McElwain trying to turn tide on player discipline

Florida running back Jordan Scarlett, left, and wide receiver Antonio Callaway were key contributors in last year's 24-10 win over Georgia in Jacksonville. [File]

Florida football coach Jim McElwain has often said when it comes to discipline, players have freedom of choice, but not freedom of consequence.

Through McElwain’s three seasons at UF, Gator players have had their share of scrapes with the law. According to a Gainesville Sun survey:

— Florida players have been charged and/or cited 16 times since McElwain took over as head coach in December of 2014, more than SEC champion Alabama (13) and rivals Georgia (11), Tennessee (9), Florida State (6) and Miami (6) during the same span.

— The 16 charges have involved 14 players, seven of whom were recruited by McElwain and seven were recruited by former UF coach Will Muschamp.

— Of the 16 charges, four were felonies, though felony counts involving Gator receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells firing a BB gun in a UF dorm were eventually reduced to misdemeanor charges. Five of the charges were citations for marijuana possession and two were citations for driving with a suspended license. Alabama (6) has had more felony arrests than Florida during the same time span.

The 16 charges do not include the nine Florida players suspended for their involvement in an alleged credit card fraud ring, which has hamstrung UF’s offense and depth this season. Seven of the nine players were offered pretrial diversion Thursday, though the State Attorney’s office is still looking into multiple charges against offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort and defensive lineman Jordan Smith.

The season-long suspensions have taken their toll on a Florida team that’s 3-3 heading into its showdown with No. 3 Georgia on Saturday. Florida’s offense is ranked 102nd in the nation heading into its game against the Bulldogs without standout junior receiver Antonio Callaway and starting junior running back Jordan Scarlett, who are two of the nine players suspended. Last season, Callaway and Scarlett were instrumental in leading the Gators to a 24-10 win over Georgia. Callaway had a team-high 42 yards receiving and one rushing TD against the Bulldogs, while Scarlett rushed for a team-high 93 yards and one TD.

Lack of scholarship depth on the roster has hurt on special teams as well. In UF’s 19-17 loss to Texas A&M, the Gators failed to successfully cover a punt on a 43-yard return by Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk, which led to Texas A&M’s go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter.

McElwain said he’s tried to reinforce player behavior in a variety of ways.

“We’ve got basically weekly sessions as well as special speakers that come in on all different topics,” McElwain said. “We’ve talked about it before, current issues, different things through social media. It’s a long list, and then what we do is not just forget about it, we actually come back, talk about it, do some small group work as well. We’ve got some fantastic people here that are involved in that. The big piece is really kind of showing the choices you have.”

In some instances, McElwain has taken a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to off-field issues. McElwain kicked former Florida defensive back Deiondre Porter off the team in his first season in 2015 after he was arrested on felony charges for firing a gun near his pregnant girlfriend and pointing the gun at her head. In another instance, before the start of McElwain’s first season, former UF defensive back J.C. Jackson transferred after Jackson was arrested on felony armed robbery charges. Jackson eventually went to trial and was found not guilty.

In other instances, McElwain has given second chances. Callaway was suspended during the 2016 offseason when he and former quarterback Treon Harris were involved in a Title IX investigation. While Harris transferred, Callaway stayed with UF after he was cleared of allegations of sexual assault. During the Title IX hearing, Callaway admitted to smoking marijuana, but was not suspended for UF’s season opener in 2016 against UMass. Callaway also was cited for marijuana possession last spring before his involvement in the credit card case.

McElwain said he takes character into account during the recruiting process. Each player recruited by UF’s coaching staff, McElwain said, receives a “C” tag.

“That’s the character tag, which what we do is as thorough a job as we can finding out the background, talking not only to the coach but obviously to teachers, people within the school,” McElwain said. “In some cases, people in the community that might be in their lives, about maybe the hiccups and some of the things that might be there. It’s extensive from that standpoint and obviously I’m not sure anybody’s hit 100 percent on that. We haven’t. And yet we’ll continue to do that and vet those sources as these guys come in.”

