Coming into this season, Jim McElwain’s job security wasn’t air tight, but you’d be hard-pressed to say he’d be fired by the end of the season. There was a big faction of the fan base that’d about had it with Florida’s third-year coach, but nothing publicly would’ve led you to believe back in September that he’d be out before the calendar turned to November.
And then McElwain rocketed from probably fine to basically getting fired mid-game in the span of about three weeks. Here’s how.
Entering the day, McElwain’s record as Florida’s head coach is 22-9, with two SEC East titles. The Gators are 3-1 after a loss to Michigan and a canceled game.
Florida loses to LSU, 17-16, in what has become a classical fashion for the program: The defense plays well enough to get the job done, but the offense can’t do much of anything.
At some point, Florida’s luck in one-score games under McElwain was going to bounce back. It didn’t against Tennessee (when Florida won on Hail Mary), and it didn’t against Kentucky (when the Wildcats left two receivers inexplicably uncovered).
It does when Eddy Pineiro misses this extra point due to a wonky hold in the third quarter of the homecoming tilt.
Florida’s offense doesn’t sniff the end zone again.
Florida announces these uniforms.
#TheSwamp— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 10, 2017
Only #Gators Get Out Alive
DETAILS: https://t.co/0DVSo3M0Hu pic.twitter.com/NRukp8Uwg5
This isn’t really a contributing factor to McElwain being fired, but one would argue that trotting out a team in these should endanger anyone’s job security.
Florida loses to Texas A&M, 19-17 in those uniforms in a game that was death by field goals. Florida’s defense stands tall and doesn’t let the Aggies score a TD on multiple trips to the red zone, but the offense can’t add to its lead.
With multiple players still on suspension, Florida sustains some more roster attrition in yet another anemic offensive performance.
You’ve seen this before, as have I. You’ve walked the path to Texas A&M 19, Florida 17, the path that led to Florida’s first 3-3 record in decades, in several recent years past, except the random walk has often produced wins before the losses.
Florida once again has an emaciated roster — it lost Jordan Sherit, quite possibly for the rest of his collegiate career, on Saturday — and an inexperienced, inconsistent quarterback, and good skill position talent on offense concentrated in too few bodies, and good special teams that still turn fatal on cruel occasions, and a defense that tries so hard for three hours and fails for about three minutes of them.
McElwain starts the week of his biggest 2017 game by saying his team has received death threats, and he implies that his family has too. At face value, this statement (made unprompted) at a Monday press conference is unfortunately believable:
I think it’s a pretty good kind of lesson for the way things are. There’s a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger. And yet, it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is, obviously, when the threat’s against your own players, death threats to your families, you know, the ill will that’s brought upon out there. And yet, you know, I think it’s really one of those deals that really is a pretty good testament to what’s going on out there nationally. A lot of angry people. In this business, we’re the ones that you take the shots at. And that’s the way it is.
The problem is, Florida doesn’t exactly back him up in that claim after meeting with him:
The University Athletic Association takes the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and families very seriously. Our administration met with Coach McElwain this afternoon and he offered no additional details.
The story gets weirder:
Mac said will share details on threats 'when it becomes unmanageable.'— Edgar Thompson (@osgators) October 25, 2017
And later that day, McElwain again explains himself ... kinda.
“It’s exactly what I tell our guys not to do,” McElwain said. “Let something like that, you know, creep into the focus on what you’re here to do. Ultimately, you know, that’s really what it is.”
The credit card scandal from earlier in the season — oh right, that — cinches itself up with most of the players entering pretrial diversion.
Pre-trial intervention is not unusual for first-time and non-violent offenders — with good representation, anyway — and can be compared to deferred prosecution, as both paths allow those accused of crimes to pay lesser penalties and avoid convictions and incarceration while satisfying other conditions asked for by prosecutors and set by courts.
The players have further hearings to go through and code of conduct hoops to jump through with the university as well.
Hours before Florida is set to take on Georgia, it’s reported that the school and McElwain’s agent are getting together to negotiate McElwain’s $12.9 million buyout down.
Source: Agent Jimmy Sexton & UF have been trying to work out Coach Mac buyout, but are “miles apart.” Still working hard on it.— Darren Heitner (@DarrenHeitner) October 28, 2017
Florida counters with a carefully worded statement.
Statement from Scott Stricklin pic.twitter.com/W2OFU021I6— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 28, 2017
What that statement doesn’t say is whether or not Florida’s brass is attempting to fire McElwain for cause or for a contractual breach that goes beyond unsatisfactory on-field performance. It’s reported during the game that that’s exactly what it is attempting to do.
The cause specifically that UF’s brass reportedly look into is linked to the death threat fiasco. Without being able to find substantive evidence of the threats, Florida looks for wiggle room out of the buyout. If McElwain knew of threats against student-athletes but failed to report them, even when asked by superiors, that could’ve been considered sufficient for a buyout-free firing, though that’s just one potential scenario here.
Oh, and by the way, Florida gets absolutely crushed in the game. The Gators lose one of the more embarrassing results in school history, 42-7, at the hands of rival Georgia.
McElwain is mum on his future:
McElwain asked if he’d be surprised if he’s not Florida’s coach tomorrow: “Nothing surprises me.”— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) October 28, 2017
McElwain asked about job security: “At the end of the day, we were brought here to win. We haven’t done it.”— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) October 28, 2017
Things aren’t hunky dory for McElwain:
#Gators administration had 10:30 meeting with Jim McElwain, still ongoing according to source— Graham Hall (@GrahamHall_) October 29, 2017
By early afternoon, multiple outlets are reporting that a parting of the ways between McElwain and Florida is imminent:
Until we get official statement from #Gators, details on parting of ways will be unclear, but Jim McElwain won't coach at Florida again.— Thomas Goldkamp (@ThomasGoldkamp) October 29, 2017
And that evening, official word comes down:
Jim McElwain and the University Athletic Association have mutually agreed to part ways, Athletic Director Scott Stricklin announced Sunday.
Randy Shannon will serve as interim coach throughout the remainder of the season.
"We want to thank Coach McElwain for his efforts in leading the Gator football program," said Stricklin. "We are confident Coach Shannon will provide the proper guidance to the players and rest of staff during this time and we will begin a national search for the next head coach."
The two parties are currently negotiating terms of separation.
Jim McElwain may only get $4M of $12.9M because way he disclosed death threats & agent’s ties to other candidates https://t.co/fcxi8GKyeI— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) October 29, 2017
And that is how the McElwain era ended; not with a whimper, but with a three-week bang in which old issues compiled on top of new ones. It made McElwain’s continued tenure untenable at best in Gainesville, and the Gators suddenly found themselves able to get rid of a coach they were tired of while saving a lot of money along the way.