He’s still in his 1st season, but I’m all in on Jim McElwain

Posted at 11:11 am on 10/26/2015 by Buddy Martin
I understand I’m going to be accused of bandwagon-jumping after Florida’s surprisingly spectacular 6-1 start, but no matter: I’m now all in on Jim McElwain as the Gators’ coach.

Yes, I understand Florida’s game against hated rival Georgia is eminently — and imminently — losable. But it really doesn’t matter because based on what I’ve already seen, McElwain is the right guy for the job. I also think it would be easy to get a quorum among fans to vote the same 
way.

Having watched Gators coaches come and go for more than 50 years, I can usually tell.

The fastest Gators coach to win my approval rating was Urban Meyer. After Meyer’s third game, a win over Tennessee, I went on my friend’s radio show and announced, “I’m all in on Urban Meyer.” My friend almost laughed me off the air.

My first correct endorsement was that of Ray Graves. For those who suffered through the idiotic miscalculations of the Bob Woodruff era, when the punt was deployed at the No. 1 offensive weapon, Graves quickly became the savior.

Graves had me at Game Three when he held up two fingers and instructed his team to go for the two-point conversion that would spell the demise and defeat of college football powerhouse Georgia Tech.

Steve Spurrier in 1990 was a slam dunk and a fait accompli because I had been campaigning for him for more three months.
I did not endorse any of the other five, although looking back on it now I think Ron Zook was a better coach than he got credit for. Charley Pell deserves a lot of credit for rebuilding the infrastructure.

I had an inkling about McElwain from day one, but needed more evidence. My tweet of Dec. 6, 2014 had been spot on:
McElwain impressive. In 30 minutes he owned the room. He will own the Gator locker room in a week.
— Buddy Martin (@buddyshow) 12:08 PM - 6 Dec 2014
McElwain not only won the press conference and the locker room, but has made Gator football good again and has reminded The Gator Nation how much fun it can be. He has produced the fastest turnaround of a program going south quicker than any Gators coach in history. He has put the fun back in Gators football. Right off, his Florida team learned how to win.
In my wildest dreams I didn’t see this coming, but it gradually unfolded by week four with the comeback win over Tennessee and the explosive win over Ole Miss.

Given the hand he drew on a thin roster, it was tough to discern how much good coaching would impact this squad. Clearly many of us underestimated the talents of McElwain and his coaching staff. And perhaps some of the talent as well.
Of his seven games as Florida coach, it was the loss to LSU which convinced me.

Offense coordinator Doug Nussmeier and McElwain crashed-course two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks into adequately efficient competitors, wisely keeping them motivated and interested. And when Will Grier was suspended, they were able to turn to Treon Harris.
An even better coaching job may have been the one by Mike Summers, whose offensive line was so anonymous that the government could have hidden people there in the witness protection program. It was pretty indicative that the unit was thin when senior Tripp Thurman cross-trained to play all five positions. And the use of defensive stalwarts like Bryan Cox on the goal-line offense has been masterful.

There have been some hiccups

This is not to say McElwain hasn’t had some hiccups. He whined a bit when he first arrived in Gainesville and saw how far behind Florida was in the arms race for facilities. He started slow with the media, as his answers were not exactly forthcoming. He had a nationally televised meltdown in his rage at running back Kelvin Taylor for making the throat-clashing gesture. To the coach’s credit, he repaired that relationship with Taylor and learned that it’s not nice to say four-letter words when the national TV audience can read your lips.

Let’s not pretend that Taylor has been transformed into Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook, but the line has blocked and pass-protected well enough so that the Gator offense could manage an average of 376 total yards per game (86th nationally).

Of course we all know it’s Geoff Collins’ defense that keeps the Gators alive in these games. Randy Shannon is a key part of that defensive staff as well. But don’t forget who hired them.

McElwain didn’t warrant my seal of confirmation until the game in Baton Rouge. Oddly enough, it was a 35-28 loss in which he got burnt by Les Miles in the football equivalent of baseball’s corny hidden-ball trick. Welcome to the SEC as a head coach, Mac.

The confidence McElwain exuded in the midst of a struggle impressed me because it had all the potential of unraveling into a blowout. His team’s will could have easily evaporated after being on the wrong end of a 28-14 halftime score. What impressed me was when he confidently told ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe after the intermission, “We’ll see what happens in the second half.”

It felt a little like the captain of the Titanic telling the crew he was stopping for ice, but McElwain’s team stayed steady as she goes and played supremely confident behind a quarterback straight out of mothballs in the second half.

