When Jim McElwain described some of his players as “dead fish on ice” after Florida’s underwhelming overtime win over Florida Atlantic on Nov. 21, the comparison left some confused.
But Greg McElroy knew exactly what McElwain meant. The former Alabama quarterback heard McElwain use the same comparison as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator.
“A lot of people looked at Mac and kind of scratched their head when he used the dead fish reference,” McElroy said on a teleconference Wednesday. “All I could think about, Mac always talked about two ways to think and approach a practice. You can either be dead fish, and he put up a picture of a dead fish in the aisle in the ice, or you could be Charlie Tuna. And if you know what Charlie Tuna looks like, he looks like a smiling, happy-go-lucky tuna, just super pumped up. Which guy do you wanna be around?”
McElwain’s quirky humor is one of the traits that has made him a successful coach, pushing him up the ranks all the way from his first coaching job at Eastern Washington to his current position as the Gators’ head coach.
“The monotony of the season is hard enough,” said McElroy, who played for McElwain from 2008 through 2010 and is now an analyst for SEC Network. “These players deal with an awful lot. Having a coach that makes it fun I think is really important.”
Having a coach who instills confidence in his players is important, too.
Gators players and assistant coaches have praised McElwain for his ability to explain the why and emphasize the small details. McElwain calls it “giving the answers to the test.”
“I believed there was nothing I couldn’t do, in large part due to the way Jim McElwain approached the week and the trust that I had in him,” McElroy said. “I thought he did a really nice job making me feel good about the plan every single week, making sure I didn’t have any questions about what we were doing offensively, really coaching technique and making sure that he paid attention to details like I talked about earlier. He was just a really good teacher and I think he had a really good temperament.”
It has translated to a quick turnaround for a Florida program that had been going in the wrong direction before McElwain arrived. After posting an 11-13 record over the past two seasons, the Gators are 10-2 and have a date with Alabama in Saturday’s SEC championship game.
“If you look at the personnel that they had in the spring and how much that personnel improved from then until now, it’s absolutely off the charts,” McElroy said. “It’s a real testament to his ability to coach and giving the guys confidence, because when you’re confident as a football team, there’s an awful lot you can do and accomplish.”