Gator fans have seen this movie before.
A pitiful offensive performance, which all started at the quarterback position, paved the way to an ugly defeat to a team oddsmakers said Florida was supposed to beat despite those with common sense knowing better. Oh, and along the way, the defense got so tired from having to play more than they should that they bent, bent some more and finally collapsed.
There’s a word for that type of football. It’s called Muschamp football.
This time, though, Jim McElwain has nobody to blame but himself.
One year after running Will Grier out of town, the aftereffects of McElwain’s own haughtiness finally caught up with him. Oh, yes, McElwain ran Grier out of town. Make no mistake about it. And now it’s about to cost him in a big way.
There’s no denying that Grier did something stupid by taking PED’s, and there’s also no way you can fairly blame McElwain for how the 2015 season played out given that Muschamp left him with no better option at quarterback than Treon Harris. But McElwain took a gamble and opted to remove him from his program entirely, a move that first took effect in the Missouri game. Remember, Grier’s one year suspension would have run out in time for him to play against Mizzou.
Instead, that game against the Tigers began a nosedive for a team that’s now free falling into the depths of depravity.
The first five games of the year would have played out the exact same way they did if Grier had still been in Gainesville because he wasn’t an available option, up to and including Luke Del Rio’s injury and the streak ending loss to Tennessee. But had McElwain not forced Grier away, he would have been back for Missouri- and though he may have been rusty in his first game back, the promise he showed last year was enough to spawn hope that he would only get better from there. And maybe even lead Florida to a national championship.
Instead, Gator fans were forced to watch Luke Del Rio struggle in vain to lead this offense, and only fail more and more miserably with each passing week. You could excuse his performance against Missouri as him being rusty or not 100% after coming back from his knee injury, but he didn’t play well against Georgia and he really didn’t play well against Arkansas- even before he suffered the shoulder injury.
No sooner had fans settled into their seats than Del Rio tried to fit a laser into a small window on a slant route. The ball was batted around, picked by Santos Ramirez and then taken back for seven points. The rest of his day wasn’t much better. Del Rio frequently missed reads and open receivers, twice overthrowing teammates on what would have been touchdown passes and once failing to see a streaking Antonio Callaway and dumping it off to a check down instead. And then there was the duck he floated into double coverage in Callaway’s general direction that was easily intercepted at the goal line.
I’m going to preface everything I’m about to say by pointing out that from a personal standpoint, I really like Del Rio. He’s a good person who does the right thing and works as hard as he can. And it says a lot about his toughness to fight through a shoulder injury to keep playing. But when you get down to the facts, there’s no other way to put this while maintaining objectivity: he was awful Saturday, playing by far the worst game of his career and he’s playing worse and worse every week. Blame his shoulder injury if you want, but he made some bad decisions before it happened as well as after. I don’t doubt that he gives his best effort, and I sincerely do appreciate that, but he’s simply not good enough to lead the Florida Gators into battle against SEC opponents.
And yet this was what you wanted, Mac. You had no reason to push Grier out the door, but you were so stubborn in wanting Del Rio to be your guy, so sure that he was that guy, that you opted to eliminate his competition and make him a lock for the starting QB job. And because you promised us all that you could win with your dog, it was all supposed to be OK.
And now you look like a jerkoff. Treon Harris will be remembered as one of the worst quarterbacks in a seven year stretch filled with some really bad ones, but let’s not forget that he actually didn’t play too badly under Muschamp and Kurt Roper; he only started to go down the drain after your arrival. Now Luke Del Rio, the coach’s son, the smart decision maker and the natural leader, has only gotten worse with each passing week under your stewardship. If you’re really as good at developing quarterbacks as your track record says you are, this wouldn’t be happening.
Let’s face it. Despite still being an obvious upgrade over Muschamp, Mac is not the genius we once thought he was. When I went to bed the night Florida hired Jim McElwain, I fell asleep convinced that he would one day lead the Gators to a national championship. When I went to bed Saturday night, I fell asleep still very much believing that this is possible, but no longer convinced of it as a certainty.
At the same time, it’s worth putting the inverse spin on the same message. If you think McElwain should be fired after this 31-10 loss to Arkansas, you’re every bit as ridiculous and unrealistic as you were to call for his firing at any point last year. Having said that, the case to fire him has gained its first valuable bullet point: the guy Mac hand picked to be his starter has proven to be far less effective than the guy he ran off. That alone is not enough to fire McElwain, so away from the ledge you go. Let’s just call it strike one.
Even the professionals, in any business, make mistakes. The good ones learn from them. And so I don’t by any means want Mac fired. I still like him very much and want him to be my team’s coach. Rather, I hope that he learned a very valuable lesson, which is that he’s a good football coach but not a miracle worker who can turn water into wine, a lesson we won’t be able to see if he learned until next year.
In the meantime, we’re left to cheer for the team that we’ve got right now, one that somehow still controls its own destiny to the SEC Championship Game despite being woefully outclassed against a middle of the pack team from the other division. And cheer for them I will, because in all kinds of weather means that I’ll stick by them even when the man in charge of the program made a mistake that may have cost the program a national championship.