Dooley: Proving time’s here for McElwain’s Florida program

It's Year 3 of the coach Jim McElwain era at UF. [Gary Cosby Jr./GateHouse Media Services]

It was a glorious day in late November, 65 degrees at kickoff and only one team had any business being on Florida Field.

The year was 2009 and to say it was the last time anyone in the Gator Nation felt as good as that day might be an exaggeration, but not by much.

Florida beat Florida State on Nov. 28 by a score of 37-10. The game was over by halftime. It wrapped up a six-loss season for the Seminoles and nobody seemed too worried that Bobby Bowden had finally been pressured out the door and Jimbo Fisher was taking over.

Pardon the history lesson, but I think it’s important to know how Florida slipped into a “Silence of the Lambs”-like deep hole before you can understand how it’s still trying to climb out of it.

The day a potential Florida dynasty came crumbling down wasn’t the day the Gators lost to Alabama in the SEC title game or the day Urban Meyer decided to quit.

It was the day he decided to come back.

That was when the hole began to form under the program, although nobody knew it at the time. Nothing was the same in Meyer’s final season at Florida — not the structure of the program, nor the head coach, nor the talent.

The sense of entitlement had become dangerous and the atmosphere toxic. Before Florida ever played a game in 2010, there was Chris Rainey throwing first-round draft picks under the bus with, “I guess we got rid of the prima donnas — all the selfish cats” and Meyer going over the top while going after a reporter on the practice field.

Then, the downward spiral escalated with another Meyer resignation, a surprise hire of another defensive coach (Will Muschamp) with no head coaching experience (see: Zook, Ron), and a lot of embarrassing games (see: Southern, Georgia).

Just like that, a program whose fans had either been raised on Steve Spurrier or Tim Tebow or both were sneaking out the back doors of bars as UF games were unfolding on big screens.

Florida wasn’t irrelevant, but you never heard the Gators mentioned on GameDay unless it was for players blocking each other.

So the program was in this deep hole of despair and UF athletic director Jeremy Foley went oppo-Muschamp. He stayed in the Nick Saban tree, but he hired an offensive coach with head coaching experience.

What a concept.

Still, Jim McElwain’s name didn’t send fans sprinting to the front of the bragging line. I mean, Florida is paying a few extra million just to get him out of his contract? How does that make sense?

Fast forward to today with Florida on the brink of McElwain’s third season. And the big question on everyone’s mind is whether or not he can get the Gators completely out of the hole and start climbing the mountain.

Oh, he’s made it to the edge of the crater, pulled up with both hands and taken a peek at the place where elite teams live. Twice.

But in Atlanta, both times he slipped down a bit.

Were McElwain to be graded on what he has accomplished so far at Florida in two seasons and three recruiting classes, the grades would be all over the board.

He’s won the East twice which some people appreciate and others dismiss as extraneous.

He has won 13 of 16 SEC games, including a 2-2 record against the West, and has not lost an SEC home game. Critics point out that too many of those wins have been uninspiring because that’s what critics do.

He hasn’t had a bad loss, split his two New Year bowl games and finished both seasons in the Top 25. But other than at LSU, who has he defeated? And some of the games against lesser teams have been too close. And being ranked outside the top 10 isn’t that big a deal at Florida.

He’s also fired a few shots across the bow of the Gator Nation, never a good idea.

All of this said, I think this is the year we find out. I think this is the year we will know whether Florida has the right man driving the bus up the winding roads of the mountain. You know what’s up there. You’ve heard the cannons firing confetti. You know what championship food tastes like. Up there, where the beer is always cold and the seats are always cushioned and the temperature always just right.

Now, I’m not saying McElwain needs to get Florida into the College Football Playoff this year. I just think you’re going to know a lot more about where UF stands as a program when this season is over.

He inherited a mess on offense, one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It only got worse with his first quarterback getting booted and his second being too short and his third getting physically destroyed.

And it hasn’t helped this year that the player knucklehead factor has raised its lumpy head.

But there are no excuses in 2017. Let’s see what you got, Mac.