Lest we forget, Harris delivered the ball into the hands of receiver Antonio Callaway for what would have been the tying touchdown had it not been stripped by LSU defensive back Dwayne Thomas. And though Harris didn’t have the skill set or training to efficiently run the two-minute offense, I’d say McElwain and Nussmeier maxed out his capabilities. Score one for excellent coaching.

What Gators fans love most, in addition to the winning, is when their team now has a shot against anybody in any game. And his willingness to attack and throw the ball downfield underlines the fact that McElwain’s team doesn’t play scared and is therefore equal to the task big challenges.

He’s no Spurrier when it comes to quotes or stirring the pot. But he’ll do.
Media availability is scarce and he is less than transparent. But I’ve been in at least one meeting of the press this season when he was forthcoming and forthright — none of it for print or broadcast.

There is another side of McElwain emerging that I am also starting to enjoy — good-natured kidding, a sense of humor, an appreciation for the absurd.

What other coaches hold clinics on the proper way to make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and keeps a loaf of bread and the condiments in his office to serve the culinary masterpieces to players?

Or claim to actually find football formations in the stars. Really! The Wall Street Journal reported that inspiration for his offense comes from studying the triangles in the heavens above which he often studies back home in Montana: “McElwain grew up in Missoula, just over an hour’s drive away from Flathead Lake, and returns with his family every summer. There are years when the sky is so clear, McElwain says, that he can make out the Northern Lights…. But this is more than just a spiritual getaway for McElwain. Almost every cluster of three stars in the sky forms a triangle — and that shape is central to McElwain’s offense.”

He may have plenty of stars to choose from in the constellation, but he doesn’t have many of them on the field —especially on offense. He has constructed the schematics for success without any great players. I’ll give you Callaway, the freshman phenom, but nobody else on that offense could start on an upper-tier SEC team. It’s the system and the coaching.

Here are a few other things to like about Florida’s coach:

— “He’s a good guy. He’ll take a beer with you,” says an SEC head coach.
— He goes sockless, but he’s not humorless. From the day he joked about his family dog Clarabelle possibly playing quarterback, you could tell he enjoys a good laugh.
— He loves food, loves to cook and loves to serve it to others. In one of his first news conferences, he actually helped serve pizza to the media. And, of course, there his passion for the art of making the perfect peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for his players, comrades and friends.
— He appreciates the heritage of Florida football, always paying tribute to the “statues” and the coaches before him, whom he acknowledges and honors. At Ray Graves’ memorial, he even locked arms with Spurrier, who was “coaching him up” on how to sing “We Are The Boys From Old Florida.”

This is not to say there won’t be speed bumps. Some of his players are going to get in trouble, just like everybody else’s. His team is going to drop a game or two that it shouldn’t. He’s going to have a bad day with the media or tick off a prominent booster. But I see a long and bright future for Gator football under McElwain.

The most important thing is that The Good Ship Gator has started turning around just in time, before hitting the iceberg.

The proof of further program will be partially revealed Saturday on EverBank Field. Win against Georgia and the Gators are pretty much a lock to go to the SEC championship game in Jim McElwain’s first year, needing only to beat league doormats Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

That would be the most amazing transformation since a guy in a visor coached up his team to the best record in the SEC during his first year. Yeah, I think they got the right guy.


(You can follow Buddy Martin on Twitter @buddyshow)
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McElwain not only won the press conference and the locker room, but has made Gator football good again and has reminded The Gator Nation how much fun it can be. He has produced the fastest turnaround of a program going south quicker than any Gators coach in history. He has put the fun back in Gators football. Right off, his Florida team learned how to win.

In my wildest dreams I didn’t see this coming, but it gradually unfolded by week four with the comeback win over Tennessee and the explosive win over Ole Miss.

Given the hand he drew on a thin roster, it was tough to discern how much good coaching would impact this squad. Clearly many of us underestimated the talents of McElwain and his coaching staff. And perhaps some of the talent as well.

Of his seven games as Florida coach, it was the loss to LSU which convinced me.

Offense coordinator Doug Nussmeier and McElwain crashed-course two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks into adequately efficient competitors, wisely keeping them motivated and interested. And when Will Grier was suspended, they were able to turn to Treon Harris.

An even better coaching job may have been the one by Mike Summers, whose offensive line was so anonymous that the government could have hidden people there in the witness protection program. It was pretty indicative that the unit was thin when senior Tripp Thurman cross-trained to play all five positions. And the use of defensive stalwarts like Bryan Cox on the goal-line offense has been masterful.

There have been some hiccups

This is not to say McElwain hasn’t had some hiccups. He whined a bit when he first arrived in Gainesville and saw how far behind Florida was in the arms race for facilities. He started slow with the media, as his answers were not exactly forthcoming. He had a nationally televised meltdown in his rage at running back Kelvin Taylor for making the throat-clashing gesture. To the coach’s credit, he repaired that relationship with Taylor and learned that it’s not nice to say four-letter words when the national TV audience can read your lips.

