“Look, I will never beg anyone to do anything,” McElwain said Tuesday afternoon following the Gators’ practice at Dr. Phillips High School.
As we saw before the NCAA clamped down on him for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), Will Grier is an extraordinary talent. As we saw in the seven games following his one-year suspension, the Gators didn’t have an extraordinary talent to step in and replace Grier and unless a talented graduate transfer elects to spend a year piloting the Good Ship Gator next season or unless one of these quality freshmen who are set to begin classes at UF next week proves capable of getting the job done from day one, the Gators will face the same dilemma in 2016 they faced the last half of 2015.
So when Grier told McElwain he’s transferring rather than serve the rest of a suspension that would have carried over through the Missouri game of 2016, McElwain had a choice to make. He could have begged as a lot of coaches would have done unashamedly or he could politely tell Will Grier thanks for the memories while offering whatever help necessary to pack his bags.
Mac chose the latter.
In explaining his decision, McElwain spoke slowly, trying to put the right words together to make it as clear as possible exactly what happened.
“To be successful at anything in life, it’s got to be a passion, okay, and sometimes in life we all maybe look for … hmmm, what to say maybe … uh, sure things. You know, guarantees,” McElwain said. “There are no guarantees. And I just want him to be happy. I want him to be excited about wherever he chooses to be, and we’re here to help, as I am anybody on this football team.”
Without really revealing any of the details, Jim McElwain told us he’s standing on principle and believing his long term solution trumps any short term fix he could have gained by begging Grier to stay. In so many words, Mac told us that whoever plays QB for the Gators next year will be in that spot because he loves the University of Florida, his teammates and the coaches who are dedicated to re-establishing the Florida brand. If the passion for the Gators isn’t there, then forget about it. It’s not happening. When Grier didn’t have the passion or commitment to the program to stick it out through the tough times, he sealed his own fate and Jim McElwain wasn’t about to compromise his own principles just for one player when he’s got 84 others on scholarship with whom he has to concern himself.
With Mac, it’s all about the choices you make. Grier isn’t the first Gator to exit the program and it’s highly unlikely that he will be the last. Some will leave the program because they need a fresh start or perhaps a chance to play football where the talent level isn’t as high and the competition as keen as it is in Gainesville. Some guys aren’t quite talented enough.
Others will choose to leave because they can’t seem to get it through their very thick skulls that Jim McElwain has a core set of values. You either live in harmony with those values or by your actions choose to find another coach in another locale who is willing to put up with your nonsense.
McElwain made it perfectly clear that he doesn’t suspend or kick to the curb rule breakers. They suspend themselves and it’s a choice they make.
“Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear what you say,” McElwain said. “It’s pretty simple and if you live by those things in your life – quite simply doing what’s right – there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be successful. Look, I’m not going to put somebody in a headlock and make them do something they don’t want to do. If they choose to do it, that’s the way it is."
What is heartening to McElwain is the number of players who are learning to live within the framework of the rules. He takes particular delight in those who have been humbled by suspensions or other punishment learning how to be good teammates.
“We’ve had a lot of guys that have chosen to miss a game or two, based on their decision,” McElwain said. “And yet, moving forward, they understand what it is and what it’s going to take to be successful. That’s really the big part of this, the discovery and the learning of what we do to get better.”
So when you take a look at the Gators today and what they’re going to become as McElwain continues to change the Florida football culture – “It’s got a long ways to go,” he says – think of a big block of rough cut marble on which a master sculptor has been chipping and chiseling away for more than a year. It’s only beginning to take shape now and you have to use your imagination to envision what it’s going to look like in the future.
Also, take into account that this is not an overnight process. Although the Gators go into Friday’s game with 10 wins and an SEC East Division championship under their belts, this has been accomplished with bubble gum, baling wire and an occasional stroke of good luck (see the missed field goal at the end of the Tennessee game and the made field goal at the end of the Vandy game). The holes that are obvious when you scan Florida’s two-deep will be filled by extraordinarily talented recruits who are beating a path to McElwain’s door for the chance to help re-establish the Florida brand nationally. But going from a football team that shocked everyone to get where they are to one that regularly starts seasons with high expectations and ends them with nearly every expectation met, takes time and there are no short cuts.
“There’s a lot of short term solutions that can back hand you later in life,” McElwain said. “I mean there’s a lot of shortcuts that you can take to make it look prettier early but if you don’t have everything set, including everybody in the organization, which we’re still in the process of making, we understand where we need to be as a program, total program.”
A total program. That’s what Jim McElwain wants and expects. He wants a program where winning isn’t simply measured by on the field success or filling up a trophy case. A total program in this coach’s mind is one in which everybody from top to bottom is committed to success.
And success, as he puts it, “is not rocket science.”