Florida coach Jim McElwain’s strange week got worse Saturday, and there are indications that it could bottom out Sunday.
Less than three years into a tenure that includes two Southeastern Conference Eastern Division titles, McElwain could be out of time in Gainesville. Sources told Yahoo Sports on Saturday that there is at least a possibility of an immediate coaching change.
“I wouldn’t have thought it could happen this fast,” one source said. “But I’m not so sure now.”
ESPN reported Saturday night that defensive coordinator Randy Shannon could be installed as interim coach in the event of McElwain’s departure.
At noon Saturday, sources said the situation remained fluid. But nobody was willing to say McElwain’s job was safe, and one source said internal discussions were underway to make a change.
“There’s been a lot of distractions,” said one source familiar with the situation. “It’s a weird situation and nobody knows where it’s going to go.”
Saturday got worse for McElwain after that. His Gators were pummeled 42-7 by rival Georgia, falling behind 21-0 halfway through the first quarter. That dropped Florida to 3-4 on the season, with a three-game SEC losing streak.
Prior to that Saturday, Florida was confronted by a report that the school was discussing a buyout of the coach’s contract with his agent, Jimmy Sexton. Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin forcefully shot that down with a statement before kickoff, but the story wouldn’t go away.
That mini-drama followed McElwain’s vague reference Monday to death threats, which he did not explain in detail to anyone – including his bosses. That led to a pointed statement from Florida later Monday, throwing the situation back in McElwain’s lap by saying the coach declined to offer any specifics. The handling of that situation indicated a growing rift between the school and McElwain.
Multiple sources said that controversy is what turned McElwain’s situation from tenuous into a crisis. ESPN reported that Florida is exploring firing McElwain for cause and thus escaping paying him a $12.9 million buyout.
McElwain’s Florida record is 22-12 despite a quarterback position in flux throughout his tenure. But this 3-4 season began with the suspension of 10 players, and an offensive unit that was expected to be a strength has instead been a huge liability.
Against Georgia, Florida was once again inept offensively, producing 249 yards and a single late touchdown in a blowout loss. The Gators fell behind 21-0 halfway through the first quarter and completely lacked the firepower to come back. They have rotated three quarterbacks this season – Luke Del Rio, Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire – with little success.
McElwain’s Florida record is 22-12 and he won the SEC East his first two seasons. Normally that would earn a coach plenty of latitude, but the East has been at a low ebb for several years and the Gators have been beaten soundly in the last two conference championship games by Alabama.
There is considerable upheaval throughout the SEC, and the Florida situation suddenly has moved to the front of the list. It appears McElwain’s tenure is speeding toward an end, perhaps as early as Sunday.
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• Quarterback change coming for Michigan?