- No one ever wants to admit they wasted time and effort. Circumstances no one can control are one thing. Spend four years living in Dallas waiting on a job that never panned out, or living in New York with a significant other who turned out to be anything but worth the wait, or that time someone went to law school for two years, and decided a third would be a discredit to the legal profession? No one wants to admit they wasted any of that time, because it means someone took the one thing no one gets back in life—time—and burned it like so much tinder.
- Doubt this and go look at the game console of your choice in your house or on any game on your phone. There it is: 58 hours spent playing Red Dead Redemption in the year 2017 alone. And dude, that game came out seven years ago. It’s like you don’t even know you’re going to die sometimes.
- Admitting that someone has wasted their own time hurts every time, because it means that someone has definitively messed up the one unrecoverable asset they have, and done it personally to them. You hurt you. You didn’t even have to, and now you can’t get any of that back, and that’s how you ended up wasting more time feeling really bad about it. Maybe one even overindulged with a reasonably priced bottle of Bulleit while watching a marathon of House Hunters International, and thus wasted more time that night, and also the following day thanks to a smacking hangover? Who could be the subject here? The answer could be a mystery forever!
- Admitting it for someone else, though? A joy forever, and clinically done.
- For instance: Florida fired Jim McElwain two months into his third season as Florida head coach, and less than a day after a 42-7 asskicking at the hands (paws?) of the Georgia Bulldogs. The athletic director making the bulk of the decision, Scott Stricklin, became athletic director at the University of Florida in September of 2016. He did not hire McElwain, and did not have any real responsibility toward him in terms of hiring, judgment, or reputation. McElwain’s hiring, success or mistake, would not be going on his balance sheet.
- McElwain’s prolonged failure—and/or the management of that failure—would go right on Stricklin’s resume. That is the extremely dry reason for Jim McElwain getting fired on October 29th. Once McElwain’s failure became a forgone conclusion for the people in charge, his firing became one as well.
- That’s the simple mechanics of this. Getting to the foregone conclusion part—that Jim McElwain’s short, uneventful, unmemorable, and largely mediocre tenure as head coach at Florida—takes a little effort, but not much more than a little.
- Categorically, the best McElwain seemed capable of was mediocrity. That mediocrity came at a time when his competition locally was as weak as it could be, and when the University was more willing than ever to spend on facilities, brand-building, and all the other accessories needed to keep a program competitive and happy. Unlike his predecessor Will Muschamp, he got free rein in hiring the staff he wanted to hire. Unlike his predecessor, he had actual head coaching experience coming into the job. Unlike Muschamp, McElwain won the SEC East, and did it two years in a row despite losing a starting quarterback to injury in both seasons.
- That point will be the one used most often to suggest that, in firing McElwain, Florida acted prematurely. That point will usually be made without noting that the SEC East was at its most pitiful in those years; that rivals Tennessee and Georgia were both in rebuilding, a rebuilding that is ongoing at Tennessee, but evidently well underway at Georgia; that in both SEC Championship Games Florida did not even appear to belong on the same field as Alabama.
- At its best, Florida under Jim McElwain was the smartest kid in a very, very slow class, rarely blowing out conference competition, and never really switching gears from the plodding, defense-first football of the Muschamp era.
- After two years McElwain stood tied with Steve Spurrier for the most wins in the program’s history. Yet it never felt like McElwain was doing anything but treading water, and managing a program rather than developing it. Nowhere was this more apparent than in recruiting, where McElwain underwhelmed in two straight signing seasons before finally landing a top ten class in 2017.
- Even then, McElwain couldn’t succeed without being overshadowed, with UGA and Florida State’s 2017 recruiting classes placing higher in composite recruiting rankings. This would not have been a problem if Florida had shown any ability to develop talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They did not: After three years of concentrated effort by an avowed offensive specialist and his custom-picked staff, the Florida offense looked as bad as it ever did under Will Muschamp, and at times worse.
- Without an impossible turnaround in the remainder of the 2017 season, the best finish in scoring offense the Florida Gators will have had under Jim McElwain will be the 100th place finish in 2015. If the defense had held steady, that might not even be a problem, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It did not, and with the loss of (mostly inherited) talent to the NFL, the hire of Randy Shannon, and the continued inability of the offense to protect the defense via field position or production, Florida’s defense has collapsed into a periodically good but mostly middling unit.
