Florida coach Jim McElwain hates the infamous shark photo.
The man in the picture – who is lying naked on a shark on the deck of a boat – isn’t McElwain. We all know that. But when the photo went viral May 8, there obviously was concern at Florida. Would the story affect how McElwain is perceived?
Three months later, the verdict is in on the recruiting trail (where image matters most). The photo had zero negative impact.
The Gators have 17 commitments in their 2018 recruiting class, and 13 have pledged since the photo became public.
The top seven players in the class – using 247Sports’ rankings – all committed post-shark photo. That includes five-star quarterback Matt Corral, two four-star receivers and a quartet of other four-star prospects. Four of those seven players are from out of the state.
Entering Friday, Florida had the seventh-best class in the nation and the second-best in the SEC.
The shark photo also hasn’t slowed down the 2019 class. Florida has a dozen commitments, seven of whom have made their choice since the photo. And the Gators are ranked first in the nation for the class.
Could the photo have actually helped McElwain? Perhaps, for two reasons.
There’s the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, especially in an era today where celebrity trumps all. Also, alpha male 17-year-olds might have found the photo hilarious. Even though it isn’t McElwain, maybe there was a coolness factor in the eyes of these teenagers.
Here’s what I think: The shark photo didn’t help McElwain. I believe he’s improved so much as a recruiter – and hired the right assistants – that he was able to overcome this unique adversity with ease.
McElwain has been working his recruiting base for almost three years now. He has made inroads. He bolstered UF’s recruiting strength in February when he hired assistants Ja’Juan Seider, Corey Bell and Brad Davis to his staff. Promoting Randy Shannon to defensive coordinator was smart for on-field and recruiting reasons.
We know McElwain can coach. He’s won 19 games in two seasons. It would be 20 if not for the Presbyterian gimme getting cancelled as a result of the scheduling fiasco with LSU caused by Hurricane Matthew last season.
McElwain is the first coach in SEC history to win a division title in each of his first two years. He’s managed that feat with awful offensive teams.
The knock on McElwain was his recruiting. He can be a great X’s and O’s coach, but if he never wins the big recruiting battles against the South’s best programs, he’ll never win big enough to survive at Florida.
McElwain started to ease those concerns with his strong close to the 2017 recruiting cycle. Now, his production on the recruiting trail is starting to hit an elite level.
If McElwain can start consistently bringing in these types of classes, the Gators could just be getting started in terms of winning championships. And Florida just might have the total package after all in McElwain.
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