Memo to Gator Nation: McElwain deserves two years of leeway

Being the head coach of the Florida Gators’ football team is quite a unique job. In the program’s 110 year history, 24 different men held that title before Jim McElwain; three of them held it on only an interim basis. It’s a coveted job to hold, particularly in the last few decades, and the Gators’ fairly recent arrival to the national stage instantly equips each new coach with a heavy set of expectations.

But it may be time to temper them. At least to start.

At this point, we all know what Jim McElwain thinks of the roster Will Muschamp left him. In short, nothing good. And he’s right. Muschamp can defend himself and the job he did at Florida all he wants, but leaving his successor with eight scholarship offensive linemen- two of whom got injured, and one of them permanently- is probably not grounds for hitting back with a sarcastic quip about McElwain’s dog. We all know exactly why he claimed to have left McElwain a great team, too- if McElwain wins big, it’s only to be expected, and Muschamp gets tons of praise, and if McElwain stumbles and goes 5-7 in his first season, Muschamp gets to accuse of him of being an even worse coach than he is because he failed to win with what’s supposed to be a loaded roster. It’s like he’s saying, “I did all the hard work and gave you a roster stockpiled with talent, a ten year old girl could at least coach that team to a Capital One Bowl.”

Don’t let him fool you. This is merely the latest use of a tactic we’ve grown quite familiar with- twisting the truth/exaggerating/simply lying to salvage his own image. He may have left Florida with a good defense, but as we saw in 2013, a good defense on its own isn’t worth more than four wins. Leaving Florida with a good defense compared to leaving Florida with a good team is a difference of night and day, and Muschamp left Florida in a metaphorical night- and quite a dark one, at that.

But while I never try to hide my disdain for Muschamp, that’s not what this is about. It’s about McElwain, and how the depleted roster he now takes command of is not to be blamed on him. Therefore, we as fans need to give McElwain two full years before we start to judge him.

The first step needed to fix a problem is admitting that you have one. McElwain has done that by saying that the roster Muschamp left him with is insufficient. That’s good, now onto the next step: crafting a plan to fix it. McElwain did that by identifying top offensive recruits such as Martez Ivey and Jordan Scarlett and making it his top priority to land them. The third step would be to put that plan into action and see it succeed, and by receiving LOIs from both Martez Ivey and Jordan Scarlett, he certainly accomplished that. He also landed several other quality recruits, such as OLs Tyler Jordan and Brandon Sandifer and running back Jordan Cronkrite. So it’s time to give credit where it’s due: McElwain came in, took over what wasn’t even a top 70 class and turned it into a top 20 class by landing several big offensive players. The lack of competent pieces to a championship team on Florida’s offense has turned into a roster loaded with more than competent pieces because of McElwain.

Unfortunately, those “more than competent pieces” are freshmen- college football’s ultimate double edged sword.

Freshmen can’t really be counted on to be extremely useful, particularly when you rely on a bunch of them to produce at once. If they turn out to be All-Americans, then great, but you can’t bank on it. Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are exceptions, not the norm. Therefore, it isn’t fair to ask McElwain and his staff to turn Ivey/Jordan/Sandifer into Outland Trophy winners, or Scarlett and Cronkrite into Doak Walker Award winners, in 2015.

And what I’ve written so far doesn’t even take into account the fact that the rest of the Gators’ offense is similarly raw. With three exceptions (Trip Thurman, DeMarcus Robinson and Kelvin Taylor) every single offensive player who will see field this year is vastly inexperienced, including Will Grier at QB. McElwain and his assistants did great work in acquiring more talent, but asking a team that will start so many inexperienced players on offense, talented as they may be, to guide Florida to national prominence is asking for too much. It’s not fair to McElwain to demand a trip to Atlanta from him with a new QB, four new starters on the offensive line and only two dependable skill position players.

