Over the Thanksgiving weekend Star Wars fans finally got a sneak peak of the newest incarnation of their beloved universe when JJ Abrams finally released the trailer for Episode VII: The Force Awakens. In case you haven’t geeked out to it, here it is:
The fans of the series are judgmental, factious, and protective of the series. Some have even gone so far as to be critical of the light saber design showcased in the trailer. Yes, people were debating the utility of fictional weapon from a trailer of a movie that will not be released for another year. Fans of the series are some of the most rabid and devoted fans in pop culture; they turned one man’s fictional ideas into a multi-billion dollar enterprise spanning several decades.
Fan reactions often defy explanation. Fans link themselves emotionally with the material. They are the hardest people to satisfy because they are a much larger and diverse group. Additionally, fans are more emotional in their reactions because the people making the decisions are toying with ideas, stories, and characters they love and they have no other attachment than emotion. People that make decisions have other considerations in their decision matrix than what satisfies the decision maker emotionally.
Toying with the Star Wars story is serious business; kind of like picking a head coach for the Florida Gators football team.
Many fans have such lofty expectations that finding the perfect person that would galvanize the Gator Nation, fill the stadium, and quiet the arm chair quarterbacks and professional second-guessers on Gator Country was going to be very difficult task to accomplish. Taking on that task would have only resulted in abject failure. That fictional coach does not exist. So, Jeremy Foley had to make the best decision with all the information he had at his disposal.
Thus, over the past few days the Gators embarked on an epic adventure to find a new coach, a new hope for the Gator Nation if you will.
Watching the message boards light up with ideas of Chip Kelly, Jim Harbaugh, Mike Shanahan, John Gruden and Josh McDaniels was fun. To many in Gator Country, the laughable idea that current NFL coaches would exit their teams to coach the Gators seemed like a plausible idea. While Jim Harbaugh would have been my dream pick to lead the Gators, I never seriously thought he would come here.
Logistically, the timing of waiting for an active NFL coach would have only dug a deeper hole for the program as most of the recruiting season would have slipped away waiting for one of those guys. However, I am sure that we made at least a call to their agents if they were at the top of the list; while it hurts to hear it, those guys probably just weren’t interested for whatever reason. Moreover, for the guys out of the NFL, I am sure we had plenty of time to gauge their interest in the opening as well. For whatever reasons, they weren’t interested in us or we weren’t interested in them.
Other names floated around the boards like Bob Stoops, Charlie Strong, and Hugh Freeze, which all sound great. However, what incentive did those coaches have to leave their current jobs for Hogtown. In retrospect, the idea seems silly. While the University of Florida is a great job, is it demonstrably better than Norman, Austin, or Oxford? I think so, but that does not mean that the people that Jeremy Foley talked to felt the same. Maybe those guys already occupy their “dream job”.
In any event, those are lateral moves which unless we are breaking the bank, make no sense for those coaches. However, with the additional money floating around in college football, it’s going to be harder for teams to just break the bank and pay more to get an experienced head coach that they target. Look at what Ole Miss did for Hugh Freeze the other day; he’s now making $4 million a year now. Now imagine I would have told you that the head coach of Ole Miss made that kind of money ten years ago. The landscape of college football has changed.
You don’t need to be at a program the size of Florida to get national recognition anymore. If you can coach and recruit, College Gameday will come to your town for a 3-hour recruiting commercial. Also, everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line can sell great weather.
Anyone that plays in a Power 5 conference can sell national exposure. Moreover, 13 other schools can sell the idea of the SEC Network to a coach. The schools of the Big 10 and the PAC-12 can also sell their coaches on their networks as well. Additionally, almost all schools in the SEC can throw a boatload of money at a coach they want. The broader point is that the gap of institutional advantages at the University of Florida has shrunk dramatically over the past few years.
Some people will cite our lack of athletic dorms and an indoor practice facility as factors in our decline; which they are probably playing a small role. However, our athletic department is one of the few in the country that actually runs in the black. While Bama has a shiny new football complex, they also have a very high debt load to service. Saban and his large salary make sense for now, but he and his salary may not always make sense after a couple of lackluster years and Bama regresses towards the mean.
However, we still have a few aces up our sleeve; the University of Florida can sell its academics which are generally better than its main competitors in Florida and the SEC. Florida can also sell its location in one of the hottest recruiting areas in the whole country.
While everyone else has thrown caution to the wind in the facilities arms race, Jeremy Foley has been circumspect and measured. His financial philosophy has put the Florida Gators in a better long-term position than our rivals. That will serve the athletic department well in the future. While everyone else has mortgaged their futures, we will still have flexibility to upgrade our facilities when the SEC Network money starts to roll in over the next couple years; which was probably the plan all along. Why mortgage everything when you can pay cash and get a discount? It’s not a popular philosophy, but its built the most successful athletic department over the past few decades.
