Jim McElwain calls Florida Gators a ‘team in discovery’

First-year coach Jim McElwain wants to make sure Florida’s surprising season doesn’t go to the players’ heads as the regular season comes close to an end.

The Gators completed the Southeastern Conference portion of their schedule on Saturday with a 27-17 win over South Carolina, pushing Florida to 9-1 on the season and sweeping the league’s East division. McElwain became the first coach in school history to win seven games during his first season and tied for the school record of wins during a coach’s first season.

The accolades continue to come for this year’s Florida team. The Gators were ranked No. 11 in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings and should move up this week because of teams ahead of them that lost.

But the most important part is what lies ahead and making sure the team understands how much work remains for them to improve. 

“This is a team of guys that are still discovering a lot about not only themselves, but about how you go about to continue being successful,” McElwain said on Monday morning. “It's got to be a constant evaluation of the what and the understanding of the why. Once you think you've arrived and you just sit there and don't continually strive to get better and discover, that's when things kind of start to fall apart.

“We've got to do that not only as a football team, we've got to continue to do that as an organization and continually evaluate and understand we don't have all the answers and you can't just sit where you're at. You've got to constantly move forward. [We’re] a team in discovery, but I sure like where we're at.”

The players have already heard the message from McElwain. When they grouped together in the locker room following the win over South Carolina, their head coach congratulated them on handling things the right way in practice the week before and sweeping their games against SEC East opponents.

As soon as McElwain pointed to the team that they would be hosting a Florida Atlantic team with many players that wished they played at Florida, the first-year coach was pointing to his usual message of constant improvement.

"We know that every game is a playoff game from here on out," Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor said. "We know what we've got to do to reach our goals. We've got our heads on straight."

The temptation for the players is to take this week lightly against a 2-8 FAU team. The Gators are aware that they will be the more talented team on the field Saturday, but if that impacts their week of practice, it could be impact the team’s future. McElwain said this week is a great opportunity for the team to lock in on improving itself.

There were plenty of points to improve from over the win at South Carolina. After playing dominant defense for three quarters, the Gators let up on defense and had breakdowns that gave the Gamecocks big plays. The offense continued to struggle opening holes in the run game while quarterback Treon Harris remains a work in progress through the air.

"It’s every single day,” McElwain said. “You never arrive. As soon as you think you arrive, there’s someone out there to beat your tail. The discovery is every single day. This goes in anything any organization, whatever you do. You constantly have to discover to reach a new elevation. So many times what happens is you become comfortable, which is okay. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s not how you’re going to be if you really want to be successful.

“These are lessons that help successful businesses and successful organizations that don’t just sit on what they’ve done, but they’re constantly reinventing, constantly discovering ways to be successful. Our guys, they find something new every single day. That’s what’s really cool about it."

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