GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain couldn’t recall another time in his career where he had become so heated during a game that he went out on the field full of fire and frustration like he did Saturday night following the low hit that injured Gators quarterback Luke Del Rio.
“I take that back,” McElwain said, correcting himself while going way back into the memory vault.
“We were playing University High School JVs (in Washington), I was the head ball coach there, we were playing at North Central and had three straight things happen. So, let’s see, that was ’84 I guess, so harkening back a little bit,” he said. “But you know, I hadn’t had to (since then).”
As Del Rio lay in pain on the turf Saturday night, McElwain got almost out to midfield while venting his feelings on the hit, which drew a roughing the passer penalty on North Texas defensive end Joshua Wheeler and will now sideline Del Rio for an undetermined period of time.
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“I care about these kids. They’re mine. When I see something like that, it isn’t right,” McElwain said after the game Saturday night, still fired up about the whole ordeal.
The moment caught fans and observers (not to mention the North Texas sideline) by surprise, but it resonated strongly with McElwain’s players, who had to help corral their coach and lead him back to the sideline.
“(It reiterated) what we already knew — that he has our back,” backup quarterback Austin Appleby said. “I’ve never been around a place that our coaches truly care. There’s a lot of talk at some places and you really don’t know if they really got you. There’s no doubt about it here. Coach Mac has our back. He loves us. And so does the rest of staff, and because of that, we will run through a wall for that guy and we’ve got his back 100 percent.
“I think you kind of saw that with the way Martez (Ivey) reacted. Coach Mac said that that (penalty) was on him, but that’s just the way that we’re going to fight for our coach and we’re going to fight for our teammates. It doesn’t matter who it is. The culture, the standard that is being built, is built and is getting stronger and tighter every single day is something that’s very special and it isn’t everywhere.”
Ivey drew a personal foul penalty on the next snap once play resumed for giving a North Texas player a push in the facemask.
Player after player, be it after the game Saturday night or on Monday during the team’s first media session of the week, reiterated similar sentiments to Appleby’s.
“It definitely kind of reiterated what he’s been about since he’s gotten here,” linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “It’s not like we forgot, but it’s always nice to have a nice reminder. Coach Mac is a coach that is completely for us. I mean, it just speaks volumes to see him do something like that, to really put himself out there and in a position like that. It lets us know that we have him and that he has us and we will always have his back.”
Veteran safety Marcus Maye seemed impressed in noting that McElwain made it all the way to the Gator head in the middle of the field before being pulled away.
“Seeing that from your head coach is definitely, you know, it makes you feel good inside about who you’re playing for and stuff like that,” Maye said. “So, after that, seeing that, it was a little, you know, kick in ourselves. You know, we all woke up; it was just something about it that made everybody come together and feel like, you know, this is a family.”
That’s how McElwain views it, certainly.
In his postgame news conference Saturday night he talked about taking on a parental role for his players when their parents entrust them to him and his coaching staff.
It may have been since his high school coaching days in the mid-1980s since McElwain reacted in such a way, but it doesn’t sound like he’d hesitate to do the same thing again.
“Here’s the one thing, guys: Our team knows me. I’m pretty transparent. They know how much I care,” he said Monday. “They know how much I want them to be successful, not just as a player but successful when this football thing is over. You know, I’m there for them. I’m a passionate guy and probably a guy that, you know, is not a lot of fun to cross. Does that make sense? But any time I’m there for them. And how they responded, I don’t know. That’s who I am.”