McElwain, players respond to criticism of Florida-LSU postponement
During his coaching career, Florida head coach Jim McElwain has experienced how Mother Nature can affect the town he calls home and its surrounding communities.
While serving as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2011, a violent tornado devastated portions of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, creating about $2.4 billion in property damage, being responsible for 64 fatalities and causing 1,500 injuries.
“Probably as big of an effect on me as anything, to see what the act of mother nature can do, and to see what it did going down that street about 2-3 blocks just off where our facility was and seeing it tear all the way through town,” McElwain said. “Seeing what it did personally with even some of our players. Man, I’m telling you, it’s a real eye-opener.”
So when forecasts showed Hurricane Matthew approaching north Florida – and Gainesville being a region where it could potentially strike – McElwain stood behind the SEC Office’s decision to postpone the Florida-LSU game this past weekend. Although the hurricane fortunately didn’t affect Gainesville significantly, a number of surrounding cities and towns were affected by the hurricane on the east coast.
“Obviously this was a very unique situation that occurred,” explained McElwain. “You know, it was just one of those strange Saturdays as you kind of did some work at home on your computer in the morning and then just kind of sat there and watched some ballgames, really couldn't help but focus really on our players and their families and what they were going through. You know, you get the updates and see the 19 deaths that occurred and, you know, the millions without power. Talking with our players yesterday, most of them obviously, their families have at least been able to get back. Great work by the utility people getting some power back on. And to all those first-responders, even from this area, obviously, that went out to help, you know, I'm grateful that thing decided to not take a tick and come the way it could have, and yet the amount of devastation still is really incredible.
“Our guys were prepared to play in the game, excited to play in the game, want to play in the game. And yet, as we sat there Saturday late afternoon, there were a lot of those things that kind of went through our minds. It was great to get back with our players yesterday, give them a hug, see a look of relief on a lot of their faces knowing what they were going through from a family situation and people they know in the areas that they're from.”
However, there was plenty of shortsighted criticism coming from a multitude of avenues on social media throughout past weekend, especially in hindsight when the weather in Gainesville on Saturday was favorable – even though SEC commissioner Greg Sankey explained pretty accurately Saturday why it was unsafe to play the Florida-LSU game.
Some fans – and even respected media members and columnists on the LSU beat – claimed Florida was scared to play LSU and didn’t want to play the game.
“Nineteen deaths, 2.5 million people without power. Families in dire needs. Obviously, they don’t know me, they don’t know the Florida Gators. They don’t know our players. Dodging the game? Wow,” McElwain said. “Obviously, those people … man. Obviously, I have grown up in Montana and never been through a hurricane, but I think a lot of people around here have and have seen the devastation. How anybody could even think that way is beyond me.
“It just shocks me that someone could actually think that way. Especially knowing us. And yet, you know you guys are all, nowadays I guess, accountable for getting X amount of little shots out on your Twitter thing. That’s how you get paid instead of writing stories, so I guess whatever you do, I mean there isn’t much thought that goes behind it to me that somebody would actually think that. And knowing us, that’s pretty crazy to me.”
One writer who attempted to rile up some of the harshest criticism of the Gators was Fox Sports’ Clay Travis, as can be seen by the below tweet that Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio quote-tweeted.
On Monday, Del Rio further discussed his criticism of Travis' comments.
“Yeah, I thought it was extremely unprofessional, to be honest. That’s all I’m gonna say about that,” Del Rio said. “I thought it was important to say something. I fought myself a little bit on saying more. I think less is more in that situation.
“We came here to play teams like LSU, but it was bigger than a game last weekend. It wasn't about a football game. It was about the safety and the health of my teammates' families and families of Floridians and everybody across the east coast really, down in Haiti. Football seems so trivial when you look at the big picture and you see people are dying. Football can come after that."
Fellow Gators quarterback Austin Appleby tried to do his best to stay off of social media this past week, as the North Canton, Ohio, native braced for his first hurricane.
"I do my best to stay off of the national commentary on social media because a lot of it is garbage,” Appleby said. “You try to keep as much in-house as you can. A lot of guys like to be pretty active on the social media deal and read some of it, but the only thing we're focused on is us. We know that we'll play anybody anywhere anytime. And we were excited to play and we were really upset at not being able to play but we understand why what happened happened.
“A lot of the support and the things that make a game go on with the police, with all the things that are going on. It's not just two teams rolling out there and you play. There are a lot of other things going into it. You've got to what's best for the state of Florida. Sometimes it's a little bit bigger than ball. And I'm confident, from what I've ready, they're going to do their best to get the game rescheduled. I know our locker room is really, really excited to have a chance to play them."
Meanwhile, social media was the least of offensive guard Tyler Jordan’s worries. Throughout the end of last week, Jordan kept in contact with his family, who experienced the affects of the hurricane in Jacksonville.
“Yeah. The whole Friday night, Friday afternoon, I tried calling them kind of as the storm was approaching. They finally called me around lunchtime,” Jordan said. “They said the power got knocked out. They had a bunch of debris out in the backyard, but nothing too serious. They got their power back the next morning around 10 o’clock. I had some family, who probably lived about 10-15 minutes away from me there, sitting in a room as a tree fell down into the room. Took out part of the brick fence and pretty much totally damaged the whole room. They’re going to have to get that all fixed up.”
Added center Cameron Dillard: “You could definitely tell guys were bothered that they weren’t home with their families or that they weren’t doing what they needed to do. But we invited their families to come up here to Gainesville. Gainesville was sort of a safe haven for them to get away from the hurricane coming and stuff like that.”
Thank you for reading this Inside the Gators article. To discuss it, please visit the Alligator Alley Forum.