The Martin Chronicles: The McElChamp

Posted at 9:47 am on 09/14/2015 by Buddy Martin

I’ve witnessed some of the best and worst rants at Florida Field/Ben Hill Griffin over more than five decades, but none as volatile or lengthy as the one Saturday night by Florida coach Jim McElwain.

It deserves its own name, so therefore I dub it The McElChamp.

When running back Kelvin Taylor scored Saturday night to put Florida up two touchdowns over East Carolina, he followed it up with the worst kind of celebration in college football: The despicable, moronic, gangsta throat slash that in these times of racial unrest is also reprehensible and offensive.

Taylor got more than just flagged for it. He got busted by his coach on national TV with one of the most vitriolic verbal assaults in NCAA history.

I’ve witnessed some of the best and worst rants at Florida Field/Ben Hill Griffin over more than five decades, but none as volatile or lengthy as the one Saturday night by Florida coach Jim McElwain.

Some of Will Muschamp’s best were a 9.3 on the Richter Scale. By comparison, Steve Spurrier may have done a couple of 7s or 8s back in the ‘90s. Kid stuff.

I think McElwain did a 9.8 on Taylor, which would make it an unofficial school record. All that was missing to qualify for a 10 was the Bobby Knight chair tossing.

Actually they were three mini-rants wrapped into one. The fact that cameras and mics are everywhere makes these modern rants more impactful in our living room, of course.

This wasn’t just a teachable moment — it was a four-year curriculum with a Masters in Decorum.

Whether McElwain realized it or not, he was centerstage on ESPN’s camera and the players sort of backed away, putting them both on full public display to the West stands and skyboxes where the Bull Gators sit.

McElwain accosted the junior running back not once, not twice, but three times as Taylor stood there stoically, being dressed down and undressed at the same time.

It reminded me of the old days in baseball when Earl Weaver, Billy Martin or Lou Piniella went after umpires. Except this looked more like a seizure than a rant.

First there was the umpire’s “you’re out!” move and a thrust downtown with his right hand; then the eyeball to eyeball confrontation with open hands to the side as McElwain’s hair shimmied like it was on a bobblehead. And finally, the pirouette/spin move as he was walking away, followed by a pointed elbow slam-down on an imaginary neck or head, WWE style.

One writer in the press box said it was “Muschamp x 10.”

Another  said McElwain “channeled his inner Nick Saban.”

Even mild-mannered Mick Hubert, the voice of the Gators, got into the act with: "We’ve just seen Coach Mac 'lit up' for the first time on the Gators sideline.’’

According to a witness is the West stands, the fans were confused when McElwain came charging back to the bench in search of Taylor, all fired up and highly animated.

“After watching for 15 seconds,” said Luke, sitting 15 rows up, “it was pretty evident Coach Mac wasn’t being positive! Once he started shaking while yelling, the crowd started watching.”

There was at least one mic which picked up audio. reported the Florida coach screamed (in a bleeped out version): “Look at me! Don’t look down! F—ing be a man! You let your f—ing team down. That’s f—ing bull——. And you think it’s f—ing OK? F—ing you kidding me.”

Which might also be a team record for a coach using the F word in one rant. Count ‘em — five.

All over the stupid throat-slashing gesture which college football cracked down on years ago because of its street-gang implications.

And committed by an otherwise good citizen who practices hard, plays hard and has bought into the Big Mac way.

The McElChamp rant didn’t end there. The Florida coach carried it over to the locker room where he called the act “embarrassing," saying his team “didn’t deserve to win the game.”

“We've got a long way to go and it starts with the understanding that selfish acts hurt the team, and it will be dealt with. This is not how it's going to be done around here anymore. It's not going to happen. It's not! It was embarrassing. Embarrassing to our administration, embarrassing to the university, and it came back to bite us in the end.”

Having said all that, I can see why something as moronic as Taylor's throat-slashing gesture was so upsetting to a Florida coach who has said time after time that he was going to make fewer penalties a major goal since infractions of this nature do reflect on the culture which McElwain is trying to change.

