HOOVER, Ala. — Just down I-10 the Florida State Seminoles are dealing with serious off the field issues that have already seen one player (quarterback De’Andre Johnson) dismissed from the team and star sophomore-to-be running back Dalvin Cook land in hot water, charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly striking a female outside of a Tallahassee bar.
The issues that Florida State are going through are, unfortunately, not unprecedented in the world of college football. The Florida Gators didn’t make it through the offseason unscathed as cornerback JC Jackson is looking for a new school following charges of felony armed robbery with a firearm.
Doing his part, Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain is taking a hard-lined stance against any issues off the field. McElwain is tasked with not just winning football games on the field but also with changing a culture.
It’s widely accepted that the footfall team under Urban Meyer — although successful on the field — ran amuck on the streets of Gainesville. McElwain isn’t putting the onus on himself alone, or even one person in particular. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes the entire organization to keep a football team out of the headlines for misconduct.
“Part of it starts with the leadership in your football team,” McElwain said. We can educate, and that’s what we try to so as coaches and as teachers. We try to do as much as we can to help these young men be successful, and yet at the end of the day, it’s about choices and decisions that you make.”
It’s an impossible task to think a coach can control the thoughts, actions and decisions of more than 85 young men in their programs. The coaching staff can only be there for so many hours, they can only warn their players so many times before the ultimate decision and choice falls in the hands of the players themselves. The words that McElwain says — and the ones that really sink in with his players — are simple.
“We have freedom of choice but we do not have freedom of consequence,” McElwain says. “That’s part of growing up and part of learning.”
The summertime is the time where the staff will worry the most. They have a little contact with their players in the summer as any point in the year and the players have more free time than they’re used to. McElwain is trying to educate his players on how their choices have consequences and those consequences — mainly because of the platform they are placed on being a student-athlete at the University of Florida — are magnified.
When McElwain left the Alabama Crimson Tide, Nick Saban told him, “at the end of the day, you’ve got to do it the way you do it.”
Make no mistake about it. The Florida Gators football team was broken when McElwain took over. He’s rebuilding it and that is beginning with holding his players and his staff to a standard that is becoming of the university they represent.