Florida’s Jim McElwain likes his team – and he certainly hasn’t been shy about saying it

Jim McElwain
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Vince Dooley would never approve. If the legendary former Georgia coach heard Jim McElwain talk about his Florida football team, he might just lose it right there in the garden.

The longtime head Bulldog was a master poor-mouther long before he was a master gardener. Dooley was a magnificent coach and a true Southern gentleman, one who always paid proper respect to the opponent and humbly explained that his outmanned team probably wouldn’t have a chance.

Until afterward, when Georgia had won. Like it did 201 times in Dooley’s splendid career.

The formula was so effective, it became a template for coaches for years: Build up the other guy, speak humbly about your team, then spring the surprise.

McElwain, now entering his third year in Gainesville, has followed part of the script. He often speaks highly of the opponent, particularly lauding opposing coaches, many of whom he has befriended through many years in the business. He appears well-connected and well-liked in the industry.

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But he also can be salty; he’s proud of his team and the strides the program has made in his two seasons on campus. He seems to bristle at the notion that the Gators won the SEC East each of the past two seasons by default. Or that some focus more on his offense has struggled than that the Gators, for all practical purposes, have turned in back-to-back 10-win seasons. (The Presbyterian game last year, a layup, had to be canceled, leaving UF with nine wins on the season).

I could sense it when I spoke with him at SEC Media Days last month. I sense it when I hear and read his comments about his team leading up to the season. And although I wasn’t at Florida’s Media Day, you still could feel it: McElwain still doesn’t think people realize how good his team is.

He was asked at media day, essentially, if in year three his team is where it needs to be to compete for championships.

“Yes, I do. I feel like we’re at that point now. I’m not going to give you a Joe Willie Namath,” he said, referring to the former Jets quarterback guaranteeing a Super Bowl win. “But I know this, we’re OK. We’re better than OK. We’re pretty darn good.”

A day later, he was asked about his veterans showing better-than-expected energy in their first workout.

“Well, expectations of them, from the outside world, are pretty low,” he said. “Maybe they feel like they have something to prove.”

The theme is the same. Why would expectations be low for a two-time defending division champ? That is the question that I think bugs the coach.

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And you know what? I like it. Coaches are so hellbent on managing expectations, so fearful of setting a high bar and then not reaching it, that they remind everyone how difficult the challenges are going to be. It has become dreadfully common, predictable and maddeningly boring.

It is clear McElwain believes he has a good team. Yes, the quarterback situation is unsettled, but the crop to pull from seems to have grown exponentially. The best example is Luke Del Rio.

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