In the late 1980s, Jim McElwain was starting to get his feet wet by coaching as an assistant at Eastern Washington. Around the same time, he was approached with an opportunity that could have altered the course of his career.
McElwain, a lifelong basketball fan, enjoyed attending games at Gonzaga University just 30 minutes north of EWU, and over time he developed a relationship with then-Bulldogs head coach Dan Fitzgerald.
In 1988, Fitzgerald had an opening on his staff and contacted McElwain, asking if he was interested in coaching basketball.
“It was one of those deals,” McElwain said. “We were really good friends. I spent a lot of time (there) when Fitz was the head coach.”
While McElwain obviously declined the offer, he continued to watch the program’s development from afar over the next three decades and on Monday morning expressed pride for the team ahead of its first-ever appearance in the national championship game.
“I’m just happy,” he said. “How far they’ve come from those days is something that’s pretty special.”
With Florida’s Spring game less than a week away, however, all of McElwain’s energy is focused on the team he did choose to coach.
For the third week in a row, McElwain said he was pleased with the continued progression of the offensive line.
Rising junior Martez Ivey is moving from guard to tackle in 2017 — where he'll be tasked with slowing down quicker defensive ends — and has done a “really great job” so far, according to McElwain. He also mentioned that rising redshirt freshman Brett Heggie has “come a long ways as well” on the interior offensive line.
At tight end, early enrollee Kemore Gamble has wowed coaches with his hand-eye coordination and has already gained the confidence of McElwain to be a contributor come September.
“He’ll be a factor,” Florida’s head coach said. “As of right now, he’ll be playing.”
Unnamed quarterback beginning to separate himself from the pack
One interesting revelation that McElwain alluded to on Monday is that a favorite is beginning to emerge in Florida’s quarterback competition.
Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are viewed as the two frontrunners to win the starting job with Austin Appleby having graduated and Luke Del Rio still recovering from shoulder surgery.
Neither quarterback put forth earth-shattering performances in last season’s Spring game, with Franks throwing three interceptions and completing 5-of-11 passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, while Trask completed 4-of-7 passes for 63 yards.
McElwain wouldn’t reveal which player was beginning to separate himself but stated that Friday’s Orange and Blue Debut should provide a good indicator as to who it might be.
“We should know a lot. I think it’s starting to sort itself out. The natural question is, ‘Well, what’s sorting itself out?’ You’ll find out.”
UF Jim McElwain walks between rows of players during a spring practice at the Sanders Practice Field on March 22, 2017.