In his introductory press conference Jim McElwain mentioned the Florida Gators “brand” four separate times.
“I got to tell you something now, what an honor, how humbling it is to be a part of one of the greatest brands in all of college athletics,” he opened with. “To have the opportunity to be a part of something that’s real special.”
For a brand, every day is important and the Florida Gators football brand hadn’t strung together many good days in the past two years. That was why McElwain was brought to Gainesville. He needed to turn around a football program, get the players in the locker room to start believing again and, in turn, take a rag to the brand before it continued tarnishing.
It’s something that McElwain has taken seriously. A kid from Montana, McElwain has truly embraced the history and tradition at the University of Florida and he’s even found himself a little star struck at times.
“Having some of these former players come back as we did even in this last game that stress what that is all about,” said McElwain. “That’s, I mean, Dominique Easley being here even though it’s only been a couple of years, but the pride he feels based on what they’re doing. Emmitt Smith, shoot guys, I was like a kid in a candy store. I actually got to shake Emmitt Smith’s hand, that was pretty neat, you know. That means a lot.”
The fans have taken notice of it too. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium went nuts when Dominique Easley took on the role as Honorary Mr. Two Bits last Saturday. Fans roared in laughter watching Emmitt Smith pleading the Gators case to a referee when Chris Thompson was called for kick catch interference.
The hallowed halls of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium have been home to some of college football’s best and most exciting players in history. They created the brand, made the University of Florida what it is, was, and what McElwain is trying to make it once again.
“I mean, guys like Emmitt (Smith) they did it, so we look up to them,” senior Valdez Showers said. “You know you got Matt Elam coming back, Easley, they coming back, All-Americans, so we look up to them as players. Some people model their game [after them] so we definitely look at all of them and when they come back we definitely feel the energy.”
Florida was supposed to be rebuilding. They looked like a team in the midst of a rebuilding and re-branding when they played ECU, Kentucky and Tennessee to tight victories. Ole Miss was to be a measuring stick game, a presumed loss that would serve to show Florida who was on top of the SEC and just how far away they were from reaching the glory days of yesteryear.
So much for that.
Florida’s dominating victory over the then No. 3 Rebels has people thinking Atlanta and the College Football Playoff. The 5-0 start was unexpected by fans, who if you asked them before the season would have been happy with eight wins and thrilled with nine.
“The order for a long time there were the Gators,” McElwain said on Monday. “We were right up there at the top of the order. Yet, for some reason, the order has been skewed.”
McElwain has been critical of his team at times, especially the quarterbacks. After years of mediocrity expectations have been lowered around Gainesville. McElwain wasn’t here the past two years. He doesn’t get why more isn’t expected of the Florida Gators and he’s well on his way to changing that and restoring the order in the SEC.