University of Florida

Jim McElwain embraces pressure to win as new Florida Gators coach

Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain speaks during an introductory press conference on December 6, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. McElwain has left Colorado State and replaces ex-Florida coach Will Muschamp who was fired earlier this season.
Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain speaks during an introductory press conference on December 6, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. McElwain has left Colorado State and replaces ex-Florida coach Will Muschamp who was fired earlier this season. Getty Images

Jim McElwain wore a suit that didn’t quite fit, dress shoes with no socks and tie that was Tennessee orange.

He joked about stray dogs, tailgating with retiring Florida president Dr. Bernie Machen and coaching for the Oakland Raiders.

But in the end, UF’s next football coach — despite not being labeled a proverbial “home-run hire” — hit his introductory news conference out of the park Saturday.

“What an honor,” McElwain said. “How humbling it is to be a part of one of the greatest brands in all of college athletics, to have the opportunity to be a part of something that’s real special. … This is something that you dream out.”

McElwain agreed to a six-year deal with the Gators on Thursday, leaving Colorado State after three seasons.

The offensive guru — and Alabama’s offensive coordinator during a two-title run from 2008 to 2011 — was 22-16 with the Rams, including 10-2 this season.

“We spent a lot of hours researching and vetting a lot of different coaches’ names. At the end of the day, Jim’s name kept coming to the top of the list,” UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said. “He’s an offensive‑minded coach, his track record on the offensive side of the ball is special. You can look it up, see the records. … The job he has done at Colorado State is nothing short of a miracle. … He’s a fit for the University of Florida. …

“Add to the fact he’s been in this league. He knows what it’s like to compete in the Southeastern Conference. Obviously, won two national championships in the league. He’s recruited the state of Florida. Every single box kept getting checked next to Jim’s name.”

McElwain replaces Will Muschamp, fired on Nov.16, but the 52-year-old coach hardly delved into football specifics Saturday, instead invoking his Western folk humor and effervescent personality to discuss life lessons, his background and “the process” — a term famously repeated by mentor Nick Saban.

He hasn’t made any staff decisions yet or met with the team, and he’s only in the infancy stages of evaluating Florida’s talent.

Recruiting is his No.1 priority right now.

“We’ll hit the road next week and get to as many places as humanly possible,” he said. “That’s one of those things, ‘Recruit daily or die.’”

McElwain talked in broad terms about building a foundation for an explosive attack, discussing the influences over his 30-year coaching tenure.

“Here is who I am,” he said. “I’m the dog they dropped off down at the Humane Society. He has a little bit of about every breed in him. Whatever the situation is, you try to bring that breed out that helps success. … A lot of the guys in this business think they’ve invented it. It’s been done. Somewhere along the way, somebody did it before, and I’ve had great influences on my life as it goes through the coaching standpoint.”

Florida is hoping for an offensive renaissance after four years of mediocrity (including three consecutive finishes in the bottom 20 nationally) under Muschamp, and McElwain is confident he can produce a seamless transition — this despite UF’s dire offensive line situation next season and the fact there might not be a quarterback on the roster that fits his hybrid one-back, pistol scheme.

“You got to understand this, I believe I can win with my dog Claire-a-bell,” McElwain said. “That’s the attitude. There’s good players here. That’s just our responsibility to get that going.”

After four mostly frustrating seasons in Gainesville, McElwain understands the pressure to return the program back to prominence.

He’s embracing it.

“Here’s the beauty. Pressure man, that’s awesome. That’s why we do this,” he said, emphatically. “I mean the one thing that I love is pressure. I never look at it as feeling the pressure. I always look at it as applying the pressure and I’m excited about that part of it. If there’s no pressure, why wake up in the morning? That’s really what drives me anyways.”

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