As the Gators prepare to open their season Saturday against New Mexico State at 7:30 p.m., the coaches and players have built a close relationship. Jim McElwain emphasized the relationships when he took the job, pushing players to spend as much time as possible with him, their position coach and the coordinator on their side of the football.
He voiced disappointment about the coaches’ offices being on the third floor of the football facility, saying it made players feel like they were going to see the principal when they went to visit. The players have bought into what McElwain wants to build at Florida, easing the transition for both sides.
“I really like these guys,” McElwain said. “I enjoy being around them. Our coaching staff enjoys being around them. I enjoy when they come up in the offices. The comfort level, obviously I don’t know what it’s going to be when we blow the whistle and kick it off for the first time. But I enjoy being around them, I really do.
“There are guys that have really given up themselves for the benefit of others. I like to see that. That’s one of those life lessons that’s going to help them way after football. I see it happening in a lot of guys’ actions.”
There’s always a challenge when a coaching transition happens. Only the freshmen on the Florida roster signed to play for McElwain, and even some of them committed to Florida when Will Muschamp was still the coach. Bringing a new vision and excitement to a program can be a challenge, but the Florida players didn’t waste time buying into what McElwain was preaching.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of them,” McElwain said. “Change is hard, it’s difficult. These guys have stepped up and accepted it and really ran with it.”
PERFECT THURSDAYS: After focusing on installation from Monday-Wednesday of a game week, McElwain will lead the Gators through what he calls “Perfect Thursday” every week. The goal is to go with a quick pace through every situation the Gators could see on Saturday. The emphasis is on tempo and taking care of the small details, but the coaching staff wants to make sure the team is ready.
They’ll go through goal line, red zone, two-point plays, third downs, fourth downs and many more situations. They also run through different situations in the kicking game.
“What it is we hit all situations at a very fast pace,” McElwain said. “When the guys kind of figure out what perfect Thursday is, it helps them play faster on Saturday."
NERVES FOR OPENER: McElwain admitted that he had a restless night of sleep before Florida’s first scrimmage of the fall. When Friday night comes around, he’s expecting the same. McElwain said he rarely sleeps well on the night before a game, but adding in his first game at a major program like Florida, and he won’t be getting much rest before Saturday.
“I guess the day that I probably sleep well on that night might be the day we get the heck out of this business and go do something else," McElwain said with a grin.
There are still plenty of questions about what will happen on Saturday. It doesn’t matter how many times the team repped different situations during the week, there will always be teachable moments during a game where a player messes up.
McElwain admits that patience isn’t his best attribute, but he expects the team to execute well on Saturday.
“It becomes a reflection more than anything as we go back in, we play the game, then we go back in and evaluate it and see maybe where we have to make some obvious improvement,” McElwain said. “There’s going to be things that we’re going to all scratch our heads and yet, I think for the most part they’re going to be correctable."