Is McElwain's Oregon intrigue real? Could fan discontent lead to exit?
The coaching carousel usually generates a wide array of rumors and all sorts of speculation – and a report Monday from USA Today’s Dan Wolken has linked Jim McElwain’s name to the Oregon job.
In the report, Wolken mentions four options before getting to McElwain, in the instance that the Ducks could fire fourth-year head coach Mark Helfrich. Wolken’s report mentions Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, Penn State’s James Franklin and North Carolina’s Larry Fedora before mentioning McElwain.
“There also are whispers that Florida’s Jim McElwain could be intrigued by the opportunity to return to the Pacific Northwest, close to where he went to college and started his coaching career at Eastern Washington,” Wolken writes. “Despite winning SEC East titles in his first two years, McElwain has been a bit under-appreciated by the Florida fan base and just got a new athletics director in Gainesville.”
No Gators head football coach has jettisoned the team for another job since 1932, when Charlie Bachman left Florida for Michigan State. However, many Florida fans consider Urban Meyer’s move from Florida to Ohio State to fall into that category, although it wasn’t a direct move. Meyer announced his retirement from coaching in 2010 to spend more time with his family and improve his health, but after a year off he accepted the Ohio State job.
A marriage between McElwain and Oregon actually makes some sense, considering McElwain’s northwestern roots as a Montana native. However, the mention of these “whispers” could very well be McElwain’s agent angling to get his client a raise – a move that is commonplace in today’s day and age of college football. McElwain currently makes $4.25 million annually on a deal that runs through 2020.
Still, the mention of McElwain being “a bit under-appreciated” comes at an interesting point in his juncture as Florida’s head coach, as fans have been displeased with the direction the program is headed despite the second-year head coach winning two SEC East titles in two seasons on the job.
With the offense regressing, recruiting currently struggling and concerns about replacing Will Muschamp’s eventually outgoing recruits on defense evident, there hasn’t been much optimism among the fan base. In a sense, to many fans, winning the SEC East – arguably one of the worst divisions among the Power 5 conferences – seems like an accomplishment that rings hollow at this point if the Gators cannot consistently beat good opponents or recruit well.
McElwain’s defensiveness about the state of the program amid criticism from the fan base has been on display in his press conferences during the second half of the season.
“One thing I will say, you know people pick this team apart quite a bit, and this and that. Guys, this is a good football team,” McElwain said after Florida’s 24-10 win against Georgia on Oct. 29. “The Florida Gators are a good team, all right? I’ll go with these guys against anybody. And we’ll figure out a way to get it done.”
During McElwain’s press conference Monday following a disappointing 31-13 loss at FSU, his tone was similar.
"Yeah. I mean, it's obviously one of those things that you have to constantly evaluate and get better at,” McElwain said of the offense. “I was also brought in here to get to Atlanta. How many years have I been here? OK."
There’s also the fact that new athletics director Scott Stricklin just took over for Jeremy Foley on Nov. 1. There aren’t any signs yet that Stricklin has been displeased with McElwain, but having a new AD in the mix is a factor worth considering in all this.
At this point, McElwain having legitimate interest in Oregon and being willing to leave a program as prominent as Florida for another school seems simply speculative in nature. But just by checking the fan base’s current pulse via message boards, social media, etc., one thing is for certain.
The honeymoon is over.
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