- Statistically, Jim McElwain turned 2017 Florida into 2017 Rutgers. There is no evidence McElwain or the offensive staff can develop a quarterback or build an offensive line or tell a wideout how to run a route. There’s actually less and less evidence the offense is even designed competently. The big highlight—maybe the only real morbid but funny highlight, really—of watching Gary Danielson this season call a long string of SEC blowouts has been him literally correcting play design for Florida on the screen. He does this when not openly laughing at false starts and procedural penalties. It’s a full to-do list when watching Florida football, and just getting through half of it should earn him an Emmy.
- None of that is real subjective. There is a plumb line to trace here, from recruiting to player development to on-field performance. That line goes gently but every steadily down. Unlike other cases—like Brian Kelly this year at Notre Dame, for instance—that sliding scale of blowouts and slippage against bellwether competition is not just a matter of a young team losing single-score games, but a gradual programmatic slide in almost every single major measurable category. Unlike Jimbo Fisher—another coach suffering through a massive dip in wins and production—McElwain has no conference championships or national titles to claim.
- Some external factors are at play here. It’s hard to stand pat when Georgia appears to be on the verge of reversing the course of 25 years of Florida dominance over them. It’s hard to stand pat when Tennessee might be shopping for a lot of the same coaches in the exact same market. It’s hard to sit and do nothing when Florida State might be vulnerable for the first time in years, or when Miami is quietly retaking some of its old territory in South Florida. Those can’t be the main reasons a program makes decisions, but they inevitably add pressure to an already dire situation.
- Pssst: This is also the best crop of available or at least biddable coaches in years. That might have something to do with it, too.
- The internal factors for McElwain not working out matter more, though. He never won big enough, and never recruited well enough to win over an administration that didn’t hire him in the first place. He lost to FSU, Tennessee, and Georgia, stepping into a dismal shit-chievement even Will Muschamp never brought home on the bottom of his shoes. McElwain blamed others for his own problems, and while trying to sell himself as a “just folks” kind of guy undercut that image by reacting bizarrely to just about every extracurricular distraction the program brought him.
- For instance: There was the time the internet got a good two week news cycle off his overreaction to a picture of a guy who sort of looked like him posing nude on a shark, ensuring that everyone now, in their heart of hearts if not their minds, will remember Jim McElwain as the naked guy on the shark. That’s probably for the best, especially if the other option is “guy who ripped Kelvin Taylor on camera in the worst possible way” or “The guy who decided to sell his personal brand of barbecue sauce in the stadium the same year that he only won three games.”
- Ultimately, McElwain would still be the head coach if anyone in the building really thought Jim McElwain was a good idea, or liked having him around. Hell, that’s basically why Will Muschamp got a fourth year in Gainesville after dropping what had to that point been the worst season in program history. He was, for all his faults, likable. When he was fired, Muschamp finished out the season after one of the most honest and emotionally healthy press conferences in the history of college football. It was, as far as funerals go, the best of all possible services.
- McElwain, in contrast, probably spent much of the day figuring out with his agent how to salvage a buyout across the table from his now-former bosses. He will not finish out the season, and there will be no final press conference. McElwain leaves with the worst loss in fifty years to Georgia, no real legacy, and very few friends to be found anywhere inside or outside the building. It’s not that Jim McElwain deserves this kind of exit—but it’s also not surprising or not fitting that this is exactly the kind of exit he got. This relationship on either side never progressed beyond side hugs and an awkward, befuddled tolerance in the name of theoretical potential.
- Success after McElwain will hopefully validate all this: without McElwain, we never would have hired [INSERT COACH HERE], and we wouldn’t change a thing about that. That kind of retroactive justification happens later. For the moment, this was—even by the very low standards of recreational sports—mostly wasted time for everyone involved. There’s no buyout for that, no recovery process, only a negotiation to salvage what can be salvaged before starting over. The less we say about it moving forward, the better, because there’s little take from it, and also very little to leave behind.
- Correction: We should all probably remember this. Jim McElwain was so unremarkable, so weirdly unmemorable at Florida, that we had to say he was someone else. That someone—the naked man in this photo—is actually a retired cop from New York. That’s the story with this photo, and with his tenure at Florida. This isn’t Jim McElwain. It never was.
THIS ISN’T JIM MCELWAIN
IT’S NOT, STOP SAYING THAT