If the Florida Gators are going to assume their perch among college football and Southeastern Conference elite programs, one thing that has to be done is to drastically change the mindset on the facilities that the players use and live.
The fact is that Florida has fallen way behind in terms of facilities. Living arrangements are bad enough that the staff doesn’t even show them off to prospective recruits when they come and visit.
It used to be that Florida could get by with its proximity alone, hundreds of quality football players are within just a few hours of the Gator campus. But, with television revenues, video technology, communication, and transportation becoming better for all involved, it is becoming harder and harder for the Gators to live off of their location as schools from everywhere come in and try to poach the best prospects within the state lines.
Furthermore, when the Gators have to go out-of-state to bring in a certain position for whatever reason, having a prospect come into Gainesville and see the facilities don’t rate with several places he has already been just doesn’t set up the recruitment for success.
Jim McElwain has been at places where these things are priorities and this is what you see him making a priority now in just a few short months on the job at Florida.
One of the first notes of business is an Indoor practice Facility (IPF). Florida missed more practice time in 2014 and 2004 due to bad weather and mostly lightning than any other seasons in Gainesville. WE saw what lightning can do to a football game with 80,000 fans in the stadium when the home opener against Idaho was cancelled last year.
It just so happens that the 2004 and 2014 seasons were the final ones of the only coaches fired for bad records in the last 45 plus years. Not to say it wouldn’t have happened anyway, but you aren’t giving them much of a chance regardless.
An IPF has been needed for quite some time and more than from a recruiting standpoint, but a practical standpoint. But, it should also be noted that lightning in June of 2014 caused the biggest camp day with the most stars in regular camp to be cancelled. A lot of time missed to bond with players and find some diamonds in the rough.
The IPF that is scheduled to be ready by August of this year was on the books to be built before McElwain showed, but he even has hand in big on this one. The original design called for the facility to only have a 70-yard turf inside and one goal post. Grossly inadequate, McElwain insisted on having a 120-yard field, two goalposts, and enough room around all sides for the safety of the players.
That in fact is happening and it is being erected as I write. It is also just a minute part of McElwain’s vision of what is needed and actually happening.“That’s pretty cool, isn’t it,” McElwain said in front of the media gathered before he spoke to the Central Florida Gator Club. “One of the great thing is all of the facility enhancements that we’re going through, the support of our university from Dr. Fuchs and Jeremy and what we’re committed to do. That’s not the only piece, that’s the most visible right now… updating dorms, doing some things.
“(I am) more concerned with the experience for the player, the student-athlete. Doubling the size of the academic center, those are all things that pertain to success. And I’m not talking about just success on the field, but success in life because everything we do in our program and organization is to stress the development, football doesn’t last forever let’s make sure we’re teaching them what it is to be successful after football.”
Although the coaching offices were redone in 2007-2008, they need some help too, but at this time McElwain wants to see an overhaul of the things that the players and prospects will be subjected to most of the time.
“My concerns are all the things that have nothing to do with the coaching staff, but whatever the players touch,” he said. “You know to help their experience and help them with everything they do. That’s where your academic center, your living conditions, and obviously now our building the IPF is huge.”
There has already been some simple remodeling of the weight room, but the current facility and where it is located has hampered the growth in what Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Kent and his staff want to do. McElwain has a vision of evening the playing field with the weight facilities as well.
“We actually did get some of the things that Coach Kent and (his staff) use in their program,” he said. “We’re in the discovery phase at looking into a standalone facility and we’re upgrading the facility right now. That’s in the research part and we are excited about that.
“Standalone is long term. One of the great things is the location we are at. The downside is we are pretty land-locked and yet those are the things we are looking at right now to keep moving forward.
Another big change will be the locker room. What they have is nice, but is inadequate in terms of space. That is another expansion that McElwain sees happening by absorbing some parking area that is underneath the football stadium and right behind the locker room. .
“We have made some minor tweaks already, but we’re looking to expanding that actually out in that area (South),” he said.
One thing you hear about McElwain is that he is much more of a CEO than his predecessor and maybe more than any of the former coaches he followed at Florida. He wants to know everything that goes on inside the walls of his facilities and whatever his players are doing. It doesn’t matter how much of his time it takes.
One of the other big things he has done in terms of upgrade is add a support staff that is unparalleled to anything the Gators have had before in terms of numbers of personnel. He has sought a diversified group of people to help him and the organization grow as much as he can.
“You’re never too busy when it concerns your program or your players,” he said. “That’s the one thing I am totally committed to. I’m certainly not an expert on those things, but at the same time that’s why I hired a lot of good people in the organization. They keep you updated every single day. That’s part of the checklist and part of the calendar. All of that stuff fits together.”