or lose.
McElwain noted in an email that Carver copied athletic director Scott Stricklin on that email, too.
There was a note from a fan named Ron Lemke. He wrote: I am one in the minority that doesn't think my life will end if the team dosent win, don't get me wrong winning is more fun but it is a game. As I tell everyone who whines around me it all looks easy from up here. Please know that among the complainers there are many of us who support the team day in day out.
And finally there was this one from alumnus Neil Floetkte. It begins: Good afternoon Coach! After the past few months of Gator news I felt compelled to write you. First let me say, I'm ashamed of a lot of the negative stuff being said about the program, it's unnecessary and hurtful, even to other Gators. I understand criticism, we all do it, but it's reached an unacceptable level.
Don't interpret this as proof that McElwain made up the death threats, as some have suggested. I don't have any evidence to back up that claim, and I'm not implying that.
But I thought I'd see some venom in McElwain's emails. What I found was support. Who knew?