JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Following Florida’s 42-7 loss to No. 3 Georgia on Saturday, Gators players did not want to discuss the possibility of coach Jim McElwain being fired.
All four players made available postgame gave a resounding “no comment” when asked anything about what could happen with the coach that has led them for the last three seasons.
They did, however, say they do not plan to give up on the season, even with everything that has gone awry.
Their slim hopes of returning to the SEC Championship Game for a third straight season was officially quashed on Saturday.
So now, they’re playing for themselves.
Even at 3-4. Even with the uncertain status of their coach. Even though the season seems all but over.
“[We] play for each other,” senior cornerback Duke Dawson said. “That’s what we play for. Each and every game we play for each other. Don’t look at anything big; it’s just the next game we gotta win.”
At this point, though, it might be too little, too late for them to play for McElwain’s job security.
That might have even been over with before the Gators took the field at EverBank Field on Saturday.
With all the hubbub that surrounded the Gators’ football program this week because of his comments Monday about death threats to people inside his program, the murmurs about a potential McElwain firing intensified. That became even more apparent after he opted to not provide additional details to reporters or his administration.
And then the rumors circled just hours before the game that there have been talks with McElwain’s agent about working out his buyout. ESPN reported during the game that Florida administrators are trying to see if they can fire McElwain with cause, which means the Gators would not be responsible for McElwain’s buyout.
But until a decision is made, Florida players want to keep their opinions about the situation in-house.
“I’m not really gonna entertain that question,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “I’m not an athletic director; I don’t know.”
“I have nothing to say about that,” defensive tackle Khairi Clark responded.
“I’ve got no comment on that. Next question,” defensive back Chauncey Gardner said.
“Next question. I don’t want to comment on nothing like that,” Dawson said.
And while the Gators are reeling and on the verge of their second losing season in the past five years after not having once since 1979, the players still rallied support around McElwain.
Outside of the seniors and fifth-year players who were on the team in 2013 or 2014, every player on the roster was recruited by McElwain to play for the Gators.
“He cares about his players,” Franks said, “and it goes beyond football.”
But if McElwain does get fired, the Gators know they still have at least four games to play — road games at Missouri and South Carolina and home games against UAB and Florida State — and need wins in three of them to secure a bowl berth.
That, the players said, is enough motivation to keep playing, even though it seems like there is nothing left to motivate them.
“Got to keep going. Got to keep pushing,” Gardner said. “You can’t shut each other out. You’re a team. This is a program. We stand behind Coach Mac. He stands behind us. This program stands behind us. Just keep playing football. The outsiders, we’re not worried about them. We’re going to keep doing what we’ve got to do.”