The uncertainty of who Florida’s football coach would be next season is one of the main reasons UF has struggled in the 2015 recruiting cycle.
Prospects got their answer Thursday.
The Gators hired Colorado State’s Jim McElwain, who has an impressive track record as a coach but isn’t a well-known name in recruiting — at least with the kids being targeted by the Gators in this class.
McElwain hasn’t recruited high-profile prospects in the state of Florida since 2011, his last year as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. But he landed some elite Sunshine State recruits when he was with the Tide, including NFL first-round pick Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix out of Orlando Dr. Phillips.
Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson, who hosted three UF assistants on an in-home visit Monday, spoke highly of the hire.
“That’s awesome,” Jefferson said when informed of the McElwain news. “I think it’s a pretty good move. He’s coached under (Nick) Saban, so he has the experience. We’ll see what he’s bringing to the table.”
In-state running backs Jordan Cronkrite, Clemson commit Ray-Ray McCloud III and Miami commit Jordan Scarlett all called McElwain a great choice for Florida, though McCloud said he was solid to the Tigers.
Gators offensive line commit Tyler Jordan said anyone who does research on McElwain will be impressed.
“It’s a good hire,” the Under Armour All-American said. “He’s a good coach who has been at the highest level before and has won championships with his offense.”
While McElwain is liked by recruits who are aware of his previous success, many have yet to do their homework on him.
Gators OL commits George Brown and Brandon Sandifer said they don’t know much about the new UF coach, but they will soon and look forward to meeting him.
Two of Florida’s top targets, five-star defensive end Byron Cowart and Rivals100 receiver Ryan Davis, said they aren’t familiar with McElwain, but both trust the decision by athletics director Jeremy Foley.
“I’m guessing he’s a great hire for the program,” Davis said. “I think Mr. Foley knows what he’s doing and knows what’s best for Florida football. I don’t know about him at all, but I can’t wait to hear from him.”
Fortunately for McElwain, his reputation in Tampa could help his chances with area prospects Cowart and Davis.
“Jim McElwain used to recruit Tampa for Bama,” said 247Sports reporter Josh Newberg, who has covered recruiting in that area for years. “(I’ve) met him several times. Very sharp, calm and well respected by coaches and recruits.”
The Gators currently have nine members in their 2015 class and room for at least 15 more.
McElwain will be on road recruiting Monday for the last week of the contact period, which resumes Jan. 15. Signing day is two months away.
Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who received an in-home visit Thursday from UF assistant Derek Lewis, hopes to hear from McElwain but admits it will be hard getting to know a coach this late in the recruiting process.
“I feel like a lot of prospects in this class across the southeast wanted to go to Florida,” said Imatorbhehe, who officially visited UF in September. “But because of the coaching instability, some guys wouldn’t commit there and some who did eventually decommitted. Potentially this could have been an amazing class for Florida if things didn’t go bad with the season and the staff.
“But it is what it is. It’s just a hard situation now because recruits have to go to Florida based on faith that the new coach will turn the program around. I’m going to start doing my research on him, and if he reaches out to me, I’ll listen.”