The Good Ole Boy Jim McElwain Strikes Back

ORLANDO – For nearly 20 minutes Thursday morning, Jim McElwain played the part of the good ole boy from small town Montana well enough to win an Oscar.

The way he talked he’s still wondering how he ever got to be the head coach at the University of Florida. Why he’s country come to town. Or at least that’s what he was spinning for most of his press conference.

From his descriptions of Michigan and its rather quirky head football coach, Jim Harbaugh, you would almost think McElwain felt like he should pay just to be here, sitting on the same podium with greatness.

Almost.

Not quite.  

After gushing at length about Harbaugh and Michigan at the final press conference at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort before his Gators face Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on Friday, McElwain was asked to compare football in the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference. It was one last chance to sound overwhelmed by the moment and what will unfold Friday but McElwain also used it to send a message.

It started with, “Shoot, guys, this is the University of Michigan, for Chrissakes, you know what I mean. ”

That was only the beginning. More gushing followed.

“They've got, like, history, right?  I mean, like, real history,” McElwain continued. 

He didn’t elaborate about the fact Michigan was winning national championships before the University of Florida even opened its doors in Gainesville and sent its first football team on the field. Mac didn’t have to elaborate. One only has to encounter a maize and gold clad Michigan fan to understand that Florida’s Friday opponent has this inbred feeling of superiority.

McElwain then pointed at the Michigan helmet sitting on the podium opposite the Florida helmet.

“Like, people emulate their helmets, right, you know what I mean?” McElwain asked.  “So, I mean, I'm glad to be playing them, right?  Better us than somebody else, right? 

The inner good ole boy that Mac was channeling faded away like the steam on the bathroom mirror when the blow dryer applies a steady stream of hot air. His demeanor changed in a flicker of a second.

“So we’ll do all right,” McElwain said. It wasn’t a superior or authoritative tone in his voice, but it was different for sure. With that, McElwain shifted his gaze to the orange helmet with Gators scripted in blue.

“These are pretty cool helmets, too, though,” he said. “I like these. Yeah, that’s

cool.”

There was no doubting McElwain’s intent. Without being a jerk – he left that to Harbaugh – Mac was making a statement that maybe Florida wasn’t winning national championships at the turn of the 20th century, but just because the Gators don’t have the same lengthy history as Michigan, they don’t have to feel the slightest bit inferior.

This is, after all, a what have you done for me lately time in human existence and if you compare what Florida has done lately, it is more impressive than what Michigan has accomplished. Since 1990, Florida is 249-81-1 with eight SEC championships and three national titles. Michigan is 221-98-3 with a 1997 split national championship. Florida won its three national titles outright. 

McElwain’s press conference followed Harbaugh and it was a startling contrast. McElwain was friendly, humorous and engaging. He allowed himself to show some emotion when asked about his seniors. There wasn’t even one nanosecond that anyone felt his answer was condescending.

Harbaugh, on the other hand, made no attempt to let everyone know he felt like this press conference was minutes of his life that he can never get back. This is a guy who is paid more than $5 million a year to be a very public face of the University of Michigan. One would think that given his salary and status that he could at least act like he’s very happy that his football team has a chance to earn a $4.5 million paycheck (Citrus Bowl payout) for the University of Michigan.

Perhaps deep down, McElwain feels the same way about the media as Harbaugh, but you won’t know that by his public demeanor. Mac gets it. He does indeed understand that when the lights go on and the cameras start whirring away and reporters punch the start button on their recorders that he’s Florida’s best known and most listened to advocate. So, no matter what he might feel on the inside, McElwain makes it a point to at least give a positive image.

* * *  

McElwain wasn’t the coach who brought this senior class to the University of Florida, but he is the one who will see them out Friday when the Gators face Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.

Emphasis on see them out, not on good bye.

“It’s never saying good bye because they’re Gators forever,” McElwain said at the Thursday morning press conference at the Rosen Shingle Creen Resort.

McElwain made no effort to hide that Friday’s game will be emotional for him and for the seniors – and a handful of juniors who will be declaring early for the NFL – who will be playing their final game in a UF uniform. It is emotional because these are far more than football players to McElwain. They are an extension of his own family and while he tries to treat his players like men, he also understands his role as the patriarch of the Florida football family.

In this, his first year on the job, success on the field has required a total buy-in by his veterans, particularly the seniors, and he’s gotten more than he asked for.

“I'm just so proud of how they committed themselves and affect the people -- you know, how they've brought this freshman class in, you know, is outstanding,” McElwain said. “I mean, you know, to see the opening day of workouts Antonio Morrison taking Martez Ivey and saying, you're my lifting partner, that's something pretty special.  And there's a lot of those things that went on for creating this team.  And you know what?  They set a high standard for us moving forward.”

Not only was a high standard set, but a lasting memory that McElwain says will not be forgotten. 

“What they've done to set this team apart, what they've done to create a legacy moving forward is something that all Gator fans and the University of Florida is grateful for,” McElwain said. “And they will know, as players who have played for me in the past, and it's amazing how many have come and visited us here at the University of Florida, but they will always be welcomed back.”

 

 


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