It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Oregon, fresh off a 4-8 season just two years after playing for a national title, is about to be looking for a new coach.
What does come as a surprise is where Oregon is supposedly looking for Mark Helfrich’s potential replacement.
Rumors have begun swirling, first from USA Today’s Dan Wolken, that Jim McElwain is interested in leaving Florida for Oregon after just two seasons. Wolken uses a modicum of logic to McElwain being interested: many Gator fans have been extremely unappreciative of him despite him taking the Gators to the SEC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons, and the man who hired him, Jeremy Foley, is gone, implying that he doesn’t have that built in trust with his school’s AD.
But it’s also extremely difficult to fathom McElwain going anywhere anytime soon. He still hasn’t had the chance to develop his own QB from scratch yet, and he’s got a pair of young and raw but extremely promising quarterbacks in Feleipe Franks and Jake Allen waiting to be developed. He came to Florida because he could recruit QB’s of star caliber, and we got a tease of what he could do with them for the six games he had Will Grier. Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby do not have the talent nor the mettle Grier does, but Franks and Allen might. And so I can’t imagine McElwain walking away from that.
Oh yeah, and there’s also the fact that McElwain’s Gator team is already loaded at the other positions, and even with what many forecast to be heavy personnel losses on both sides of the ball, the Gators still figure to be loaded in the coming years. Florida has developed a legitimate running back in Jordan Scarlett, and legitimate big play threat receivers in Antonio Callaway and Tyrie Cleveland. And there won’t be Caleb Brantley, Jarrad Davis, Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson or Marcus Maye on the defense, but there’s an abundance of young talent with guys like David Reese, Cece Jefferson and Chauncey Gardner who have stepped up thus far and appear more than capable of carrying the torch when the upperclassmen leave. I can’t imagine McElwain walking away from that, either.
So when thinking about this rationally, it makes no sense that McElwain would give up on what he’s started building to take over a program that’s fallen from greater heights to lower depths than the Gator program he took over. Then again, it’s hard to really tell what McElwain is thinking or feeling at a given moment, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
UPDATE: McElwain has been telling recruits that the Oregon rumors are just a lot of “hot air.” Again, I see reason to believe that, but I also feel pretty confident that he’d say that either way to avoid arousing suspicion. And even if he was leaving, he has a chance to coach himself to a championship on Saturday, and failure to at least attempt to quell the tumors would likely serve as a huge distraction for a team that’s already massive underdogs. So regardless, take that with a grain of salt.