GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida football coach Jim McElwain seems to enjoy his weekly appearances interacting with fans on “Gator Talk,” and he often drops some interesting personal anecdotes into his responses.
This Thursday he discussed how he had an opportunity in the late 1980s to pursue a career coaching college basketball instead of football.
“Actually basketball was my first love and still is,” McElwain said during the live radio show inside Piesanos Pints & Pies. “I played a lot, I grew up with a basketball in my hand. (I had) a key to the gym — the grade school gym and the high school gym growing up in Montana — and just went and played all the time.”
The whole football thing has worked out pretty well nonetheless as McElwain is 12-4 overall early into his second season with the Gators, but it sounds like he legitimately could have gone a different direction with his career.
“I had an opportunity in ’88, I think it was, I was offered a spot on the Gonzaga basketball staff,” he said. “At the time (current Long Beach State basketball coach) Dan Monson and (current Gonzaga coach) Mark Few were just GAs and moving up, and coach Dan Fitzgerald, a great ball coach, offered me that opportunity. You look back and you wonder sometimes, you know, where life will take you.”
In 1988, McElwain was working as the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach at his alma mater Eastern Washington.
He said basketball still offers him a nice escape in the offseason as he enjoys going to games and, when at home, is “glued to the TV set.”
He’s formed a good friendship with Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White, who like McElwain also started with the Gators last year.
“I had the opportunity, briefly obviously, to visit when I first got here with Billy (Donovan). But Coach White, I think, does an outstanding job, and just talking the mentality of practice and how you go about your daily business and the preparation, I pick up so much from him and it’s great to have that relationship. I just really look forward to it,” McElwain said.
And all these years later, he credits his Sentinel High School basketball coach Bob Luoma for helping shape his approach as a coach — even in football.
“Somebody asked me this summer when I was back in Montana who kind of had the most influence on me in what I do and how I go about it, planning practice, and it has probably to do with my high school basketball coach, who was one of the winningest coaches in the history of Montana high school basketball,” he said.