If nothing else, a player like Taylor, the son of Florida All-American Fred Taylor and part of Gator Royalty, should have known this was not only poor taste and against the rules, but could hurt his team, which it did on the ensuing kickoff. East Carolina took advantage with a touchdown that closed the gap to one score. Then Florida had to hang on just to win.

Frankly, I was surprised to see Taylor back on the field the next series and will be even more surprised if there isn’t more fallout this week.

Welcome to the Jim McElwain show. I wouldn’t want to be Taylor at the next team meeting. Never mind the teaching moment. Kelvin Taylor now has his Masters.

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SATURDAY SEC STRUGGLES: Maybe Les Miles was a bit overzealous in suggesting the entire SEC should be ranked in the Top 25.

Tennessee played well before losing in two overtimes to Oklahoma, 31-24, but it was still an SEC loss to the Big 12. And it came on an interception thrown by Vols quarterback Josh Dobbs.

For all you Arkansas fans who said the Razorbacks would win the SEC West: They lost to Toledo, 16-12. Leaving us to suggest to Brett Bielema that instead of complaining about his next eight opponents being ranked, maybe he should have concerned himself about the one that was unranked first.

Jacksonville State outplayed the team favored to win the SEC and Auburn had to scramble to prevail 27-20 in overtime as quarterback Jeremy Johnson was intercepted for the fourth and fifth time this season.

Florida had to overcome the feisty East Carolina Pirates' last bid to survive, 31-14, in The Swamp.

Missouri had to come back to beat Arkansas State,  27-20.

Meanwhile, interceptions and fumbles played a big part in South Carolina’s loss to Kentucky, 26-22, in Columbia. It was Kentucky’s first SEC road win since 2009. And LSU fought off Dak Prescott’s late rally to beat Mississippi State 21-19.

So what does this all mean?

It’s time to take a breath and come to the realization that what Lou Holtz said is true: “Teams don’t just change from year to year — they change from week to week.” And good football is played outside the SEC — even outside the Power Five.

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Memo to Jimbo Fisher: When Everett Golson struggles next time, as he did Saturday, just ask him to turn around and hand it off 40 times a game to Dalvin Cook. After Cook's splendid performance against a gritty South Florida team Saturday --  266 yards and three touchdowns -- his coach complimented him for being "mature" and maintaining focus throughout his legal battles. As outstanding as Cook was, Jimbo stopped short of saying his star sophomore running back was the best he's ever coached. "But he's in the roll call," said Fisher. "I'll put it that way."

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Let’s be honest: Except for Florida's rivals and a bunch of dunderheads and killjoys, we pretty much all loved Tim Tebow. I even have a friend who covers another team, an SEC rival of Florida’s, whose wife wore a Tebow jersey under her blouse when their team played against the Gators.

He is unquestionably the most popular player in SEC history and still one of the most popular in the NFL, where he no longer works.

I will always remember the unmitigated joy of Urban Meyer saying: “I’m the luckiest coach in the world! I get to coach Tim Tebow every day!”

I mention this on a week when Tebow’s NFL cameo role very likely has ended as he picks up the headset on the SEC Network to broadcast another set of signals.

Looking back now, I realize now how privileged I was to observe the magnificence of this young athlete in the primary colors of his college campaign. And I shall always see him in orange and blue — Florida’s and not Denver’s — but certainly not Philadelphia Green.

And I remained confounded, that after more than 50 years of watching football, how it is that a young athlete so committed to all the right things, giving his heart to the game and setting examples for so many young people to emulate cannot be worthy of a roster spot somewhere among 32 teams.

Don’t make me drag out all those stats — tell you about the two national championships, playoff game win and AFC West Division title that Tebow somehow manufactured. Don’t make me whip out that long list of NFL quarterbacks who have NEVER won anything.

No, let’s just close the door softly and whisper a polite “Thank you, Tim.” You gave a lot more than you got.

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