Jim McElwain was brought to Florida to fix a sputtering offense that left fans disappointed and skilled players wasted. He couldn’t do so in two-plus years in Gainesville, and it led to his leaving on Sunday.
But it wasn’t only his lack of offensive resurrection that caused UF athletics director Scott Stricklin to make the change. Stricklin said Sunday the decision to part ways was “mutually agreed upon,” though he added it wasn’t determined by the one loss to Georgia or any singular factor.
“This is more than just wins and losses,” he said, “and I’ll just leave it at that.”
The search for a new, permanent coach will start immediately. Defensive coordinator and former University of Miami coach Randy Shannon will lead the program through the end of the season.
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“I think we are very fortunate,” Stricklin said, “to have a guy like Randy on our staff at a time like this.”
This result was unthinkable entering the season. Even if Florida didn’t make a third consecutive trip to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and even if it didn’t win it for the first time under McElwain, his first two years were considered too promising to toss him after one bad season.
Instead, he only made it seven games through the 2017 season — a season his team entered ranked No. 17 — before being forced out. He finished his tenure in Gainesville with a 22-12 record.
The real heat started on Oct. 23, when McElwain told reporters — unprompted — that he, his family and his players had received threats, including death threats, following a pair of losses to LSU and Texas A&M. When pressed for details, he had none. Florida released a statement that day that left some wondering about the truth of McElwain’s claims.
Stricklin was asked Sunday if those comments factored into McElwain’s departure.
“Monday created a different story line and caused a lot of distractions,” he said. “It’s hard to speculate on what would have happened had last week not occurred. It’s hard to speculate on that piece.”
Some speculation about a rift between McElwain and the athletic department developed following those comment, reaching its peak about five hours before kickoff against Georgia. That’s when sports attorney and UF grad Darren Heitner tweeted, citing anonymous sources, that Florida’s boosters were being instructed to pool money for McElwain’s buyout, that Stricklin had a statement ready to fire McElwain regardless of what happened against Georgia and that McElwain’s agent was negotiating the buyout. Florida denied that report.
When that rivalry turned into a 42-7 rout, ESPN reported, citing “multiple sources,” that Florida was exploring whether it could fire McElwain with cause and avoid his contract buyout of over $12 million. That report said the “with cause” argument stemmed from McElwain’s death-threat claims, for which he apparently never produced any evidence.
Stricklin said UF and McElwain have come to an agreement on a buyout, but nothing has been signed yet.
McElwain called Florida a destination job since his first day, right down to when he was let go.
“This is a dream job,” he said following the loss to Georgia. “Obviously, I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to deliver in the time I’ve been here. … This is one of those places that I’ve said from the start, that you have an opportunity, even being able to be in a game like this, I mean, it’s something that’s real special.”
He also said he could win with his dog Clarabelle at quarterback, though, which was never tested but seems unlikely given what happened with the quarterbacks he did have.
McElwain’s offense ranked 101st and 116th in yards his first two seasons and is ranked 113th so far this season. In Will Muschamp’s final season in Gainesville, the Gators finished 96th. And in scoring, the discrepancy is even worse.
Florida ranked 96th, 107th and 109th in McElwain’s three years. It ranked 56th in Muschamp’s last year.
“We haven’t been good on offense,” McElwain said. “I get it. We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t won enough. Haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s life. That is this business, and I take full responsibility for all of it.”
Stricklin agreed with McElwain about the problems, whether on or off the field, being McElwain’s responsibility.
“There’s a lot that went into it,” Stricklin said, opting to keep those details private.
He agreed with McElwain, though, about Florida being a destination. He said the search for the next coach will be national, though he won’t contact any coaches directly until after their regular seasons end. He didn’t talk about any possible candidates. And he doesn’t believe, despite two head football coaches splitting in fewer than four years, expectations at Florida are too high.
“He called it a dream job,” Stricklin said of McElwain’s final interview as UF’s coach. “I think this is a dream job for somebody.”
McElwain said after the Georgia loss there hadn’t been any buyout negotiations to his knowledge, and that Stricklin hadn’t met with him about a potential departure. But he also sounded like a man unsurprised about what happened the next day. Stricklin also wasn’t surprised.
“You’re constantly evaluating,” he said, “and there are things that happen while you are doing the evaluation that sometimes make you ask questions.”
As for McElwain, he’s unlikely to address reporters again at Florida. He wanted to focus on his players in one of his final answers as Florida’s coach.
“I’ve made mistakes in my life,” he said Saturday, “and yet I’ll stand by everything that occurred. … I’m proud of our team. I am. I know we haven’t won, but those guys are what it’s all about.”