So whatever happens in 2015, we as Florida fans need to understand that McElwain is working with a seriously depleted roster, one that Muschamp is responsible for. If Florida loses six games, the finger of blame goes right at Muschamp. He’s the guy who left Florida with barely enough offensive linemen to fill a first team line, let alone a second string line. He’s also the guy who ended his tenure 10-14, and then claimed that he left his successor with a great team in a last ditch attempt to save face. The fact that he’s simply a hated figure in Gainesville is going to make it easier to sling more verbal abuse on him, and while that’s fine with me- he deserves it- we have to understand one big thing. Objectively speaking, he left the Gators with a mess and it really will be his fault if Florida struggles this year, unless the Gators are really bad, like 2-10 or something unimaginable like that. Just realize that no coach in the country would look at Florida’s roster and say, “ooh, yeah, I can win a national championship with that.” And that’s on Muschamp.

Then there’s 2016, a year in which we have the right to expect a fair amount of improvement from 2015 but still not one in which we can really judge McElwain. The thought process is similar, albeit with slightly less patience; McElwain will still be getting settled in, making adjustments based on what happened in 2015, and will still be rather new at being an SEC head coach. And whatever roster problems on offense Florida has can still be fairly attributed to Muschamp, although I tend to expect more from sophomores who saw a good amount of reps as freshmen.

But while it’s totally acceptable for fans to start getting antsy if Florida struggles in 2016, it still doesn’t give any of us the right to want a new coach. Hiring a new coach is just about guaranteed to set the program back a year or two, unless it’s a case like FSU or Oregon with an established veteran assistant that gets promoted from within (or Ohio State with, you know, Urban Meyer). Giving McElwain two years only to fire him and start over puts Florida right back where they are now, if with a slightly more competent roster. Recruits will decommit. Players will transfer. Assistant coaches will leave. It’s a mess. Now sometimes you have to grit your teeth and fight through that mess when you’ve got an even bigger mess like Muschamp, who gradually crippled the Gator program, but barring heavy sanctions or a pair of two win seasons, it’s impossible to think that ordering a new coach- a side effect of which you know will be that mess- will get the program back to where it’s supposed to be any sooner.

So there you have it. McElwain needs two years of criticism free leeway to do what he feels he needs to do to get the program back on top. After that, it’s on him. Although I like Muschamp even less than Brock Berlin, I can’t objectively see any possible way that a poor season in 2017 would be his fault. But since it’s not 2017 yet, we’ve got to fully support McElwain through the ups and downs, good times and bad, and successes and failures alike.

In other words, in all kinds of weather.

10 thoughts on “Memo to Gator Nation: McElwain deserves two years of leeway

  1. “It’s like he’s saying, “I did all the hard work and gave you a roster stockpiled with talent, a ten year old girl could at least coach that team to a Capital One Bowl.””

    It’s called the Citrus Bowl now, not the Capital One Bowl.

  2. I totally agree. Muschamp left a mess that Coach Mac has to fix. Now, not only fix an ignored offense, but also instill fundamentals and discipline. The Swamp is no longer a place to fear under Muschamp, but it will be again. I am not as concerned with the win-loss record as I am with devopment.

  3. I think this article is 100% correct I tried to give Muschamp the benefit of the doubt for so long , but he screwed us over so bad. We are in this situation because of him 100% McElwain deserves the time he needs the time.

  4. I love your statement here, Neil. Our fan base has to consider the current state of the program, and realize that manufacturing championships is not as easy as we experienced under Urban Meyer. In the SEC, it’s not easy at all. And guys like Tebow, Harvin, and Spikes only come around every so often.

    It would be silly to argue that fans can play a big role in determining the success of a football program, but I WOULD argue that fans have successfully shown the ability to further drive the moral of a program down. It’s frustrating to be at this lower level of competition — but this program hasn’t done any rebuilding since Meyer left! Muschamp’s first UF defense had Floyd, Easley, Powell, Elam, Bostic, Jenkins and more! We’ve always had a top tier defense. Needless to say, our offense took a step back these last few years…so that means rebuilding starts in 2015.

