GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When asked what he thought of the criticism directed toward Florida and the SEC after the conference’s decision to indefinitely postgame the Gators’ game last Saturday with LSU, coach Jim McElwain did not veil his feelings.
“Nineteen deaths, 2.5 million devastated without power, families in dire needs. Obviously they don’t know me, they don’t know the Florida Gators, they don’t know our players,” he said Monday. “Dodging a game? Wow. Obviously those people, man, I obviously growing up in Montana have never been through a hurricane, but I think a lot of people around here have that have seen the devastation. How anybody could even think that way is beyond me.”
The Gators had just gotten through special teams and offensive and defensive walkthroughs Thursday when the decision came down.
McElwain said the team “closed up shop” at that point and the reaction among the players was “mixed.”
“Obviously the competitive nature was the first instinct, and that’s the first instinct in all of us. And yet the look on quite a few people’s faces that knew and had been through things before and knowing what their families were about ready to go through, you know, it was hard, it was hard on everybody,” McElwain said.
He criticized the mentality of some national pundits rushing to criticize the situation on Twitter without knowing the full situation.
“It just shocks me that someone could actually think that way, especially knowing us,” he said. “And yet, you know you guys are all, nowadays I guess, accountable for getting X amount of little shots out on your Twitter thing. That’s how you get paid instead of writing stories, so I guess whatever you do, I mean there isn’t much thought that goes behind it, to me, that somebody would actually think that. And knowing us, that’s pretty crazy to me.”
McElwain praised the first responders and the utility workers in the area and the state who responded to the storm and further emphasized the weight of the situation on the minds of his players late last week.
He recalled the devastation from the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2011 when he was the offensive coordinator at Alabama. That natural disaster caused death and destruction in the Crimson Tide’s hometown and throughout the state.
“(That had) probably had as big of an effect on me as anything, to see what the act of Mother Nature can do, and to see what it did going down that street about 2-3 blocks just off where our facility was and seeing it tear all the way through town,” McElwain said. “Seeing what it did personally with even some of our players. Man, I’m telling you, it’s a real eye-opener.”
That was all the more reason he was just thankful Hurricane Matthew went light on Gainesville last week after earlier fears that it could wreak more havoc inland.
“I’m grateful that thing decided to not take a tick and come the way it could have. And yet the amount of devastation still is really incredible,” he said. “Our guys were prepared to play in the game, excited to play in the game and wanted to play the game, and yet as we sat there Saturday late afternoon there were a lot of those things that kind of went through our minds. It was great to get back with our players yesterday, give them a hug, see a look of relief on a lot of their faces knowing what they were going through from a family situation.”