GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida and coach Jim McElwain have agreed to part ways a day after a third consecutive loss and nearly a week after he said his players and their families had received death threats.
Athletic director Scott Stricklin made the announcement Sunday and named defensive coordinator Randy Shannon the team’s interim coach for the final four games.
The parties are negotiating McElwain’s $12.5 million buyout.
Florida (3-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference), which is still paying former coach Will Muschamp, would like to significantly reduce McElwain’s sum and could use his actions over the last week as leverage.
Regardless of the outcome, McElwain’s tenure will be remembered for failing to fix a floundering offense. Three years ago, McElwain proclaimed he could win with his dog at quarterback. The Gators currently rank 113th in total offense, in triple digits nationally for the third time in McElwain’s three seasons.
“We want to thank Coach McElwain for his efforts in leading the Gator football program,” Stricklin said in a statement. “We are confident Coach Shannon will provide the proper guidance to the players and rest of staff during this time, and we will begin a national search for the next head coach.”
McElwain went 22-12 with the Gators, including 4-9 against ranked teams, and became the first coach in league history to take a team to the SEC championship game in his first two years. Florida was eliminated from contention in the Eastern Division with a 42-7 loss to rival Georgia on Saturday. It was Florida’s most lopsided loss in the series since 1982.
McElwain’s downfall was more about relationships than records.
His already-strained rapport with administrators reached a new low last Monday when he said Florida players and families had received death threats. The bombshell shocked Stricklin, who had not been previously notified about a potentially harmful situation.
Stricklin met with McElwain later that day, and the coach rebuffed a request to provide more information about the threats. The athletic department responded with a statement that essentially criticized McElwain for being uncooperative.
The school’s position was basically this: If there were death threats and administrators did nothing about them, the Gators would be legally liable if something horrible happened. If McElwain exaggerated the threats or made them up altogether, then he essentially sullied an entire fan base without merit.
McElwain made the situation even worse two days later when he said he would provide more details about the death threats “when it becomes unmanageable.”
McElwain seemed resigned to his fate Saturday night.
“I know what I was brought here to do. Look, we haven’t been good on offense, I get it,” he said. “We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t won enough. We haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s life. That is this business, and I take full responsibility for all of it.”
McElwain’s problems started long before last week.
The former Alabama assistant and Colorado State head coach complained publicly about Florida’s facilities shortly after taking the job and openly questioned the school’s commitment to the football program two years later. His initial comments came while the Gators were planning to build an indoor practice facility and his most recent ones came after they had announced plans to build a $60 million, stand-alone football facility.
His comments rubbed Florida officials the wrong way.
They probably would have found a way to live with them had McElwain delivered on promises to improve an offense that has been mostly dormant for a decade.
McElwain didn’t make Florida’s offense any better than his predecessor and repeatedly failed to adequately develop a quarterback.
The Gators surely will hire another offensive-minded coach to start the next rebuild.
Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen seems like the obvious choice. The 45-year-old Mullen was Florida’s offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer and worked for Stricklin in Starkville, Mississippi. His resume includes a No. 1 draft pick (Alex Smith), an NFL Rookie of the Year (Dak Prescott) and a Heisman Trophy winner (Tim Tebow). Mullen also is familiar with the pressure of coaching in the SEC and in Gainesville.
Other possible candidates: Syracuse’s Dino Babers, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Central Florida’s Scott Frost, Washington State’s Mike Leach, Southern Methodist’s Chad Morris, Memphis’ Mike Norvell and South Florida’s Charlie Strong.