For McElwain, the Week of Coaching Hell is now complete, from his unsubstantiated death threat claim on Monday to Georgia likely putting the kiss of death on him Saturday at EverBank Field.
It’s not hard to imagine McElwain being off the sidelines next week against Missouri, let alone in 2018. Even if McElwain is allowed to finish the season and the Gators somehow win three of their remaining four winnable games, it doesn’t change the fact Florida’s program is regressing or, at best, in stagnation.
At this point, the McElwain situation is so untenable, it’s hard to envision Florida wanting to keep its third-year head coach around. The wounds are just too gaping.
Certainly, judging by the Gators’ listless performance in a 42-7 beatdown by No. 3-ranked Georgia and McElwain’s repeated public relations gaffes since making his death-threat allegation, he has put himself squarely in pink-slip territory.
From a job security standpoint, he’s now as toxic as Tennessee’s Butch Jones and may have even surged past Arkansas’ Bret Bielema. And judging by his post-game news conference — where the first eight questions and 13 of 15 pertained to his job status or the bizarre events of the past week — McElwain sounded like a coach about to be sent to the unemployment line.
He made no attempt to dissuade a media interrogation that barely made any inquiries about the game, which resulted in UF’s biggest defeat to Georgia since 1982 and allowing the most rushing yards (292) in his 34-game tenure.
McElwain, 22-12 overall and 16-6 in the SEC, showed no emotion when asked if he’d be surprised to not be employed by Sunday. He sounded like a coach resigned to that possibility.
“Nothing in this world surprises me,” McElwain said. “I know what I was brought here to do. We haven’t been good on offense. I get it. We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t won enough. We haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s why that is this business, and I take full responsibility for all of it.”
Even before kickoff, the waves of McElwain discontent were in full motion. An ESPN report, attributed to anonymous sources, said UF was going to try and fire McElwain for just cause, which would void his $12.9 million buyout.
And that report came after Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin felt compelled to refute a tweet from a Fort Lauderdale sports attorney that the school and/or boosters were in the process of raising money to buy out his contract. It didn’t help McElwain’s mood when he got wind of that before the team’s pregame meal.
“I was as surprised as anybody when I was going to team dinner,” McElwain said. “You know, those eggs didn’t taste real good.”
Stricklin now has two stomach-churning options – he can either fire McElwain on Sunday or spend the rest of this season listening to UF’s disgruntled fans screaming for him to get the ax out. If necessary, UF has a qualified interim head coach on staff in defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, the former University of Miami boss.
What a bizarre turn of events in Gatorland. It’s easily the strangest in UF football since former coach Urban Meyer quit in December, 2009, then called an audible and returned. In a span of six days, McElwain has managed to go from a head coach on a lukewarm seat, to one who deserves to be on the shortest possible leash, and now appearing to be in an on-deck circle for lame duck coaches.
Before Saturday’s unmitigated disaster, there was at least a sliver of a chance McElwain could salvage some job security. Either win as a 14-point underdog, or keep the outcome against Georgia in doubt for a while, but it never came close to happening.
Florida didn’t start out playing like it wanted McElwain to stick around. The game was over in half a quarter, which is all the time the unbeaten Bulldogs (8-0) needed to build a 21-0 lead after tailback Sony Michel ran 74 yards untouched until he got to the end zone. Florida showed momentary life by not allowing any points in the second quarter, but everything quickly disintegrated after halftime.
UF tailback Mark Thompson scoring on a 1-yard run with 2:42 remaining, to preserve the Gators’ NCAA record streak of 368 games without being shut out, was the only whiff of a consolation prize. But saving that indignity won’t be enough to save McElwain’s job.
When a coach gets routed by his school’s biggest rival, mixes in a series of public relations gaffes by not properly showing contrition for an obviously embellished death-threat claim, and can’t pull the right strings to revitalize a stagnant offense, he doesn’t leave his bosses much of an alternative.
One play from the third quarter perfectly sums up the six-year struggles of this inept Gator offense. On fourth-and-4 from the Georgia 28, UF quarterback Feleipe Franks lofted a perfect pass to the end zone for tight end DeAndre Goolsby. Not only did he drop it, but Goolsby was flagged for offensive pass interference.
When Georgia’s J.R. Reed picked up a Franks fumble and returned it 3 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bulldogs a 35-0 lead with 5:21 left in the third quarter, many Gator fans in the crowd of 84,107 made a beeline for the exits.
They had seen enough misery. And before this weekend is over, it’s quite possible Stricklin, who didn’t hire McElwain, and the UF administration will decide they’ve had enough of a coach who can’t energize the offense or avoid creating his own PR mess.
“When you look back, I’ve made mistakes in my life, yet I’ll stand by everything that occurred,” said McElwain. “It is what it is. It won’t be the first to have ever happened to anybody. I get that. As I go back, we’ve put a lot into this program. People have been great to my wife [Karen] and I. We’ll see what happens.”
It’s doubtful there’s much suspense left, even with some UF players continuing to staunchly defend their leader. What a difference one hellish week can make.
McElwain now has the look and sound of a coach living on borrowed time. He has written his own ballad of “Mac the Knife,” just waiting for the ax to fall.
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