The Florida Gators have long been one of the most heavily penalized teams in not only the SEC but in the entire country. “The referee’s have it out for us,” fans would say.
Since 2008 the Florida Gators have finished second to last three times, dead last three times and ninth in the SEC in terms of penalty yards per game.
The laundry that dotted the field would make fans groan, coaches throw visors and punch chalkboards in the locker room but, eventually, had just become apart of being a Gators fan. You’re team was going to be penalized more than most and you just needed to deal with it.
“What are we? The most penalized team in the last five years, six years, whatever it is? I don’t know where we sit,” McElwain said in August. “It’s ridiculous.”
McElwain didn’t grow up a Gator fan. He has no reason to accept things at face value, he way they had been for as long as this writer or any of the fans in the student section can remember. He decided he was going to change the culture at Florida, the Gators were going to play clean football and that wasn’t optional.
He began drilling attention to detail into the heads of his players at practice not knowing if they even knew why he had them do things a certain way. McElwain would hold players accountable for everything they did on the field at practice, in meeting rooms and in the classroom. It’s about being good people, he continually says.
All that work paid off as the Gators had just one penalty — they committed two but one was negated by a penalty on New Mexico State on the same play.
“You know, that’s something, I gotta say the attention to detail and them understanding the importance in why we do things in practice the way we do them,” McElwain said after the game. “I think there’s a lot of things we’re going to be able to point to on video and say now this is the why.”
The players themselves noticed the change to. They can’t really put their finger on it. There isn’t one thing that McElwain has done thus far that is exponentially different than the previous coaching staff has done.
“I don’t think there were any procedural penalties. I think that’s big time, especially the last couple of years where we haven’t been doing well in the penalty area,” linebacker Alex Anzalone said. “Coach Mac just instilled that in us, being disciplined players. If we’re disciplined players penalties won’t happen.”
For a team that is installing a brand new offense and defense to not have a procedural penalty in their first game together is pretty remarkable. Jim McElwain is changing the perception of the Gators and the attitude of a football program. Fans will enjoy more offense, and wins, but what you’ll really enjoy is not having to groan every time Florida gets hit with a yellow flag.