GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jim McElwain didn’t have his normal pep or energy Wednesday night as he stepped behind the podium for his final post-practice news conference of the week.
He wasn’t as punchy or playful as usual toward reporters. He seemed to have a lot on his mind, but little interest in going very deep about it. Not that he normally does, but even Monday on the heels of that humbling loss to Michigan he was livelier, more upbeat.
Fans watching online Wednesday evening commented that McElwain looked beaten down. I’d simply go with a mix of frustrated and concerned.
It’s only Week 2, but nothing has gone right to this point for the Gators.
Florida will head into a second game without its two best offensive playmakers in wide receiver Antonio Callaway and running back Jordan Scarlett, who are among the nine players still suspended from team activities for the reported misuse of school funds.
McElwain was asked for another update on those players and simply shrugged. It seems even he doesn’t know when the matter will be resolved to the point that those players can return to practice and games.
Meanwhile, he seemed to be sending a message to veteran tight end DeAndre Goolsby, reporting the player out with a leg injury and adding, “I don’t know when he’ll ever be back.” That elicited a confused response from Goolsby on Twitter.
McElwain then was asked what he’s seen from his beleaguered offense, in general, this week.
“Well, we’ll find out on Saturday,” he responded. “They understand obviously what needs to happen. We’ll see how they respond.”
Not exactly a stirring endorsement. Either he’s reluctant to overstate anything about a group that underwhelmed so significantly in the opener. Or, the way the team has responded in practice this week simply has brought yet more frustration.
And, of course, he was asked a lot about Hurricane Irma as it barrels down on Florida, threatening parts of the state where many of Florida’s players and coaches are from, where their families remain.
That’s the concern piece.
Don’t discount that. While Florida fans are sour on McElwain and his staff after the lopsided loss to Michigan, don’t discount that he is a genuine person with a strong connection to his players. He probably feels very helpless right now as so much of the state and so many of the families he’s formed connections with through the recruiting process brace for the worst.
“We have a lot of things in place as an athletic department to do whatever we can under NCAA rules, right? What we’re talking about is people’s lives. That’s what’s real,” he said.
What would ordinarily be a much-anticipated home debut in The Swamp is instead shrouded by worry and fear from everybody — players and coaches included — as to what this destructively powerful hurricane will deliver.
In the midst of that, the Gators will try to play a football game.
“You know, it is a challenge, and yet we have a responsibility. The responsibility is to be a Florida Gator. It doesn’t mean you don’t care,” McElwain said. “What it means is you’ve got to focus on the task at hand. Our guys will come out ready to play. Obviously, there’s a lot bigger things going on.”
What would ordinarily be an expected offensive showcase against an overmatched FCS-level Northern Colorado team will now be a highly scrutinized performance where anything less than 500 yards and 40-plus points will be viewed as more cause for concern. And even if the Gators pile up the yards and points in bunches, it won’t truly allay any worries about the offense because that’s what they’re supposed to do in this game.
It’s a no-win situation. Especially when nobody knows if Callaway or Scarlett will be back on the field next Saturday for Florida’s SEC opener with Tennessee.
It’s hard to remember now, but just a few weeks ago, Florida’s fanbase — not to mention the team itself — was brimming with optimism and confidence.
Unfortunately, absolutely nothing has gone according to those hopes, within and beyond the Gators’ control.
And so understandably so, all of that seemed to weigh on Florida’s coach Wednesday night as a metaphorical cloud hangs over the team and a very real and threatening one over the entire region.
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