Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Jim McElwain fantasized about two sporting events he — one day — hoped to attend.
The first on that checklist was going to the Rose Bowl, a dream McElwain fulfilled in 2010 as Alabama’s offensive coordinator when the Crimson Tide defeated Texas for a national championship.
The other venue on that list was Madison Square Garden, which Florida’s head coach finally got to visit for the first time on Sunday during the Elite Eight.
While UF’s men’s basketball team wasn’t able to get past South Carolina and punch its ticket to the Final Four in Phoenix, McElwain said attending the game was still a gratifying experience, noting the historic moments that have occurred inside the arena.
“Being able to go see The Garden and fulfilling that childhood dream, man, I could have stayed in there forever,” he said. “I mean, wow. It was just amazing.”
But now, with Florida’s Spring game quickly approaching in fewer than two weeks, McElwain’s attention is back to football.
At a press conference Monday morning, Florida’s coach emphasized the importance staying disciplined in the red zone.
The Gators ranked 126 out of 128 teams in the FBS last season in red zone offense, putting points on the board only 71.4 percent of the time. McElwain said some of those issues have lingered into the Spring, stating he was “disappointed” with an interception thrown during a team scrimmage on Friday.
“That can’t happen. Absolutely not,” he said. “Good play from the defense, but obviously we can’t… take away points.”
Florida’s secondary does not lack confidence
One unit McElwain did express praise for on Monday was Florida’s secondary.
Following the departures of defensive backs Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye for the NFL draft, Duke Dawson and Chauncey Gardner will spend the majority of their time at cornerback this season.
While Dawson and Gardner both primarily played at nickelback and safety in 2016, McElwain said he expects their transition to corner to be smooth due to their belief in themselves.
“I think a lot of the confidence part comes from the legacy that has been built at the secondary position here,” McElwain said. “There’s a high expectation on how to play, and yet, they embrace that.”
UF to host annual Pro Day
Florida’s Pro Day will also take place today. The annual event is an opportunity for UF’s draft-eligible players to display their abilities in front of NFL coaches, executives and scouts.
While eight players from Florida went to the draft combine earlier this month, other NFL hopefuls such as quarterback Austin Appleby and wide receiver Chris Thompson will hope to make a splash in their only opportunity to perform drills in front of pro evaluators.
“I’m excited just to see those guys (perform),” said safety Marcell Harris, who opted to return to Florida for his senior season. “A lot of my friends who I came in with are going to be out there… I saw them on TV at the combine, and now I can see them in person.”
Players who will be eligible for the draft next Spring will have an opportunity as well to talk with NFL organizations, such as Harris and defensive lineman Khairi Clark.
“It’s very exciting, man,” Clark said. “That’s something that’s a lifelong dream.”
UF Jim McElwain walks between rows of players during a spring practice at the Sanders Practice Field on March 22, 2017.