GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s no secret who Florida football coach Jim McElwain will be rooting for Monday night in the NCAA basketball national championship clash between Gonzaga and North Carolina.
McElwain has been friends with Gonzaga coach Mark Few for decades, dating to his time at nearby Eastern Washington in the 1980s, and the two still talk today.
“Oh yeah. In fact, I was giving him a hard time,” McElwain said. “He had a little guy playing for him by the name of Jamie Dudley back there (in the early 1990s). Giving him a hard time about it. Nigel (Williams-Goss) went out, put Dudley in. He didn’t know that he had the answer for that one.”
McElwain is an avid college basketball fan and made the trek to New York City two weekends ago to watch Florida’s Elite Eight game with South Carolina inside Madison Square Garden.
His connection with the Gonzaga basketball program, meanwhile, predates Few’s tenure. McElwain shared on one of his weekly “Gator Talk” appearances in the fall that he could have ended up coaching basketball there himself.
“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 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.”
McElwain was working about 20 minutes down the road as the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach at Eastern Washington in 1988.
Asked a couple times Monday about the opportunity to pursue a job in college basketball at that time, McElwain wasn’t quite up for re-telling the story, keeping his comments general about his respect for what Gonzaga has built with its basketball program.
But it’s clear he’s excited to see his old friend in the national championship spotlight Monday night.
“Just knowing those guys, just seeing, I think the university itself has doubled since they started that run. Just all the guys that worked so hard to get it where it’s at, you kind of reflect back because there were some lean years obviously for that program,” McElwain said.
“… We were really good friends. Spent a lot of time when Fitz was the head coach, Monson was an assistant, Fewey I think at the time, he might have been one of the off-recruiting roles or whatever before a guy left and bounced in there. I’m just glad, I’m just happy. It’s great to see somebody that’s put so many hours of work in and built it to something. It wasn’t ever handed to him.”