When UF cornerback Jalen Tabor saw his head coach run toward midfield late in the third quarter Saturday, he knew the moment was about to escalate.
Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio was still lying on his back about 10 yards away, his left knee injured moments earlier on a late, low hit by North Texas defensive lineman Joshua Wheeler, as Jim McElwain made sure the Mean Green’s sideline heard what he had on his mind.
When Tabor saw the North Texas bench begin to clear and UF starters Fred Johnson and DeAndre Goolsby grabbed hold of McElwain, he knew he needed to get his coach back to the sidelines before anything happened.
“He preaches just don’t let the emotions of the game get the best of you,” Tabor said. “... He always gets us right and I just wanted to return the favor.”
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And while the moment subsided without any punches thrown and the Gators cruised to a 32-0 victory, McElwain’s tirade in front of an announced crowd of 86,848 in The Swamp brought to life what the players he’s coached over the years already knew: McElwain cares for his players and will do whatever he needs to do to defend them.
“Coach Mac is a coach that is completely for us,” senior linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “I mean, it just speaks volumes to see him really do something like that, to really see him put himself out there and in a position like that. It lets us know that we have him and he has us and we will always have his back.”
For McElwain, who is entering his second year as UF’s head coach and 30th year in the coaching industry overall, he strives to make relationships with his players personal.
Whether it’s through tough love after a missed play, biting sarcasm spoken through a slight Montana drawl or a simple nod of approval after they exit his office, McElwain said he wants the players to know they have his support.
“I'm pretty transparent,” McElwain said Monday. “They know how much I care. They know how much I want them to be successful, not just as a player but successful when this football thing is over.”
Quarterback Austin Appleby, a graduate transfer from Purdue who will be starting in Del Rio’s place for the No. 19 Gators this weekend against No. 14 Tennessee, echoed that sentiment.
“I’ve never been around a place where our coach truly cared,” he said. “It’s a lot of talk at some places and you don’t really know if they truly got you.There’s no doubt about it here.
“Coach Mac has our back.”
He showed that on Saturday, and he plans to keep showing it.
“I think when you look at the track record of the guys that have played before in me in the past they all know that I'm a phone call away to help them in anything that they ever need,” McElwain said. “And to me, that's what life's all about."
McElwain announced Monday that he is closing off practice to the media this week as the Gators prepare for Tennessee. Normally, the media gets to see about three periods of practice on Tuesdays and Wednesday. “There’s some things we kind of need to do to that I’d just appreciate that we kept to the Gators and go on from there,” McElwain said. “Nothing drastic. But obviously we have some new things we have to work on.”
Florida’s Oct. 1 road game against Vanderbilt is set for a noon kickoff. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.