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Jones: UF players' legal issues could put Jim McElwain's job at risk

It seems like a good time for coach Jim McElwain to lay down the law with UF players.
It seems like a good time for coach Jim McElwain to lay down the law with UF players.
Published Sep. 27, 2017

What the heck is going on in Gainesville?

I'm not talking about an on-field product that has been a little bit shaky and whole lot lucky to win two of its first three games this season.

I'm talking about a couple of other alarming numbers.

Like nine. And 62.

As in nine football players being accused of 62 felony complaints.

Serious stuff.

This isn't shooting a BB gun on campus or shoving someone in a bar or even getting pulled over with a little weed in the glove box.

We're talking stolen credit card information to buy a bunch of stuff worth nearly $17,500. We're talking about real people out there who were victimized in a conspiracy — a word that just might draw some interest from federal prosecutors — where players were buying laptops, electronics, whatever.

Forget about football. At this point, these guys are hoping to stay out of jail.

What a mess.

So it begs the question: Who's at fault and who needs to fix it?

The answer to both just might be coach Jim McElwain, although I'm not ready to toss him overboard just yet.

But we must start with this: Is McElwain to blame for, to a borrow a phrase from the folks over at the NCAA, "a lack of institutional control?''

While this incident surely makes it look like a program run amok, it's not an easy answer.

On one hand, trying to keep tabs on more than 100 teenagers and 20-somethings for 24 hours a day is like trying to herd cats. Pretty much impossible.

You can set rules and give speeches and make threats and repeat all the cautionary tales that you want, but sometimes kids are just going to make some really bad decisions and go off and do what they want to do. And while it's easy to wag a finger at McElwain, a college student should know the difference between right and wrong and using stolen credit card information is definitely wrong.

But on the other hand, it's up to the coach to be in charge.

When the players are in high school, the coach goes into their living rooms and tells their mammas and daddies that he will take care of their babies. He will make sure they go to class and work hard and get a degree and make the family proud. I can't imagine a coach ever says, "And, tell ya what Mom and Dad, I'll make sure Junior here doesn't go to jail while he's with me.'' I'm guessing that's pretty much implied, don't you think?

In the case of McElwain, there are plenty of reasons why he is paid $4.25 million a year and one of them is to see it that his players don't end up in front of judges. There was a lot funny business going on and McElwain was in the dark.

When he realized something serious was coming, he suspended the nine players and made it pretty clear that they weren't coming back anytime soon. On Monday, when this story broke, we found out just how serious.

So what does McElwain do now?

As far as the players in trouble, he has no choice. He has to wait to see what the legal system does. Some or all could avoid jail time. While nothing is certain, it's unlikely that some of them will ever play football again for Florida.

What exactly happens to them is out of McElwain's hands. But what happens to every player still left in the program is up to McElwain.

It's time for a "Come to Jimmy'' meeting. It's nice to talk about second chances and so forth, but in order to preserve the future, he might have to cut ties with the past, meaning all nine might have to be shown the door.

Whatever McElwain decides, the Gator players need to come out of such a meeting so scared that they won't even so much as look at the "Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law'' mattress tag.

Florida is at a crossroads right now. This credit card stuff is a really bad look. And it's especially dicey for McElwain. He hasn't been around long enough to have earned enough equity. Who knows if he has enough friends in high places?

If, somehow, things get worse and there's more trouble, someone has to pay.

Fairly or unfairly, that's usually the head coach.