McElwain gives Gators an early assignment

Jim McElwain got together with his new team and assistant coaches on Monday night, but it wasn’t just a simple introduction meeting.

He left the players with an assignment, and it was a very important one.

The players were instructed to spend time around the new staff. Jim McElwain told the players that his office door would always be open, and players were always welcome to come up to the second floor of the football facility and spend time with him. It was especially encouraged in the first year when McElwain and the players are in the beginning process of getting to know each other.

The same goes for the assistant coaches. Every group on the roster except for the Florida wide receivers know who their position coach will be. The relationships with their assistant coaches need to be built, especially before the start of spring practice.

McElwain also encouraged his players to spend time in the weight room. The director of strength and conditioning role, filled by Mike Kent, is an important one during the offseason. McElwain encouraged his players to spend time in the weight room, not necessarily to work out, but to get to know and build a relationship with the coaches that work in the weight room.

“It’s their responsibility to get down to the weight room to get to know the guys who are going to be part of that component,” Jim McElwain said. “Get up in our offices, meet us, get a chance to be around, get a chance to know us a little bit, know how much we care about them. Not only them as players but who they are as people and have a great effect for them the rest of their lives. That is huge.

“As you will see and get to know some of the guys that we have brought on board, it isn’t just about coaching ball, it’s about being involved in their lives, it’s about being there when things don’t go well and when things do go well. Knowing my door is always open, as all our coaches’ are, to come up and say hello.”

After the assignment for players to get to know the head coach and assistants, McElwain wanted his players to understand the expectations of the program. He shared the No. 1 rule that has always driven what he does in football: “Do what’s right.” It’s nothing over the top or groundbreaking, but it is what he expects from his players and staff.

McElwain asked his players how many have walked by the frozen fish aisle at Publix. There were some confused looks but hands went up in the air.

“You look down and the trout that is laying on ice, how does that make you feel? The last thing I want is a bunch of dead trout hanging around,” McElwain said. “It’s about energy and affecting people around you in a positive way.”

McElwain was quick to point out that energy won’t be there for every person in the building on every day. Even the head coach admitted he might look like the dead trout despite being multiple cups of coffee into the day. But the energy from those around the program can mean a lot to lift the spirits of any coach or player that might be struggling that day.

Getting to know the players on a more personal level will begin on Thursday. McElwain will begin individual meetings with each player and member of the program on Thursday.

During Monday’s team meeting, McElwain spoke to the players about what those meetings will include -- another assignment the players need to go through. McElwain wants the players to come into their individual meeting with ideas and thoughts about the program and the way things have been done in the past, whether they’re positive or negative.

“What you find out when you do this is you may find a common thread within everybody, some things that come up more than once, more than twice,” McElwain said. “There’s a lot of outliers, and yet there’s some things that then kind of allow us to attack the organization and the infrastructure as to what direction we need to go.”

Some of the ways that the program operates could change, others will remain the same. McElwain wouldn’t elaborate on any of those ways on Wednesday, and it’s too early for him to know what does need to change. That’s why the players meetings are a good start before he starts deciding what to do.

That includes the way the organization works behind the scenes. McElwain laughed at the idea of Randy Shannon serving as recruiting coordinator, noting instead that he’ll have a “recruiting organization and a player personnel organization” to handle things away from the field.

The new staff will have a say in the changes made with the program, and they’re considering those changes now. When the players begin building those relationships with the assistants, McElwain is optimistic that they’ll find great men who know the game but also can help them become men off the field.

“They're good dudes, man,” McElwain said about his staff. “They're a lot of fun to be around. They've got energy and they care about kids. They care about being involved in young men's lives, not just in football. In this business and having been in it a long time, there's a thing called independent contractors that come in and out of programs that have self-agendas and not team or university or player agendas as a priority. That's why I'm really excited about where we're headed that way.

“We're going to do the same thing throughout the infrastructure as we build it. That's kind of where we're at there. We're off to a great start.”

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