With Florida winning three national championships in the last 19 years, McElwain took over a program with a frustrated fan base from five straight seasons of lackluster offensive football and coming out of back-to-back seasons that totaled 11 wins.
The program was missing the excitement and success that made it nationally respected. McElwain’s message since taking over in Gainesville has been fixing it. He sees it as restoring the order, trying to get the Gators into the national conversation.
And it didn’t take long.
Florida jumped to No. 11 in the Associated Press Poll and was named the Football Writers Assocation of America Team of the Week after beating then-ranked No. 3 Ole Miss 38-10 on Saturday.
It’s not about the state. It’s not about the Southeastern Conference. It’s about restoring order in the national perception of college football.
“We learn from history with the order for a long time ago -- there were the Gators,” McElwain said. “We were right up there at the top of the order. Yet for some reason, the order has been skewed. It’s because other teams are getting really good now. I look at it a little bit as a responsibility, but you have to be mature enough to handle the responsibility. That’s what’s interesting to me.”
It’s not a new challenge for McElwain. When he took his first job as the head coach at Colorado State, the Rams were a shell of the program they once were. Sonny Lubick took over the program in 1993 and didn’t lose more than three games at any point over his first 11 seasons. He won threes in the WAC and the MWC with the Rams, but the program won just three games over his last two seasons.
And it didn’t improve much when he left until McElwain took over, winning 18 total games in his last two seasons. He’s now starting to push the Florida program back to where it once was.
“Let’s look at it from a historical standpoint,” McElwain said. “This is where the University of Florida should be. So don’t be surprised, but let’s take advantage of it.”
Florida right tackle Mason Halter grew up an Ohio State fan and remembers the Gators pounding his favorite team 41-14 to win the national championship in 2006. That type of team has felt like a distant memory in Gainesville over the last five seasons, but Halter has been an important part of getting the Gators back to that level.
“Florida’s a top-tier team to me and obviously for the past few years it hasn’t been,” Halter said. “So we’re looking to get our names back on the map.”