Florida Gators, McElwain have a long road to go

The car backs out of the driveway set for Disney World. The family doesn’t even make it out of the neighborhood before the child in the back seat is kicking the front passenger seat questioning, “are we there yet?”

Fans may be asking “are we there yet”, “will we be in Atlanta soon?” but Jim McElwain and the Florida Gators are still packing the suitcases, let alone gassing up the car and getting ready to hit the road.

“It happened too fast,” McElwain said on the coming and going of spring football camp. “Kind of wish we had another 15 [practices] left, but that’s the way it goes. We’ll go from there.”

McElwain came to Gainesville with a lot of confidence. He spoke of the “Gator brand” and how he was ready to take what used to be one of the most feared offenses in the SEC and in the country back to that level. Heck, McElwain was confident enough in Florida that he paid $2 million of his $5 million dollar buyout.

After a whirlwind recruiting cycle, two years amount of work compressed into a few months, McElwain was able to turn his attention to the roster and while his confidence may not waver, his bravado has some.

“There’s a lot of great things here. There’s a lot of things that we can point at. I’m really excited about what we’re about to go into,” McElwain said. “I mean, you can’t hide the reality and you can’t run from it, and yet, you know what, that’s just part of building something and making sure we get a solid foundation first and implement these guys in as they come.”

The holes on the roster are glaring. The news that redshirt sophomore Rod Johnson’s career was cut short due to injury leaves Florida with six scholarship offensive linemen. Even after the reinforcements come in the summer, the Gators will have just 12. There are only two scholarship running backs, barely any experience at quarterback, no proven playmakers at the skill positions and a defense that is filled with players likely to leave school early for the NFL in one or two years’ time.

This isn’t a quick fix.

“It’s kinda like HGTV a little bit,” McElwain, told ESPN.com referencing the myriad home-improvement shows on Home & Garden Television. “This is an unbelievable neighborhood — it’s a great place — and yet we gotta fixer-upper here.”

Construction has started. Florida’s brand new indoor practice facility will be precisely the way McElwain wants it to be. Bigger than what the University Athletic Association had originally budgeted or planned for, McElwain is already leaving his fingerprint on the program.

McElwain and the rest of the coaching staff now turn their team over to the strength and conditioning program. The coaching staff has limited time with the players during the offseason — confined to just a two-hour film session — but this is when, McElwain says, he’ll learn the most about what his players are made of.

“The summer, when the coaches aren’t around, is really where your team, you really find out a lot about your team. It’s where those guys find a commitment to be great without somebody there every second,” he said. “As they say character is something that built it’s really about what you do when no one’s watching and that I’ve just found those teams that really jump in with both feet during that summer time those on the field activities that they do on their own, that’s really where you find out what kinda team you got.”

McElwain has a plan. He punched the destination into the GPS but there will be roadblocks and detours along the way. The Gators may be a couple of years away but there are no shortcuts in life. Don’t focus on the end goal or the drudgery of getting there. Appreciate the process for what it is worth.

Are we there yet? No, not even close. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride.

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Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC


  1. Nick, I appreciate your candor. Remind us again just before the Tenn game. Don’t tell the players though. Remind us in a secret code so we can mitigate the potential onslaught of pain and suffering. Hope still reigns supreme. Like that scene in dumb and dumber…if it ain’t a definitive ‘we’re hosed’ there will still be hope. Everyone has to suit up this year. Here’s to a bunch of good coming out against all odds…we’re building the dream again. Go Gators.

    • I look toward the 2015 season with conflicting emotions of hope and residual anger. Hope b/c Coach Mac has the resume of a winner. But will he produce fast enough for those already packed for Atlanta? ‘Behavior has consequences’. It sure does. The disassembling of our once proud and successful program did not ‘just happen’. In the corporate world it is called ‘lack of due diligence’. In the ‘real world’ lack of due diligence gets the CEO ‘retired’ or fired. When the University of Florida, at the time one of the best football programs in the country, needed a new head coach we got a DC and for some reason paid him millions. Ah, the anger. Anger b/c the road back will be long and difficult. And, there is no guarantee of success. Anger b/c it could have all been avoided with a degree of responsible leadership from the AD’s Office.