    Gator Nation has to be prepared that our team just doesn’t have the full roster of players to be able to be a contender in the SEC. I think we have the defense to do it. I think we have some really good talent at our skill positions — plenty of untapped talent. But we have inexperience at quarterback and an offensive line that just might get exposed a few weeks this season.

    What I’m saying is this: You don’t have to support McElwain, but we all should right now. If he runs the same kind of “play not to lose” offense that Muschamp ran, then he doesn’t deserve our support! But I trust that we have an offensive mind that is wise enough to ADAPT to the available players, and run the most effective offense for our given personnel. I say as long as Jim McElwain shows the initiative to make our offense aggressive and focused on scoring points at all times, we have the right choice as HC.

    There’s a good chance we drop 5 games in the L collumn this year. That’s just our schedule and we are long past the days of writing off South Carolina, Missouri, and Kentucky as sure-things. I just think the Florida Football program needs the support of its fan base — one of the strongest in all of college sports — now more than ever.

    1. He may play not to lose this year because of the numbers but that is not what his overall m.o. will be. He does whatever it takes to win. See the 2009 SECCG

  5. Only an idiot would expect great things to happen this year or the next. But, let’s face reality, a sizable percentage of gator fans are idiots. I heard one, Jeff Prosser, a Jax sports radio host, says that he expects UF to be back to winning the East in 2016, and if UF is not at least very close to that goal, something is wrong with McElwain. He’s not alone, while many Gator fans realize that coaching is not the only reason the Gators have become mediocre, it has something to do with the lack of talent as well, there are still many yahoos who think someone is a great player simply because they wear a Gator uniform. This is not a one year, or even a two year rebuilding job, it will take longer than that. What if UF still doesn’t have a good quarterback on campus? Don’t give any nonsense about Will Grier, he hasn’t played a down and is no more highly touted than Brantley of Driskel, who both sucked. If that is true, does UF start a true freshman in 2016? Is UF even going to be able to get a great quarterback? The writer says that McElwain answered UF’s offensive needs with linemen and running backs, but neglects to mention the failure to get a quarterback or more than one receiver. Almost all of the top quarterbacks for 2016 are already committed to other schools. UF went down in flames trying to flip Francois from FSU last year. If both Grier and Harris are no better than the parade of clowns UF has trotted out since Tebow left, when is UF going to get a good quarterback? It’s easy to jump on Muschamp, but what other coach could win eleven games with a dud like Driskel at quarterback?

    1. Coach Mcelwain can do better with less than Muschamp did. Muschamp was a joke as head coach, coach Mac is the real thing.

  6. To respond to your Facebook post today (11/9)….
    The Gators aren’t out of the woods yet. Fantastic start to the Mac Era, but we’re smack dab in the middle of the rebuild. Let’s not convince ourselves the Gators have returned to their rightful spot atop the SEC. All this season is gonna do is put even more pressure on him & staff if they happen to stumble.
    The O-line is still a wreck, and the QB play is mediocre. Vandy game-planned perfectly to force Treon into mistakes & sacks. They lined up w/3 or 4 down then after spreading out to keep Treon in the pocket they sent the extra blitzer through the gap in the middle. The result? 5 sacks, 8 runs/scrambles for 34 yards, a fumble, an interception and 12 of 24 passing for 158 yards and 0 TDs. If you think Alabama didn’t take notes, you’re crazy.
    We’ll see how great a coach & planner Mac is when the opposing teams employ the same fairly simple defensive plan going forward this season.
    UF needs more offensive talent to get on campus while hoping the defense can sustain their dominating play in the interim.
    They’re not back yet. Let’s stop patting ourselves on the back. As I said before, I’m not going to be satisfied until UF shows up on Saturdays with the expectation from everyone on the field, in the stands and watching on tv that they’re going to win.

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