The University of Florida has hired Colorado State's Jim McElwain to be its 24th head football coach after a search lasting just over two weeks. Jeremy Foley traveled to Fort Collins to meet with McElwain on Tuesday, and the issues surrounding McElwain's buyout that hung up the hire were resolved today.
McElwain has spent the last three seasons turning around the CSU program. It was one of the better mid-major programs in the 1990s and early 2000s under Sonny Lubick, but it fell into disrepair towards the end of Lubick's tenure, and Lubick's successor Steve Fairchild couldn't dig the program out of the hole. The Rams went 3-9 in each of Fairchild's last three seasons. McElwain came on board next, and his teams went 4-8, 8-6, and 10-2 from 2012-14. Prior to going to CSU, McElwain was Alabama's offensive coordinator from 2008-11.
Florida reportedly was interested in Ole Miss's Hugh Freeze, who signed an extension with the Rebels on Tuesday. There were differing reports on whether Freeze had a true job offer or not, but Foley hopped on the plane to Colorado the afternoon after Ole Miss announced Freeze's extension.
When Foley announced Will Muschamp's departure, he said he would target a "high character and high integrity" coach with a track record of offensive success. McElwain has never had run ins with the NCAA, has stayed free of off field controversy, and does have a history of offensive success.
The program he takes over in Gainesville is in better shape than the one Muschamp took over four years ago. The locker room instability and player arrests that plagued Florida late in Urban Meyer's tenure are long gone. The talent cupboard is full in most areas, especially on defense. Pending the inevitable attrition that follows coaching changes, his biggest roster concern will be extreme thinness and inexperience on the offensive line. Following that, it would be at quarterback, where Jeff Driskel got benched and may not return thanks to being a Boston Red Sox draft pick, Treon Harris proved to be little more effective than Driskel, and true freshman Will Grier redshirted. Florida's incoming recruiting class has only nine commitments, so McElwain has plenty of room to seek out new talent to fill in roster holes as he sees fit. He'll have to get moving, though, with signing day less than two months away.
A big question will be how many Muschamp assistants he'll retain. Muschamp's defensive staff is generally well regarded and would provide continuity with a chance for lower attrition. McElwain reportedly intends to retain defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and defensive backs coach/ace recruiter Travaris Robinson, assuming of course that they want to stay and don't leave for other jobs.
McElwain makes the second consecutive former Saban coordinator as head coach for Florida. Unlike Muschamp, though, McElwain's value proposition does not come from a presumed ability to run Saban's system. He may not be a splashy name, but he has three good years of head coaching experience with a pair of SEC and national titles as a coordinator. His task is a simple, yet difficult one: bring the offense up to par without sacrificing the high level of defense the program has had over the last four seasons.
2012-14: Colorado State head coach
2008-11: Alabama offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
2007: Fresno State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
2006: Oakland Raiders running backs coach
2003-05: Michigan State assistant head coach, wide receivers coach, special teams coach
2000-02: Louisville wide receivers coach, special teams coach
1995-99: Montana State offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach, special teams coach
1987-94: Eastern Washington quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach
1984-86: Eastern Washington graduate assistant
1980-83: played quarterback for Eastern Washington
McElwain By the Numbers
*The yards per carry figures here do not include sacks.
Advanced offensive stats, national ranks in each:
Advanced defensive stats, national ranks:
Advanced overall team statistics, national ranks:
McElwain did a tremendous job with the superior offensive talent he had at Alabama. His also offenses got better in nearly every way from one year to the next in Tuscaloosa. McElwain's offenses run at a slow pace for the modern game, with only one of his attacks since 2008 running 70 or more plays per game.
His turnaround at Colorado State was quick and dramatic, but it is worth noting how awful his first team was. If his first Florida team proves to be little different than Muschamp's last team, it shouldn't be a cause for panic—particularly given the aforementioned impending issues with offensive line and quarterback. The defenses he oversaw at CSU also improved quickly, but by this season, they didn't reach the heights his offense did.