Comparison with rival schools

Florida — 16 charges, 4 felonies

Alabama — 13 charges, 6 felonies

Tennessee — 9 charges, 2 felonies

Georgia — 11 charges, 2 felonies

Florida State — 6 charges, 2 felonies

Miami — 6 charges, 1 felony



  1. Has it come to this…background checks? Should Mac and his recruiters start looking into criminal backgrounds before making the trek to living room couches? It’s been my experience that if you are willing to commit felonies after committing to a state university then you more than likely, not always, have been involved in some kinda trouble with the law before. And I’m not talking about ‘boys will be boys’ shoplifting candy bars kind of thing. And maybe, for the sake of the program and the university itself, it’s time to start scratching these type of athletes off the list. Is it really worth the consequences to gamble that these guys will turn their lives around once enrolled, for a few TD’s on Saturdays? I don’t know the answer, but looking at the stats above is alarming. Not to mention the grey hairs this old dude is collecting (and pulling them out during our games lately). I wonder if Mac lays in bed at night wondering the same thing. And if the death threats are true, is it worth it?

    Another public service announcement by your Narcoossee Gator Club

      • Troop, I’ve always seen the light, very brightly. But in the deep dark recesses of my old mind, didn’t you get what I was trying to say? I know all too well where Gator football is now. You don’t think after 50 years of this I haven’t seen it all? All I want is to put up a good fight every Saturday but the constant negative vibes here (I get it, I really do), just makes what slim chance we have these days seem insurmountable.
        I’m on the same team as you man (I think). Lets try something new this weekend and maybe, just maybe we can do the unthinkable again in Jax.

        • Narc – I’m with you, man. Been a Gator since 1967 when Ray Graves showed up with a kid named Steve Spurrier to speak at our 9th grade football banquet! Let’s pull-out all the stops. Quit playing to not lose, and start playing with some wild and crazy passion. Fake punts, field goals from 60 yards, reverses, “trickeration”. Cut they guys loose and let ’em play! Slobber knockin’ in the trenches and feeling the need for speed downfield! Keep the Dawgs on their hind paws. I honestly believe we can win it this way! GO GATORS!

          • Now that’s more like it! Damn if I didn’t get a goosebump!
            My Dad’s football team went to Gainesville for their first night game ever in ’56 (Lakeview, Winter Garden). So that was it…raised a Gator since a pup. Uh oh…I mean since a baby.
            Agree…posted elsewhere that we gotta do stuff we’ve never done to catch ’em off guard. Like throw the Golden Domer out there first snap. And I really believe the team will play like their hairs on fire. Lets hope Nuss and Mac take the hint and open it up Saturday.

  2. So, if I am reading this correctly, discipline is one more thing that we have been “working on” for almost three years with no progress whatsoever. In fact, if you count the Knucklehead 9 (which apparently are not being counted based on a technicality) we have gotten appreciably worse in this area, and may well lead the nation in this dubious category. In this “piece”, as in others, whatever is being done is clearly not working! At some point, results have to be demanded. To quote the venerable Yoda (and no, the Trooper does not stand for Storm Trooper :-)) “There is no try. There is only do, or do not.” Right now we “do not” in almost every area on which we are “working”. Yes, this is negative. But it is, unfortunately, true. The sooner we confront the truth and demand results rather than the demonstration of effort, the sooner we get things turned around. I would be happy to contribute to the bus ticket fund for Callaway and a bunch of his cohort thugs. They players that are following the rules and putting the team first deserve better.

  3. Porter was the only instant kick-off from the team and that obviously needed to happen based on what he did. Porter, earlier this year, committed armed robbery and is now serving a 6 year prison sentence. JC Jackson was essentially booted, but turns out he was not guilty. Who knows, maybe he should still be a gator. Overall, I’m happy with the discipline, but far less happy with the quantity of players who need to be disciplined. Not saying that’s all on Mac’s shoulders, especially as half his arrests have been from Muschamp-recruited players (although all of the “knucklehead nine” are Mac’s players, if I’m not mistaken). Just glad that the discipline is still there, and we’re not turning into “FSU Southeast”, where players moms say in interviews that they liked FSU b/c of how good Jimbo is at covering up players’ mistakes.

  4. On the other hand, our criminals may help recruiting. That is, some of our young, bright-eyed recruits might relish having teammates with records–it might help the bonding process. And think, the youngsters might even get to room with a felon. Give them a jump-start on a future after college.

  5. I screamed all ’14 that Jimbo should dump King Crab as an example to the team and recruits, and same goes for us; Mac should dump the Knucklehead Nine, send ’em all back home, and send a real signal to the next class as well as those already here. That would be doing the right thing, AND the smart thing.

