In just eight months Jim McElwain has gotten his Florida Gators football team from being the butt of jokes to a 5-0 start and a no. 11 ranking in the country. The quick turnaround has brought on a lot of national media attention and some stroking of Florida’s ego.
“Look there’s nothing wrong with getting your belly rubbed,” McElwain said. “It feels good. Man, I like it.”
After starting the 2013 season ranked no. 10 in the country, the Gators compiled an 11-13 record and weren’t ranked again until two weeks ago after starting the season off 4-0. The last few years have been hard on fans, sure, but for the players themselves, having their talent, desire, want and drive questioned on a weekly and even daily basis has weighed heavy.
“We don’t look too much into the ranking because we’re so used to not being ranked the past two years,” safety Marcus Maye said of Florida’s new national ranking.
They weren’t used to success so when they got a win over New Mexico State they felt good. They let that good feeling linger into Monday and then Tuesday and Wednesday. McElwain publically lambasted the way the team responded for “beating a team they should have beat” mentioning that guys were really feeling themselves after the win. Re-teaching a team to handle success isn’t easy, but it’s something McElwain has experience with.
For a stretch in the mid ‘90s to early ‘00s Colorado State head coach Sonny Lubick built a team that nobody wanted to play out in Fort Collins. From 1994-2002 the Rams went 79-32 (71% win percentage), including three first place finishes in the Western Athletic Conference and three more in the Mountain West Conference (Colorado State made the move to the MWC when the conference was formed in 1999) before falling on hard times.
McElwain was brought in to get the program back to where it was and he faced the same issue that he now worries about at Florida — can players who haven’t had a lot of it learn how to handle success and learn it quickly, before it comes back to bite them on Saturday.
“It’ll be really interesting to see how we handle the praise from all the people that obviously said they weren’t worth a hill of beans and now are talking about them,” said McElwain. “People rubbing their bellies and making them feel good. Yeah, they should get their bellies rubbed. I mean, they’ve done a good job. And yet how do you handle it?”
Playing in Florida’s favor as they prepare this week should be the bad taste in their mouths going up against a Missouri team that has outscored them 78-30 the past two seasons. Missouri played homecoming spoiler last season in a frustrating loss and the Gators will have the opportunity to return the favor as the Tigers celebrate homecoming this weekend.
“[It was] Embarrassing,” Maye said. “Just because that’s not what we want to put on film. That’s not how we expect to play. You know the fans aren’t used to things going that way, just stuff like that. It was just a down for everybody. For the whole team. Just embarrassing for that game last year.”
McElwain hopes that the Florida Gators learned about not letting the good feelings of a win linger into the next work week following their lackluster performance against ECU but he won’t find out until the team gets out onto the practice field this week.