Someone has to make the hard decisions. However, sometimes throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it. At least that is what so many posters have asserted in various threads on the Too Hot for Swamp Gas boards. Moreover, sometimes no matter how much money you throw at someone, they could be just happy where they are at.
I’m sure Jeremy Foley took a couple swings at the splashy home run hire we all wanted, but the pitch just wasn’t there. He does his due diligence. You can’t blame Jeremy Foley for not trying. He can’t publicly admit that swings were taken and missed. If anything, he learned from his mistakes in 2002 that you do not publicly chase two coaches and get two very polite, but publicly embarrassing rejections.
However, there was never a guarantee that any of those coaches mentioned before could vault the Gators back to the national stage. Moreover, those coaches were realistically never going to come here.
The broader lesson to be learned is that the game of keeping your program on top is always changing. What worked in 2004 didn’t work in 2010 which doesn’t work in 2014.
So, Jeremy Foley did something bold. If the reports circulating around Gator Country are true, then Jeremy Foley set out to fix the most obvious problem that has ailed the Gators for the past 5 seasons. He went out to get the best offensive head coach that he could land. Jim McElwain produced offenses at Bama that won national championships. He also helped establish the pipeline from Bama-NFL talent pipeline.
Additionally, his Colorado State teams have progressively improved, both offensively and overall, over the last three years. He teaches and maximizes the talent of the players he recruits. Moreover, he recruits well. Finally, he does not come with any NCAA baggage or perceived character issues.
As a bonus, he seems open to the idea of keeping most of defensive coaches and schemes intact.
The only downside it seems is that he is not named Chip Kelly. Any criticism of Coach McElwain at this juncture is premature, fictional, and only based on personal perceptions. It’s like complaining about a fictional weapon in a movie that you know nothing about. Just like the new Star Wars that could be good like the Empire Strikes Back or bad like the Phantom Menace; Jim McElwain could be an SEC winning coach or he could fail here like other coaches have. However, I am not going to condemn his tenure before he coaches a single practice.
However, the deal is stalled over a $7.5 million buy-out that Mr. Foley refuses to pay for Jim McElwain. This deal will get done. CSU may not acknowledge it yet, but they are going to accept less than $7.5 million. We could pay the money, but that is not how Florida does things. Call it cheap, call it thrifty, but Jeremy Foley doesn’t over pay for anything and that mindset has produced national championships in not only football, but other sports as well.
The national media is painting this as some kind of failure and calling out the Gators as the deal should have been inked before he stepped on the plane to go to Fort Collins, Co. However, no one knows what was relayed to Foley by the administration at CSU, if you believe Foley, CSU stated they were willing to negotiate but then reneged once the deal with McElwain was complete. I believe Foley’s version because the contract has an “extenuating circumstances” clause that allows for a reduced buy out that was to be negotiated in good faith.
The clause was specifically put in the contract at McElwain’s request. Moreover, it is not like we flew out there and said we weren’t paying anything. Foley offered $3 million. That is a good faith offer. Florida is not a bully; that $3 million pays their next coach’s salary for at least a couple of years. It seems the only thing that changed on the flight out there for Foley is that other universities names with coaching vacancies got connected to McElwain.
This is a failure and a classic overreach by a party that is overestimating the strength of their bargaining position. How does CSU see this playing out? Do they think they will retain McElwain? After this messy incident, how does he want to coach there? Moreover, after he leaves, who takes over for McElwain after their administration has shown that they refuse to bargain in good faith and lied to their head coach. CSU might as well forget about getting a decent up and coming replacement after this mess. Jim McElwain is not their property to be sold to the highest bidder.
In any event, I still see this deal getting done because both Florida and CSU have gone past the point of no return. Each side will give a little bit and come up with a narrative of what happened allowing both sides to save a little face.
At some point, Jeremy Foley will introduce Jim McElwain as the new head football coach at the University of Florida.
On that day, Coach Mac, as he likes to be called, will represent a new chapter in our saga and he will be our new hope to fix the offense and win the East. Moreover, the majority of people on Gator Country have gotten behind this hire over the past few days because of the galvanizing nature of the external conflict with CSU over the buy-out. It’s not the sexy or splashy hire we all were dreaming of, but Coach Mac has all the tools and experience to be a successful coach at the University of Florida. For all we know, Jeremy Foley found another coach that hasn’t fully peaked and is still trending up to his full potential. He may have made the splash the fans wanted, but they just don’t know it yet.