GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Most fans are ready to move on from the unexpected story of the week: Florida coach Jim McElwain’s comments about unspecified death threats to those within or connected to his program.
And McElwain is most certainly ready to move on.
He realized Wednesday that he needed to address the matter for that to happen, and while he didn’t provide all that much clarity or really answer the key questions during his evening media session, he nonetheless brought some finality to a bizarre story.
But it never had to come to that.
This became a big story for two reasons. One, obviously, the gravity of the claims. And two, the seeming disconnect between the Gators coach and Florida’s athletic administration.
Only McElwain knows the extent or nature of the referenced threats, and he at least made it clear Wednesday night that whatever it was does not presently concern him.
The other point does has lingering cause for concern, though.
The way this was handled and the differing perspectives from Florida’s University Athletic Association and McElwain has opened the door for many — including Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples — to surmise the two sides aren’t in lockstep.
All McElwain needed to do was get with athletics director Scott Stricklin and other Florida officials on Monday, acknowledge the story that was mushrooming from his comments that morning and get on the same page with a plan for how to put it to rest. That’s it, and this story ends the same day it began.
Instead, we have the two sides offering contrasting comments over the span of three days. The UAA released its statement Monday night saying it took McElwain’s comments very seriously, met with him, and he would not provide them any further details on the threats.
Then McElwain claimed Wednesday that he actually “had a really good talk” with Stricklin and executive associate AD for internal affairs Laird Veatch and that he didn’t “really quite understand what even the statement was” from the UAA.
That’s not a good look, and that’s the part of all this that will stick in everyone’s mind.
Maybe McElwain is a great communicator with his coaches and his players, but he doesn’t seem to know how to handle the media or how to get his message out in a clear manner. That’s part of the problem here.
It can make things unnecessarily harder on him, as it did this week.
McElwain said Wednesday he shouldn’t have vented or made the death threat comments. Maybe not, especially if he hadn’t given his athletic department a heads up or wasn’t prepare to offer any specifics publicly or even privately. If he had and they jointly decided to bring the matter to light, that’s another story.
But even after he said it Monday, he could have fixed it. Right away. He could have said something to the effect of, “Listen, it’s not something I view as a real concern and I probably shouldn’t have brought it up. It happened in the past, who knows where it came from and unfortunately this kind of thing happens in college football. It’s not right, but it is what it is and it’s not an issue this week as we prepare for Georgia.”
That didn’t happen.
But even then, he could have put it to bed by simply being open with Stricklin and company later in the day. Whatever happened, they get on the same page and present a unified statement that quashes the story then and there.
That didn’t happen.
Even Wednesday, he still could have minimized the damage of that UAA statement by saying, “I brought up the threats Monday in the heat of the moment and wished I hadn’t. When Scott approached me about it later in the day, I simply didn’t want to make a bigger issue of it as it happened in the past and isn’t a concern as we prepare for Georgia.”
That didn’t happen, either.
McElwain said enough Wednesday night to put the death threats story to rest in most minds. He also talked about the strong support he had received and the positive passion from the Florida fan base, which was a good move.
But the whole ordeal still leaves many wondering about McElwain’s relationship with the man who will ultimately determine how long his tenure in Gainesville lasts.
And it didn’t have to be that way.