University of Florida

Jim McElwain reaches deal to become Florida Gators football coach

Colorado State coach Jim McElwain watches a replay during a game against Alabama on Sept. 21, 2013.
Colorado State coach Jim McElwain watches a replay during a game against Alabama on Sept. 21, 2013. AP

The Gators finally got their man.

And all it cost them was the largest buyout agreement in college football history.

After a day of public posturing about a $7.5 million buyout, Colorado State’s Jim McElwain was hired Thursday as the University of Florida’s next head football coach.

McElwain, 52, agreed to a six-year contract averaging $3.5 million annually. He will be officially introduced Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

McElwain replaces Will Muschamp, who was dismissed Nov. 16 but coached the final two regular-season games. If UF (6-5) is selected for a bowl game, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will coach.

“Coach McElwain was someone we targeted from the beginning of the search,” UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. “The more we worked through the process and did our due diligence, coupled with our meeting and conversations with him and those around him, it was obvious he is the right person to lead the Florida Gator football program.”

But it took nearly three days to happen.

IMPASSE, THEN A DEAL

The saga started Tuesday, with Foley and a contingent of close advisers flying to Fort Collins, Colorado, to interview McElwain. An agreement appeared imminent, but Foley and top officials returned to Gainesville without a deal, as the schools reached an impasse over McElwain’s expensive buyout.

The sides ended the standoff Thursday, with the University Athletic Association agreeing to pay CSU $3 million over six years. The settlement also includes playing a game in Gainesville between 2017 to 2020 with a $2 million guarantee.

Meanwhile, McElwain wanted the UF job badly enough to pay $2 million to CSU out of pocket “over time.”

“It’s an honor to be a part of the one of most powerful brands in college athletics in the Florida Gators,” McElwain said in a release. “I’m humbled, yet very excited about the tremendous opportunity that Dr. [Bernie] Machen and Jeremy Foley have afforded me and my family. I can’t tell you how eager I am to get to Gainesville to set a course for who we are going to be and what we will be all about.”

Florida zeroed in on McElwain after Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze signed a four-year contract extension Monday.

McElwain, a quarterback guru, fulfills Foley’s search prerequisites, including integrity, character, experience and offensive acumen. He was 22-16 in three seasons at CSU, turning around a once-moribund program.

The Rams were 3-9 for three consecutive years before McElwain took over in 2012, but they won 10 games this season – including victories over rival Colorado and Boston College – for the first time since 2002.

“He has an engaging personality and is someone who can connect with a variety of audiences and he operates with a high level of integrity,” Foley said of McElwain.

TWO TITLES AT ALABAMA

McElwain won a pair of national titles as Alabama’s offensive coordinator from 2008-2011, coaching a Heisman Trophy winner (tailback Mark Ingram) and two Heisman finalists (tailback Trent Richardson and quarterback AJ McCarron) under Nick Saban.

He brings a potent offense to Florida.

CSU averaged 35.9 points a game this season – 25th nationally – and ranked seventh in the country in third-down efficiency (51 percent) and passing yards per game (323.6).

McElwain, a native of Missoula, Montana, played quarterback for Eastern Washington (1980-83) and coached quarterbacks and receivers at his alma mater from 1987-1994.

He was an assistant for 15 years in the Big Sky Conference before joining mentor John L. Smith at Louisville (2000-02) and then Michigan State (2003-05).

In 2006, he coached quarterbacks for one season with the Oakland Raiders. Following a one-year stint at Fresno State (2007), McElwain joined Saban’s staff at Alabama.

“He has a proven track record on the offensive side of the ball, has coached in the SEC, won two national championships and has had success as a head coach,” Foley said. “He has recruited the south and the state of Florida and has spent time coaching at the highest level in the NFL.”

McElwain has yet to sort out his staff, but – per multiple reports – aims to retain Durkin, defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson and possibly defensive line coach Brad Lawing.

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