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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Column: Please, coach McElwain, learn to answer questions

<p>Florida head coach Jim McElwain looks on during a spring practice at the Sanders Practice Field on March 22, 2017.&nbsp;</p>

Florida head coach Jim McElwain looks on during a spring practice at the Sanders Practice Field on March 22, 2017. 

Last week I asked coach Jim McElwain if he thought the word adversity was overused in sports. He stuttered once, stuttered again and finally gave a winding response that didn’t answer the question and somehow brought up the questionable nature of participation trophies.

I don’t blame him.

It was an unusual question. After being inundated with typical leading inquiries like, “Who’s separating himself in the quarterback race?” or, “How much improvement have you seen from the offensive line?” or, “How has (insert new coach here) reinvigorated (insert position group here)?” answering something about the nature of adversity is tough on the spot. I get that. I would’ve had a tough time, too.

But before that question, I’d asked something much simpler: Is receiver Dre Massey progressing after tearing his ACL last season, and do you still plan to use him in special packages? Here’s how he responded:

“Yeah,” he said. “He and Kadarius as well.”

That’s where most of his answer to a two-part question about Dre Massey ended. The rest of his answer was largely praise for C.J. McWilliams, a cornerback who’s also coming off injury:

“On that note,” he said, “I think one of the guys who has really stood out as well has been C.J. McWilliams in the secondary at corner. He’s been doing a really good job as well. Those guys that aren’t able to go in all of the drills.”

Then he went back to Massey:

“Dre has really showed up, as we knew he would,” he said. “That was a big miss for us a year ago. What that guy gave us.”

Then back to McWilliams:

“Just mentioning some of the other guys, C.J. has done an outstanding job. He’s a great, great guy that’s going to be able to help us.”

It’s become common for McElwain — a man known for his sarcasm as much as his football coaching ability — to dodge even simple questions like that one, even if it seems unintentional. Another example occurred this Monday when McElwain was asked to retell the story of his first meeting with quarterback Kyle Trask and whether he’s still the same guy.

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“Yeah,” he answered. “He hasn’t changed a bit. The guy kept coming to camp and competed against everybody and is doing the same thing. You know, excited about him and what he brings and really the way he, let’s just say nothing bothers him. He stays very level and does a great job of studying what we’re trying to do.”

There’s a little bit of an answer in there as far as him being the same guy, but the part about their first meeting is mysteriously absent. And this problem extends far beyond these two questions.

Again, I’m not saying he does it on purpose. It just seems to be his nature. He’s a sarcastic guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I also acknowledge I’m nitpicking. His job is to be a good football coach. Not to be articulate.

But whether he dodges questions on purpose or not, the fans are the ones who suffer. The fans who want to escape into sports are the ones who don’t get quality content about their team.

And yes, it’s definitely annoying for me as well, but I don’t expect a newspaper reader to care about my “plight” as a sportswriter. I also suspect that Florida fans don’t care about his answer habits as long as the Gators are winning. I get that.

However, it’s not hard to see how this becomes a much bigger problem when the Gators aren’t winning. When McElwain gives half-answers after a string of losses. Or, even worse, in the midst of a scandal.

Perhaps it’s just better to get out of the habit now.

Ethan Bauer is the sports editor. His columns appear on Wednesdays. Contact him at ebauer@alligator.org, and follow him on Twitter @ebaueri.

Florida head coach Jim McElwain looks on during a spring practice at the Sanders Practice Field on March 22, 2017. 

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