It’s proving time.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. I disagree. This is the season for Nuss to prove his worth. Mac will be back next season no matter what, it’s Nuss’s head on the chopping block if the offense can’t get it’s ranking into the top 50.

  2. Amen, Pat! I gotta’ believe that Coach Mac and Coach ‘Nuss have a ”creative ” offensive game plan, and for the entire year (S.E.C.C.G. too). That opening drive in the 2016 S.E.C.C.G. was a thing of beauty. But then that beautiful drive dried up, and turned into futile attempts to just get a pass off, or watch Scarlett barely get back to the ”line of scrimmage”.
    So this is the year that Florida must ”show me”, like Mizzou fans (”Show me state”).
    And anything similar to the last 7-8 years of offense, well, it isn’t going to please the ”in all kinds of weather” Gator fans. And can you blame us? We haven’t seen an offensive implosion like this, and for this long, in my entire 49 years of born and raised Gator life! Even after the 0-10-1 season, U.F started running and passing like contenders again in ’80, ’81, etc… So, I say again, Pat, ”AMEN!”

  3. “Hasn’t had a bad loss” Pat? 7 of our last 8 losses have been by blow out. (Yes, UT blew us out, 31-7 in the second half, and Bama was playing with us in the 2015 SECCG).

    The blow out have to stop, and the losses to fsu need to stop. Lets hope Coach mac can remedey that this year.

    • Old cliche, but it’s relevant….” Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Takes time to turn this ship of state around and I think he has done a terrific job under the circumstances. He has rebuild this team from the inside out….coaches and staff, then the players… numbers for depth and now he is filling that in with talented recruiting. Patience Grasshoppa Todd….patience

  4. Amen, Pat! As I gotta’ believe that Coach Mac and Coach ‘Nuss have a ”creative ” offensive game plan for the Michigan game, and for the entire year (S.E.C.C.G., too). Because that opening drive in the 2016 S.E.C.C.G. vs. ‘Bama was a thing of beauty. But then the ‘O’ turned into futile attempts to get a pass off, or watch Scarlett barely get back to the line of scrimmage.
    So this is the year that Florida must ”show me”, like Mizzou fans (”Show me state”).
    And anything similar to the last 8 years of offense, well, it isn’t going to please the ”In all kinds of weather” Gator fans. And can you really blame us? We haven’t seen an offensive implosion like the last 8 years in my entire 49 years of ”born and raised Gator” life. Even after the 0-10-1 season, U.F started running and passing like an S.E.C. quality team again in ’80, ’81, etc…
    So, I say again, Pat, ”AMEN, it’s time to shine… or hear the whine!”


  5. I don’t like our coach as the face of Gator Football. He is not good with the press. Downright rude. I am sure some of it is called for but it’s clear he learned from Saban. More importantly he has been rude to the fans on several occasions. His barbs after the Lsu win were uncalled for. I was there wth 4 friends and we all made that end zone very loud. Maybe just say thanks and then shut your pie hole. With that said, I hope he gets the offense working and at least semi interesting to watch this year. Maybe that will help his demeanor with the press and Gator fans.

  6. As much as I hate to even say this, “wait till next year’! Yes, we heard that from 1907 to 1991. However, talent and experience will be through the roof. Yes, Scarlett and our left tackle might turn pro, but the depth will be three deep.

    Simply look at the 1st 3 recruiting classes. Do we match up to Alabama and Ohio State? Maybe!!?? However, next year we will. True, we may never have a home field advantage like we have this year, but I will take talent and experience over that.

    Right now depth at linebacker looks awfully skinny. The success of this year depends on good health at the linebacker position!!

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  8. You are exactly correct, this is the year, too much talent. He said it himself! His dog could quarterback and win, show me. I want to see some innovative play calling, I’ve never understood why we haven’t seen that, even without talent, that’s when you should really be showing it or at least attempting it, all great creative coaches that I have seen, and believe me I’ve seen a few, have shown creative offensive play calling when they did not have equal quality players, I give you the early Bobby Bowden years, Steve Spurrier early years, Boise State, BYU, Utah State. These teams did not match up physically with most of there opponents, but they all showed some creative offensive play calling.

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