BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — On a cold and wet morning in Birmingham, new Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain took a stroll through the parking lot at historic Legion Field. He walked among the fans, greeting Gators fans as they tailgated before the final game of the 2014 season.
“It was interesting,” McElwain said of the tailgating experience. “I always wondered what people did out there. Man, they have fun. There’s no doubt about it.”
A college coach doesn’t often get the opportunity to spend time with fans prior to games on Saturday but McElwain’s position was unique and it allowed him to get an intimate look with the fans who will cheer on his football team in 2015.
“[We took] a lot of pictures but there was some really good smelling stuff,” he said. “I should’ve stopped and had a couple barbeques that looked good but didn’t get anything done.”
McElwain has been on the move since accepting the head coaching job at Florida. The first order of business was to get out and recruit, Mac made the rounds, meeting all of the targets that Florida would like to sign before the recruiting dead period began.
He lives by his “recruit daily or die” mantra but following that first week he became an observer. Florida had 15 bowl practices that Mac was able to attend and access what kind of team that he’ll take to the field next year.
“It’s been fun seeing them go out there and practice and get to know a little bit of their personalities,” he said. “As we get back on Monday, we’ll have a team meeting and set the new direction. Believe me, we’re excited to get going.”
Before the game began, McElwain said it was obvious to him — and anyone with a roster handy — what the Gators’ needed to focus on in the offseason. Depending on what junior offensive tackle D.J. Humphries decides about his future the Gators will have either seven or eight offensive linemen returning next season.
“We obviously need to create some depth at the offensive line,” he said. “That’s pretty obvious, you guys see the roster. Try to have practice next year, so, that’s probably one that we gotta get taken care of.”
McElwain also noted the need for explosive offensive playmakers. Fortunately, for him, the Gators displayed their young talent on the field for him to watch in Birmingham.
Adam Lane was named the MVP of the game after carrying the ball 16 times for 109 yards and a score. It was the most carries Lane has received in his career and the most yards he’s tallied as well. Freshman quarterback Treon Harris threw two touchdowns and added 41 rushing yards on 10 carries before leaving the game in the third quarter with an elbow injury. Sophomore Demarcus Robinson had six catches, redshirt sophomore Marcus Maye led the team with eight tackles, Vernon Hargreaves sealed the win with an interception and Gerald Willis had a bone crushing hit that led to a fumble.
There is talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball, for McElwain to work with.
He’s got his work cut out for him. The Gators spent January 3rd in Birmingham, Alabama — not the destination any Florida team expects to end a season at but McElwain is determined to get the Florida brand back to where he says it belongs.
On the Finebaum show a few weeks back, McElwain was asked how he would feel to matchup against his former boss in Nick Saban. Without batting an eye McElwain responded saying he knew they wouldn’t get the chance to during the season but he hopes to meet the Tide in Atlanta, playing for a championship.
The Gators ended the 2014 season with a win; the scoreboard read Florida 28, ECU 20 — the final mark of the Will Muschamp era in Gainesville.
When the final whistle blew and the team hoisted the Birmingham Bowl trophy over their head it signaled the start of something new.
The Jim McElwain era is upon us.