Let’s not pretend that Taylor has been transformed into Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook, but the line has blocked and pass-protected well enough so that the Gator offense could manage an average of 376 total yards per game (86th nationally).

Of course we all know it’s Geoff Collins’ defense that keeps the Gators alive in these games. Randy Shannon is a key part of that defensive staff as well. But don’t forget who hired them.

McElwain didn’t warrant my seal of confirmation until the game in Baton Rouge. Oddly enough, it was a 35-28 loss in which he got burnt by Les Miles in the football equivalent of baseball’s corny hidden-ball trick. Welcome to the SEC as a head coach, Mac.

The confidence McElwain exuded in the midst of a struggle impressed me because it had all the potential of unraveling into a blowout. His team’s will could have easily evaporated after being on the wrong end of a 28-14 halftime score. What impressed me was when he confidently told ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe after the intermission, “We’ll see what happens in the second half.”

It felt a little like the captain of the Titanic telling the crew he was stopping for ice, but McElwain’s team stayed steady as she goes and played supremely confident behind a quarterback straight out of mothballs in the second half.

Lest we forget, Harris delivered the ball into the hands of receiver Antonio Callaway for what would have been the tying touchdown had it not been stripped by LSU defensive back Dwayne Thomas. And though Harris didn’t have the skill set or training to efficiently run the two-minute offense, I’d say McElwain and Nussmeier maxed out his capabilities. Score one for excellent coaching.

A chance to win again

What Gators fans love most, in addition to the winning, is when their team now has a shot against anybody in any game. And his willingness to attack and throw the ball downfield underlines the fact that McElwain’s team doesn’t play scared and is therefore equal to the task big challenges.

He’s no Spurrier when it comes to quotes or stirring the pot. But he’ll do.

Media availability is scarce and he is less than transparent. But I’ve been in at least one meeting of the press this season when he was forthcoming and forthright — none of it for print or broadcast.

There is another side of McElwain emerging that I am also starting to enjoy — good-natured kidding, a sense of humor, an appreciation for the absurd.

What other coaches hold clinics on the proper way to make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and keeps a loaf of bread and the condiments in his office to serve the culinary masterpieces to players?

Or claim to actually find football formations in the stars. Really! The Wall Street Journal reported that inspiration for his offense comes from studying the triangles in the heavens above which he often studies back home in Montana: “McElwain grew up in Missoula, just over an hour’s drive away from Flathead Lake, and returns with his family every summer. There are years when the sky is so clear, McElwain says, that he can make out the Northern Lights…. But this is more than just a spiritual getaway for McElwain. Almost every cluster of three stars in the sky forms a triangle — and that shape is central to McElwain’s offense.”

He may have plenty of stars to choose from in the constellation, but he doesn’t have many of them on the field —especially on offense. He has constructed the schematics for success without any great players. I’ll give you Callaway, the freshman phenom, but nobody else on that offense could start on an upper-tier SEC team. It’s the system and the coaching.

Here are a few other things to like about Florida’s coach:

— “He’s a good guy. He’ll take a beer with you,” says an SEC head coach.

— He goes sockless, but he’s not humorless. From the day he joked about his family dog Clarabelle possibly playing quarterback, you could tell he enjoys a good laugh.

— He loves food, loves to cook and loves to serve it to others. In one of his first news conferences, he actually helped serve pizza to the media. And, of course, there his passion for the art of making the perfect peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for his players, comrades and friends.

— He appreciates the heritage of Florida football, always paying tribute to the “statues” and the coaches before him, whom he acknowledges and honors. At Ray Graves’ memorial, he even locked arms with Spurrier, who was “coaching him up” on how to sing “We Are The Boys From Old Florida.”

This is not to say there won’t be speed bumps. Some of his players are going to get in trouble, just like everybody else’s. His team is going to drop a game or two that it shouldn’t. He’s going to have a bad day with the media or tick off a prominent booster. But I see a long and bright future for Gator football under McElwain.

The most important thing is that The Good Ship Gator has started turning around just in time, before hitting the iceberg.

The proof of further program will be partially revealed Saturday on EverBank Field. Win against Georgia and the Gators are pretty much a lock to go to the SEC championship game in Jim McElwain’s first year, needing only to beat league doormats Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

That would be the most amazing transformation since a guy in a visor coached up his team to the best record in the SEC during his first year. Yeah, I think they got the right guy.

(You can follow Buddy Martin on Twitter @buddyshow)



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