How Jim McElwain went from heralded to ousted in no time flat

It takes an extraordinary set of circumstances for a coach who began his tenure by winning consecutive division titles to be fired in October of his third season. Florida and Jim McElwain, an awkward marriage from the start, conspired to produce them.

It takes drastically declining returns in that third year. The Gators tumbled from a combined 19 victories in the 2015 and ’16 seasons to the current 3-4 predicament, in a season when they are playing just three true road games.

It takes a chronically awful offense, at a school with a rich history of lighting up scoreboards. The program of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer should never rank 112th or lower nationally in total offense in three straight seasons, as it has under McElwain.

It takes a league known for placing borderline unreasonable demands on its coaches. The 2015 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year was 22-12 at Florida, a winning percentage of .647, which most programs in America would embrace. But other SEC coaches were pushed out with better marks than that, among them Bill Curry at Alabama (.722), Terry Bowden at Auburn (.731), Phil Fulmer at Tennessee (.745).

It takes a personality that has rubbed some important people the wrong way. McElwain was considered arrogant by some, starting when he declared at his introductory news conference, “I can win with my dog Clarabelle” playing quarterback. He also bruised some feelings by bashing the school’s facilities – even if he had a point. A guy who had been a head coach for all of three seasons at Colorado State but came in carrying himself like his old boss, Nick Saban, never passed the charm test.

Florida fired Jim McElwain on Sunday, midway through his third season as coach. (Getty)

And then it takes a deal-breaking moment. That likely occurred last Monday, when McElwain veered off-course in his news conference previewing the huge Georgia rivalry game to vaguely allude to “death threats” that had been received. When McElwain failed to back up that provocative statement with specifics to school administrators, Florida put out a statement that all but called out the coach. “He offered no additional details,” the school said, basically a five-word declaration of hostilities.

Follow that tension with a five-touchdown blowout loss to Georgia, add in the other elements listed above, and that’s how we arrived at this unexpected Sunday force-out. Jim McElwain, gone at Florida after just 34 games, 22 of them victories.

Somehow, Butch Jones lasted deeper into the 2017 season than Mac.

Florida made it official on Sunday night, releasing a statement saying McElwain and the school have “mutually agreed to part ways.” They are still negotiating terms of the separation.

This expensive debacle leaves former athletic director Jeremy Foley with a 1-3 record hiring football coaches – the coup of outmaneuvering Notre Dame for Meyer offset by the inglorious tenures of Ron Zook, Will Muschamp and McElwain. He tried a former Spurrier assistant with NFL pedigree (Zook) and it didn’t work. He tried rising-star defensive coordinator with Saban ties (Muschamp) and it didn’t work. He tried putative offensive whiz with Saban ties (McElwain) and it didn’t work.

Thus a program that sits on the richest of recruiting soil and won national titles in 1996, 2006 and ’08 is still wondering when it will return to the top five for the first time since the Tim Tebow Era.

The day before Tebow’s final game at Florida, the 2010 Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati, I wrote that it could be the last night of the Gator dynasty. Meyer was in the burnout phase of his Florida tenure, Tebow was leaving, defensive coordinator Charlie Strong was on his way to Louisville, other staffers were headed elsewhere. Watching the end of a blowout of the Bearcats from field level, Foley told me that night that I was wrong, it was not the end of Florida’s run.

But the Gators haven’t gotten back to that level since. A program that spent two entertaining decades as the college football capital of innovative offense has become an offensive graveyard. A onetime destination job has become a ruthless revolving door, announcing its third in-season coaching change in the last four coaching tenures.

The latest Florida failure is Jim McElwain, forced out less than two years after being voted SEC Coach of the Year and less than one year after a second straight SEC East championship. It takes a lot for a coach with those credentials to be sent packing in this brisk and brusque manner, but a unique set of circumstances all added up against him.

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