As Jeremy Foley stood at the podium of Florida’s November 17th press conference announcing Will Muschamp stepping down at the end of the season, he outlined his criteria for the next head coach.
The person had to have previous head coaching experience, as well as having specialized on the offensive side of the ball. More importantly, they had to be the right fit for the university.
Last November Foley said Florida wasn’t for everyone. It clearly was the place for Jim McElwain.
For all the speculation throughout the head coaching search on who the Gators looked at, and the fan pressure of going after high-profile name, Foley stayed the course — his team doing the due diligence he talked about at the November presser. While names from the collegiate and professional ranks continued to hover around the program, selecting Florida’s next head coach wasn’t as simple as placing a “help wanted” ad outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“I think there’s an impression that every time there’s a coaching opening at Florida, and we have great jobs here, but everybody in the country wants to move Gainesville,” Foley said. “A lot of people have good jobs. They like the people they work for, they like where they live, they like all those things. So if you throw a bunch of names out there, you don’t want someone who doesn’t want to move to Gainesville.”
If the next head coach’s desire to be with the Orange and Blue was as important to Foley as their resume, he found a qualified candidate in McElwain. Throughout Saturday’s introductory press conference, the Gators’ new head coach discussed the honor to fulfill a dream, noting he first wanted to be part of the university while recruiting in the state during his time at Montana State.
“You’ve got to understand that this is the, there’s only a couple of these in the United States of America and one of those is the Florida Gators and to be able to have that opportunity is something I’m not sure I could have lived with, given that opportunity and letting it pass by,” McElwain said.
During the process, Foley noticed how McElwain lined up with the athletic director’s checklist. A former offensive coordinator at Alabama, Foley said he was certainly aware of his accomplishments with the programs, which included two national championships and tough games again the Gators.
McElwain continued to have success as a head coach. Prior to arriving at Fort Collins, the Rams were inept offensively, specifically in the passing game. In 2011, the season before McElwain took over, Colorado State averaged 184.6 yards per game and 14 interceptions. This past season, the Rams averaged 326.3 yards per game and only had six picks.
McElwain’s impact was also felt in the win column. In the five seasons before the coach took over in 2012, Colorado State averaged nearly four wins. During his tenure, the Rams averaged eight wins per season, including a 10-2 record this year.
While obtaining more information on their prospective coach, Foley and his staff talked with coaches, former players and media members to get an idea of McElwain. Coming out of those discussions, Foley felt that they might have found their coach.
Once Foley met with McElwain, he knew.
The chemistry was there between McElwain and the Florida staff during the much-publicized meetings at the coach’s house. Foley said there was a sense of comfort the minute they sat down with McElwain, and they were confident they would get a deal done, even during a delay brought on by Colorado State’s $7.5 million buyout. If anything, McElwain willing to pay $2 million of the buyout over multiple years proved to the athletic director the head coach was confident in the deal getting done.
Saturday was the culmination of a search for the right coach for the University of Florida. Despite the outside talk, Foley and his staff weren’t lured by sexy picks and splash hires.
Instead the program got a coach who realizes the opportunity he has and not only accepts it, but wants thrive in it.
“Opportunities like this don’t come around very often,” Foley said. “Hopefully this one doesn’t come around for a long, long time. [McElwain] said, ‘My dad told me there are certain opportunities in life that come around and if they’re intriguing, you need to go get it.’ Well, he went and got it.”