Jim McElwain has been a busy man the last few weeks. He spent a day last week in Hoover, Alabama for SEC Media days before flying to his home state of Montana for his daughter’s wedding. After walking her down the aisle on Saturday, news broke that two freshmen had been arrested early Monday morning facing two felony charges.
The news came on the eve of McElwain’s visit to ESPN’s annual SEC Coaches “Car Wash,” less than ideal timing for the head coach.
SportsCenter anchor Jay Crawford led off McElwain’s interview asking about Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells, the two freshmen that were arrested.
“Here’s the beauty; we have freedom of choice. The thing we don’t have is freedom of consequence based on our actions,” McElwain said on SportsCenter. “Our guys know that they’re going to be dealt with. That’s the way we handle things, that’s the way I handle things and I think our track record shows that.”
The “freedom of choice, not freedom of consequence” is a McElwainism that has been used before. Alex McCalister, Marcus Maye and Latroy Pittman were suspended for the season opener in 2015, due to violating Athletic Department policy. Jalen Tabor and Treon Harris were suspended for the Tennessee game. McElwain cited “choices they made” as the reason why Tabor and Harris wouldn’t be available against the Vols.
McElwain has shown to be fair in his decisions to suspend players, but he also will let the legal system play out before he takes actions internally. Cleveland and Wells were both released on their own recognizance Monday afternoon. They do not have a court date set at the time of publishing, but their attorney will likely look to get both players into a pre-trial diversion program, which would avoid going to trial.
McElwain did, however, explain that each choice his student-athletes make can be used as a lesson.
“It’s not about that as much as [it is] about the education of what you learned from your actions,” McElwain said on SportsCenter. “That’s the thing as a teacher, as a coach, the thing you go through every single day is trying to help all these young men learn from past historical data and that’s where we’re at. These guys will be dealt with and it will be taken care of.”