Maybe Jim McElwain would still be at Florida if all he did was steal credit cards.
When the former Gators coach was fired, UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said the decision was based on more than wins and losses. The argument seemed to be that McElwain’s unwillingness to report “death threats” to administrators put his players in danger. So when Stricklin fired him, Florida looked like an upstanding program with uncompromising integrity.
Here’s the real question: Can you think of another example of Florida valuing ethics over what’s good for the brand? Me neither.
According to its website, UF's athletics slogan is: "a championship experience with integrity." But according to their actions, it's: "integrity, as long as it doesn't get in the way of a championship experience."
Let’s look at two examples: the suspended football players and the possible hiring of Chip Kelly.
While McElwain was booted out of Florida in part for an ethical infraction, nine players who are accused of spending upwards of $16,000 with other people's credit card information are still on the roster.
So let’s get this straight: McElwain’s transgressions were enough to get him fired, but having nine players accused of more than 60 felony counts isn’t enough to get them kicked off the team?
Many of those nine players recently agreed to pretrial-intervention programs, meaning they likely won’t face any significant legal consequences. After jumping through a few procedural hoops, those players could be cleared to play for Florida again. And it seems like they will. Who is going to stop them? Is Stricklin or UF president Kent Fuchs going to rid the program of these players in an effort to showcase Florida’s integrity? It doesn’t seem like it — coaches have already started to update reporters on their possible return.
Is UF going to let players like Antonio Callaway — who has shown up in three police reports over three years — continue to play because the fans love them? Signs point to yes.
Let’s look at another example: the potential hiring of Chip Kelly.
Some outlets have reported that Florida is vetting Kelly, an offensive-minded revolutionary with NFL experience, as a candidate in the school’s coaching search.
And while it’s hard to argue Kelly isn’t an impressive football coach, it’s easy to argue that he doesn’t exactly radiate integrity. A history of NCAA violations from his time with the Oregon Ducks is an obvious mark against his character. His power grab with the Philadelphia Eagles, demanding control of the roster, was a disaster and makes me question his judgment. And his stated desire to return to the NFL leaves concerns about his commitment to Florida.
Of course, I’m not saying Florida is going to hire Kelly. What I’m saying is, if Florida decided to bring him on board, the school would once again be prioritizing on-field performance over off-field issues.
"A championship experience with integrity?" I don't think so.
Again, the message Florida is sending is: “integrity, as long as it doesn't interfere with a championship experience.”
Letting players return after felony accusations? No integrity there.
Hiring a coach with a history of NCAA violations? No integrity there either.
So do you really think UF fired McElwain, a 3-4 coach who the administration didn’t get along with, out of integrity? Or was that just a convenient excuse. I’ll let you decide.
Matt Brannon is the Alligator’s sports editor. Contact him at email@example.com.