What seemed inevitable Saturday night became reality Sunday.
Jim McElwain’s coaching career is over at Florida.
The embattled head football coach and the school agreed to part ways Sunday, UF athletic director Scott Stricklin announced Sunday afternoon.
“This morning, I met with Coach McElwain and also began conversations for the first time with his agent, Jimmy Sexton, regarding Coach Mac’s future here at Florida,” Stricklin said Sunday night. “The end result of those conversations is that Coach Mac and the UAA have mutually agreed to part ways.
“I appreciate Coach McElwain, the way he has handled this. We had constructive conversations. I like coach Mac. I think he is a good man. I want to thank him for his time and his effort serving as our football coach.”
Stricklin said UF and McElwain have reached an agreement in principle after negotiating McElwain’s $12.76 million buyout Sunday, but that it has not been signed yet. Stricklin would not reveal the terms, but it likely means a reduced settlement. McElwain was making $4.5 million a year and his contract ran through 2022.
Defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, the former head coach at the University of Miami, has been named interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The Gators have four games remaining in the regular season.
“I’m confident Coach Shannon and our staff will provide guidance our program needs these next four weeks,” Stricklin said. “We have four games left. We are not giving up on this season. I know our young men are ready to go out and get on the field this coming Saturday at Missouri and represent the Gators.”
McElwain was not available to the media Sunday and did not have a chance to talk to his players. Stricklin, however, said he will have that opportunity.
McElwain sent messages to his players and UF and its fans on Twitter.
“Thank you for working hard and giving it your all. I love each and every one of you,” he said to the players.
To the school and the fans he said, “I want to thank the University of Florida, the fans, the alumni for the opportunity to have been your head coach. My family and I will move forward and appreciate the good memories.”
Stricklin met with the players late Sunday afternoon after many of them had read the news on social media.
“They were quiet, but they made eye contact and they shook my hand on the way out of the room,” Stricklin said. “That was a good conversation.”
Stricklin said a national search for McElwain’s replacement begins this morning.
“Our search for the next head coach at the University of Florida begins immediately,” Stricklin said. “I will do everything I can to keep the search process and the details of the search process confidential. We all understand rumors tend to run rampant in these situations and because of that a lot of what people read and what you hear will not be accurate.”
Stricklin said Florida is an easy sell and he will find the right coach because it’s one of the best jobs in college football.
“If you want to work in the best athletic department in the country and have access to some of the best talent in the country and have some of the best support in the country and play and coach for the best fans in the country, you want to be at the University of Florida,” he said.
“This is a place where you can compete for championships at the highest level. I saw a quote that Tim Tebow made this week. He said, ‘You don’t go to Florida to compete, you go to Florida to win.’ I saw Coach Mac’s press conference last night. He called it a dream job. I think this is a dream job for somebody.”
McElwain’s departure comes the day after the Gators were blown out by Georgia 42-7 and six days after McElwain stunned the athletic department — and just about everyone else — with his unsubstantiated claims of death threats being made to players and families.
The process that led to McElwain’s departure started Monday, when McElwain made claims that players and family have received death threats. He refused to give specifics.
In a meeting later that day with Stricklin and other members of the administration, McElwain also would not be specific about his claims, prompting UAA to release a statement saying McElwain would not provide any further details.
That drew nationwide speculation that McElwain was not being truthful. He apologized for his comments Wednesday, but again would not reveal any details about the alleged threats.
The problem did not go away for McElwain.
Only hours before Saturday’s kickoff in Jacksonville there was a post on Twitter claiming UF and McElwain’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, were negotiating a buyout. Stricklin sent out a statement soon after denying that any negotiations were going on, but did not in any way back his head coach.
McElwain learned of the report shortly before the team meal Saturday morning and informed his players, who came out flat against No. 3 Georgia and fell behind 21-0 midway through the first quarter.
Stricklin said the decision to seek McElwain’s departure was reached at some point during the week, and that it had more to do than just the remarks about death threats and the recent performances on the field. It was the result of an ongoing evaluation of McElwain and how he fits in the overall athletic program.
“You’re constantly evaluating your program,” Stricklin said. “I don’t know that there was any one seminal moment, but it just seemed like this was the time to do it.
“You know, this is more than just wins and losses, and I’ll just leave it at that. … You are constantly evaluating and there are things that happen while you are doing the evaluation that sometimes make you ask questions. I don’t know that you’re ever completely surprised in these situations.”
After the 42-7 loss Saturday, McElwain said he understood why he was in the tenuous position he suddenly found himself.
“Nothing in this world surprises me,” he said. “I know what I was brought here to do. We haven’t been good on offense. I get it. We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t won enough, haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s life.
“That is the business, and I take full responsibility for all of it.”
In McElwain’s two-plus seasons, the Gators won the SEC’s Eastern Division twice and are 22-12 overall and 16-6 in league play.
McElwain was hired by then-athletic director Jeremy Foley after the 2014 season and was brought to UF to generate a productive offense that had fallen dormant under defensive-minded coach Will Muschamp.
But over the past three seasons, the Gators have regressed on offense, due in large part to inconsistent quarterback play and a lack of playmakers in the passing game.
Stricklin will keep the coaching search private, but there are some obvious potential targets, including Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Syracuse’s Dino Babers, Central Florida’s Scott Frost, SMU’s Chad Morris and Memphis’ Mike Norvell.
Stricklin came to UF from Mississippi State, where he worked with Mullen, the former Florida offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer.
“I want to be really careful, because I want to be respectful of their situation,” Stricklin said. “They’ve got a good season going. Dan, I would just say, I enjoyed working with Dan. And I think he would probably say the same.
“Dan can be direct and I can be direct and sometimes we had direct conversations, like you would anybody that you worked with closely. He’s done a really nice job there. And as an alum of that school, I’m proud of the job he’s done at my alma mater.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.