Jim McElwain walked into his usual Wednesday afternoon news briefing wearing his usual Gator windshirt and his usual Gator baggy shorts knowing that he wasn’t going to get the usual questions.
His self-inflicted firestorm had been raging for more than 48 hours, burning a wide path that gobbled up everything not bolted down.
So he knew that at least half of the questions would be about something other than Florida-Georgia.
“I understand, that’s the news,” he said.
McElwain’s death-threat blurtation Monday had come soaring back at him like a boomerang with poisoned fangs, causing a media feeding frenzy on steroids that would not dissipate quietly.
It didn’t help that on Wednesday morning, McElwain offered little news and more confusing rhetoric.
“I feel bad sometimes for being open and being honest, and yet, at the same time, I’ve seen this movie and I understand it,” he said. “If it gets to a point we’ll go from there.”
He also said he would offer more detail “when it becomes unmanageable.”
It didn’t become “unmanageable” or different by 5:30 Wednesday afternoon, but the McElwain who stood before us was contrite and humbled.
Because he screwed up.
And that’s the message he gave to his team on the perfectly-chilled practice field.
Hey, guys, you know how I stress to you not to let the noise get to you and pull the shutters on the outside world?
That goes for me, too.
And I blew it.
The Florida coach has a penchant for saying what’s on his mind before his thoughts are always full formed and are still raw and unfinished. Maybe that’s why he’s so guarded at times when we ask him about the starting left tackle or what he had for breakfast — because he tends to blurt out what’s on his mind if he doesn’t take a deep breath first.
And it has had him in trouble before.
Just not like this.
This was different for a lot of reasons.
This was an inference to a life-and-death matter. This was more serious than football.
And then the narrative changed before Monday was over.
It went from the sorry state of the lunatic fringe of fans to the red flag that was Florida’s statement about his comments.
The takeaway from UF’s brusk statement was that there is a rift between the head coach and the athletic department. Certainly, there have been some issues because McElwain has called out both the department and his fan base in moments of unfortunate candor.
But it’s not like athletic director Scott Stricklin and McElwain have to be seated at opposite ends of the table at UF functions. There is no rift, no animosity.
Was Stricklin happy when he was blindsided by McElwain’s comments Monday about death threats? Take a guess.
McElwain’s first mistake was to say something publicly. His bigger mistake was not to sprint to the second floor of the stadium and explain it to his boss.
That’s a part of his personality that needs to get better. It probably never crossed his mind.
His is a tight inner circle. He is a circle-the-wagons coach at a school that is all-for-one. It’s us against the world even if you are all rooting for the same result.
Even after McElwain’s first misstep in this matter, he figured it would be handled inside the locked doors of the football offices.
But the athletic department has to be deeply imbedded inside that circle of trust.
The football players are not the only people under the University Athletic Association’s umbrella and think about other coaches or student-athletes explaining death threats to parents.
Not a good look.
Nobody was ever getting fired over this mistake. But every coach on the campus is always being evaluated and this error goes in Mac’s file.
He made a mistake, compounded it and came back to finally own it way late, but not too late.
Which is why I asked at the end of the news conference Wednesday of the coach who is always talking about “teachable moments” if this was one for the UAA’s highest-paid employee.
“There’s no doubt about it,” McElwain said.
We’ll see. He may have closed up an open wound, but we can still see the fresh stitches.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.