  6. Whatever approach Mac’s staff is taking to prevent this garbage (if any) it isn’t working. Orientation to the program should include at least a half-day review on what the temptations are, what the consequences will be if/when violations occur to include loss of scholarship, dismissal from the team and disqualification from UF as a student. These guys are screwing up their own lives at an alarming rate and clearly need adult supervision. College should be seen by these guys as a success/failure crossroads for their own future lives. The article states 16 charged – with 9 more not counted that should be – 25 guys out of what, 85? That is a horrific number, and a huge leadership problem. Mac isn’t the guy to fix it he’s too laid back – Scott Stricklin should get personally involved in turning this unacceptable trend around – on a dime.

    • It’s not 16 plus the 9 suspensions in 2017. It’s 16 since 2015. That said, we have had as many as 20+(close to 25% of the 80-85 scholarship athletes) suspended, injured – recovering , and injured – out for the year. I have never heard of a team so snake-bitten as this year’s Gators.

  7. I’m with Pat. I also think we should release the FELONY 9. And I mean right now. They are a big disapointment to the whole Gator Nation, and take Nuss with them. They say you can teach an old dog new tricks, well not with these players. So, goodby, don’t come back ever. Also,Mac isn’t the answer, but he deserves at least one more season. So, in the end we have a long way to get back to where we belong, getting rid of the 9 players and Nuss is a start.

  8. Perhaps if a talented player, maybe even a starter, one who has had numerous brushes with the law, were to be thrown off of the team and expelled from school the message might get through. Right now these players are like juvenile car thieves. They know if they get caught the punishment, if any, will be pretty light. So there is nothing to keep them from repeating bad behavior.

    I have been saying it since day one, throw those 9 criminal credit card thieves off the team and out of school. Let them be an embarrassment to someone else.

    • What? You don’t think Callaway and Scarlett are starters? Also, at least 3 of the other 7 suspended players would have been in our game day starting rotations. I believe the message has been loud and clear to the rest of the team. As soon as they smelled the stink, the university suspended all that were accused. That’s the best part, all Mac has to do is say “Guys, if you do anything illegal you will be suspended by the university until judgement. The university takes it out of my hands”. In fact, have there been any other discipline related problems this season?

  9. Only part that is left out of the analysis is the Police Departments where these schools are located. You mean to tell that UM kids in Miami with South Beach Clubs aren’t getting in trouble? Come on dude. You don’t think Tallahassee police cover up incidents after what we learned about the Winston case. These kids come from the same places and backgrounds and you mean to tell me only UF players get in trouble??? Or is Gainesville like Las Vegas, these kids get there and go crazy. Please. Gainesville Police is alot more aggressive then most of these other places. Look at the arrests under Meyer and count how many were for pot possession, alcohol, license issues. Kids are going to get in trouble in college whether they are football players or not.

  10. Narc so glad you have reconsidered not jumping. Bottom line we’re all gators and frankly I think a lot of the so called negative gators have been pretty patient, it’s been a long long time since we had a descent offense. Way too long and yet the team has had great support, filled stadiums and such. Yes there’s a lot of noise but as ya’ll know Gators are passionate about their sports especially football. Form me, my concern and yes criticism is that this is the third year of ugly offense. How long? There’s not much if any improvement in this area and Mac was brought in to fix. I’m not thinking we go to the championship playoffs, I just like to see an offense that’s not in the 100s. Anyhow, lets let this year play out and evaluate. Meanwhile I like all gator fans will be rooting and hoping for a victory this Saturday.

  11. I know , I know. You prolly said it right in that we are all, obviously, very passionate about our Gators. And to be honest, there is a lot of pain right now. I’ve been here before, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Seeing FSU flounder takes a little off the edge but not much. I think we all want Mac to succeed, if for nothing else because he’s a Gator (by proxy) but a Gator nonetheless. But enough of that here.
    I’m gonna say it one more time, at the risk of being labeled…you can take the bro outa the hood, but you can’t take the hood outa the bro. You can try and go tunaboat’s way, and put the psychology to them and try and find what their “temptations” are (hmmm), or you can do what I said and start doing common background checks on them before you ever get to the living room couch. I don’t know the answer, but to expect Mac to know ahead of time what these kids might do once they get on campus is an unrealistic expectation. And to say this doesn’t happen everywhere is naïve. I think. So really, what do you do? I say it’s a dice roll.