When Jim McElwain took over the Florida Gators football team everyone from fans, former players under McElwain and national writers agreed that Mac would drastically change the offensive statistics in Gainesville.
Through one game you can see McElwain’s vision for the offense. He doesn’t have all of his guys in place yet, but the vision and hope that offense has returned to Florida is there.
Yet the biggest change that has been seen in Gainesville isn’t about offense, no, it’s about a stat that most Florida fans had resigned themselves to being one of the worst at in the SEC and in the country annually — penalties.
For as long as most can remember, even back to the glory days with Steve Spurrier throwing visors on the Florida Field sideline, the Florida Gators have collected more yellow flags than almost any other team in the country. The sky is blue, water is wet and Florida is going to get penalized. There have been conspiracy theories about the conference and referees not like Florida and no fan of Florida can stand having ACC officials every other year when the team travels to Tallahassee, but McElwain isn’t about making excuses. He’s about accountability and he’s holding his team to a higher standard.
“His whole thing is you have freedom of choice but not freedom of consequence,” defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr. said of McElwain. “So he’s not mad, but obviously you made that decision or whatever decision you had, if it was wrong, you don’t have the choice of what the punishment is going to be.”
Even after just one game McElwain has already shown his no nonsense approach to behavior that he deems unnecessary or detrimental to the program. Three veteran players watched Florida’s season opener from the sidelines in street clothes. Sophomore Duke Dawson was late to a meeting during game week and he watched the first half of the game from the bench.
Graham Hall of the Independent Florida Alligator reported that Demarcus Robinson missed Sunday’s team meal and was subsequently moved from a starter on the Florida Gators’ depth chart to third string. Robinson is Florida’s biggest offensive weapon but McElwain shows no favorites when doling out punishment for selfish behavior.
“In our case, it’s about continually taking a path and understanding the details to help you be successful, and that means don’t overlook missing a meal. That’s important,” McElwain said on Monday. “And yet, sometimes we enable people. ‘Oh, that’s OK. Don’t worry about it. That’s just him.’ Well as soon as we enable that act, then what happens 10, 20, 30 years down the road? So there are lessons to learn in everything we do.”
The discipline and attention to detail that McElwain and the entire coaching staff have drilled in to the team is paying off. Florida committed just one penalty in their season opener, nine less than the 10 they committed in the season opener a season ago and far less than the 6.7 penalties Florida averaged a game in 2014.
While the new coaching staff continues to build the program back to being an elite one in the SEC and conference football the margin of error — like it has been in past seasons — remains razor thin. Taking unnecessarily penalties out of the equation widens that margin of error and, in the end, will give Florida fans a team and program they can be proud of on and off of the field.