The first thing Jim McElwain did after stepping onto the stage in the ballroom at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover was welcome everybody. The second thing he did was express his disgust over the way the 2015 season ended.
Typical SEC Media Days, really.
It’s so secret at this point that the Gators completely fell apart offensively toward the end of Jim McElwain’s first year, a trend that was responsible for sending Florida into the offseason on a three game losing streak. The Gators scored just two offensive touchdowns in those three losses, one of which was the second worst bowl loss in school history. Unlike his predecessor, McElwain won’t stand for it.
As winning ten games before the collapse begins sort of allow you to do, McElwain sort of eased his way into it: “I’m proud of those guys for holding themselves to a higher standards and getting to experience that SEC Championship. It was a lot of fun.”
And then he laid down the hammer: “I’m disappointed in how we finished 2015. It’s not something we’re proud of. And it’s not something that I take lightly. You know, you can’t just say, ‘well, we exceeded expectations’ and be satisfied, or call it good. Because, well, that wasn’t good.”
Offensive lineman David Sharpe echoed this sentiment. “Coach Mac expects us to be Gators, and play like it,” Sharpe commented. “So we have very high expectations of ourselves.”
As customary, McElwain then went on to praise a few players, such as Daniel McMillian, Luke Del Rio, Eddy Pineiro and Austin Appleby. He answered the obligatory questions about Nick Saban, with some of the reporters acting like they’d just found out that he once coached for him. He laughed off FSU buying themselves shiny state championship rings, and even joked about he’d have to ask Tennessee if the Vols or Georgia Bulldogs are the Gators’ biggest SEC rivals.
But I was most interested to see how he talked about the 2015 season, which overall had to be considered a success. With recruits and players undoubtedly watching, McElwain sent a message that the way in which his team finished last season was completely unacceptable. It would have been so easy to talk about what a long road he’d taken to get his team to Atlanta, and how his team could build off that. The underlying message had to have been one of “we need to improve,” because failure to understand and express that in the preseason- whether you win a national championship the year before or go 2-10- often spells trouble. It’s that he chose to focus on the negatives in his “we need to improve” message rather than making his statement about building off of success that resonated.
Elsewhere, each of the players that McElwain brought along with him nibbled, but wouldn’t bite when prompted about the Tennessee game. All three admitted to being fired up by the Vols appearing to be the favorite to win the division, but none provided any bulletin board material. On the contrary, each of them appeared to be fed up with having to answer questions about them.
From safety Marcus Maye:
“Yeah, we see it. We hear it all the time, every year. It is what it is. I guess they feel like we lost a lot of pieces, but I feel like we’re just as talented with the guys that are stepping in for them. We’re always going to be the Gators, and they’re always going to be Tennessee, so what you see is what you get.”
From offensive tackle David Sharpe:
“It’s a real head shaker to me. We’re just ready to play, and I think it’s going to be a great game this year. I can’t wait to go up there.”
From linebacker Jarrad Davis:
“The streak is… something. Just looking at all the history behind it, you don’t want to let it slip. You don’t want to let it fall out of your hands, because those guys put in the hours, the blood, the sweat and the time to put themselves in position to win that game as many times as they have. It’s all of our responsibilities to win that game one more time. Each year, just win it one more time. Keep adding to that record, keep adding to it.”
Allow me to be what I’m sure is the fourth writer to put this line in front of your eyes: I can’t wait for that Tennessee game.