HOOVER, Ala. — Florida coach Jim McElwain may be one of the most intense and detail-oriented coaches in the SEC, but you’d have no idea by the way he acts in front of microphones and cameras.
He works around the clock trying to build the Gators into a championship program, and his focus is evident to everyone behind the scenes. But a press conference is like recess to him, and SEC Media Days was just a field trip with more time to play.
He arrived in Hoover with his sockless strut and confident chuckle, but a self-depreciative tone when he spoke.
McElwain knows this year’s team is better top to bottom than it was in 2015, when he led the Gators to the conference title game and won SEC Coach of the Year.
And yet, the Eastern division hype is centered around Tennessee and Georgia heading into this fall.
“I’ll have a meeting with our guys and see if they want to play those games or forfeit them,” McElwain said. “I guess we’re not very good is what that’s telling me.”
McElwain then looked on the bright side, noting that Florida won’t be picked to finish fifth in the East like last year.
“We’re making progress,” he quipped.
McElwain regularly shows humility instead of arrogance, even when he’s able to brag. What he accomplished in his first season was nothing short of spectacular, but he’s not one to put himself on the back.
“I think that’s a credit to the coaches we’ve hired, the people within the organization doing their job to a high level and making sure a lot of things are handled,” McElwain said of his 2015 success. “I really got good people. I can’t tell you, going to work everyday is fun.
“They’re all driven to do what’s best for our players and the University of Florida, and that’s a good thing. There aren’t a lot of separate agendas, individual motives. And that’s what makes this group, I mean everybody, awful fun to work with.”
McElwain has significantly bulked up Florida’s support staff and led the charge on upgrading facilities. The pieces are coming into place that will allow UF to take the next step as a program, but it can’t happen on the field without an improved product on offense.
The Gators now play on Steve Spurrier Field, named after the man who gave their fans an appetite for points and big plays.
“Yeah, how about that? I know that based on last year they didn’t have to redo any light bulbs on the scoreboard,” McElwain said. “We’ve got to be better, you know.”
The question everyone wants to know is who the starting quarterback will be. McElwain made sure to mention all four passers Monday every time he was asked specifically about Luke Del Rio, the favorite to win the job.
He’s a master at controlling the message he wants in the media.
“What is the ideal timing? I don’t know what’s ideal,” McElwain told reporters when asked for the timetable on naming a starter. “What’s best for you guys? Right now? Give you something to write about?”
The room burst out in laughter, which is McElwain’s way of dodging a question. He’s a great guy who rarely gives good answers, but he’ll make the interview entertaining.
Knowing his attention to detail, McElwain has already mapped out exactly when and how he’ll pick a quarterback. This is a coach who ripped his team for not having ankles taped in time for a meeting.
His mix of focus and fun is what helped the Gators have a 10-win, turnaround season last year. Recess is over now, and it’s time for McElwain and his players to get back to work.
“They kind of held themselves to a little bit higher standard and took responsibility in some cases,” McElwain said of 2015. “We won a few more games than maybe some people thought, and yet had to learn a hard lesson — you can’t ever be satisfied. We’ll see how that translates into Year 2.”
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.