JACKSONVILLE — I felt something on Saturday I’ve never felt before when listening to Jim McElwain speak. It was some combination of pity, sadness or, really, any emotion other than frustration, which I’ve felt plenty with McElwain in the past.
That isn’t just because the offense he promised to revive seems further down in the grave than when he got here. It’s because he constantly dodges questions like a seasoned politician, doing everything possible to avoid legitimate answers. Following Florida’s 42-7 curb-stomping loss against Georgia on Saturday, he wasn’t like that. Sure, you’d expect a press conference following the school’s worst loss in over two decades to be different. But not this different.
When asked if he had any regrets about his actions this week, he answered:
“I’ve made mistakes in my life,” he said. “And yet, I stand by everything that occurred. It is what it is, and it won’t be the first to ever have happened to anybody. And I get that. As I go back, look we’ve put a lot into this program. The people have been great to my wife and I. And you know, we’ll see what happens.”
When asked about his job security, he answered:
"At the end of the day, we were all brought here to win,” he said, “and we haven't done it.”
When asked whether he’d be surprised if he’s fired, he answered:
“Nothing in this world surprises me,” he said. “I know what I was brought here to do. Look, we haven’t been good on offense. I get it. We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t won enough. Haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s life. That is this business, and I take full responsibility for all of it.”
He said all this from a lectern under Jacksonville’s EverBank Field with his arms crossed and with a face that, to me, looked defeated. I’ve heard Jim McElwain mad after losses. I’ve heard him calm after losses. I’ve never heard him like this after a loss.
I don’t know if McElwain will be fired on Sunday, or this week, or this season or this year. It looks more likely by the minute, but I have no inside sources. I just don’t know. So what I want to talk about concerns the moment if and when that happens.
I don’t know Jim McElwain personally, but he’s always struck me as a good person. Frustrating in his folkness, sure. But ask any of his players, and they’ll tell you he’s a coach who really cares about them. I’ve always gotten that vibe as well, and until this week, I was planning on penning a column about how, if I was good at football, he’s a coach I’d love to play for.
I understand it’s frustrating to watch his team struggle on offense as a Florida fan. I grew up rooting for the Gators when Ron Zook was in Gainesville, so I get it. But in your haste to oust McElwain from Gainesville, remember he’s a human being with emotion, just like you or me, even if he rarely shows it. He offered a glimpse of that after the game.
“This is a dream job,” he said. “It's a great place. It's great fans. Great support. The resource is there to win. Obviously I'm disappointed that I haven't been able to deliver in the time I've been here. But you know what, it's an opportunity. This is one of those places that I've said from the start, that you have an opportunity, even being able to be in a game like this, I mean, it's something that's real special.”
To be clear, the fact he gets paid millions to direct helmeted, pigskin-wielding adolescents around a green rectangle, lives in a massive home and drives a free car isn’t lost on me. But imagine if thousands of people came to your job when you’ve reached the pinnacle of your profession to mock, debase and devalue everything you’ve worked your entire life to achieve.
Fair? Maybe. Fun? For no one.
I’m not saying Jim McElwain deserves pity if he gets tossed. Like I said, his time in Gainesville hasn’t been what he promised, and he knows it. But before you start thanking God that another human being is being crushed in the most visible way possible over something as trivial as football, just try and imagine you’re Jim McElwain.
He probably makes more money than you do. He probably lives a more luxurious life than you do. But he also has ambitions and aspirations and hopes just like you — hopefully — do. And if he’s fired, it’ll mean he’s failed.
Remember that before you delight in his downfall.
Ethan Bauer is a sports writer. Look out for his next column by following him on Twitter @ebaueri. Contact him at [email protected].