GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley wanted a coach with an offensive track record of success.
Foley even agreed to pay extra to get him.
After working though a sticky buyout issue, Jim McElwain left Colorado State on Thursday to become Florida’s next head coach.
“It’s an honor to be a part of the one of most powerful brands in college athletics in the Florida Gators,” McElwain said in a statement. “I’m humbled, yet very excited about the tremendous opportunity. I can’t tell you how eager I am to get to Gainesville to set a course for who we are going to be and what we will be all about.”
The Gators announced the hiring at the same time McElwain started a team meeting with players and assistants. Reporters heard a loud ovation before McElwain exited the room in tears.
McElwain agreed to a six-year deal at Florida that will average $3.5 million annually. He made $1.5 million this season at Colorado State.
“Coach McElwain was someone we targeted from the beginning of the search,” Foley said. “The more we worked through the process and did our due diligence, coupled with our meeting and conversations with him and those around him, it was obvious he is the right person to lead the Florida Gator football program.”
McElwain accepted the job after working with Colorado State to reduce his $7.5 million buyout. Florida will pay the Rams $3 million over six years. McElwain will pay $2 million over time. The Gators also guaranteed Colorado State $2 million for a game in Gainesville between 2017 and 2020.
The Gators traveled to Colorado with the belief that the buyout could and would be whittled down. But Colorado State President Tony Frank initially stood firm on $7.5 million, and the financial roadblock prompted Foley to leave Colorado without an agreement Wednesday.
McElwain, his attorney and both schools worked through the night to reach a settlement. McElwain and his family will be introduced at a Saturday news conference in Gainesville.
ESPN first reported the hiring.
“We wish him well and are confident we can recruit a coach who is committed to a sustained program of excellence at Colorado State over the long term,” Frank said.
Florida fired Muschamp on Nov. 16. He agreed to coach the final two regular-season games and finished with a 28-21 record in four seasons.
McElwain went 22-16 in three seasons at Colorado State. He was Alabama’s offensive coordinator for four years, helping the Tide win two national titles, before moving to Fort Collins, Colorado.
“He has an engaging personality and is someone who can connect with a variety of audiences and he operates with a high level of integrity,” Foley said.
Not only has the 52-year-old McElwain been a head coach — something Foley wanted after failing with former defensive coordinators Ron Zook and Muschamp — he also has NFL experience, Southeastern Conference ties and familiarity with the state of Florida. Most important is his offensive resume. The Rams rank 13th nationally, averaging 498 yards a game.
McElwain took over a program that went 3-9 for three consecutive seasons (2009-11), but has enjoyed a quick turnaround since his arrival. The Rams went 4-8 in 2012 and 8-6 last year before this season’s breakthrough performance. They have wins against rival Colorado and Boston College in 2014.
The Gators are looking for an offensive renaissance after four years of futility. Florida fans were spoiled watching Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ‘n’ Gun” in the 1990s and then Urban Meyer’s high-scoring spread scheme in the late 2000s.
The Gators finished 105th, 103rd and 113th in total offense during Muschamp’s first three seasons. They rank 90th this season.
McElwain could be the coach to take the program to the next step.
He grew up in Missoula, Montana, and played quarterback at Eastern Washington, where he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant in 1985. He spent time at Montana State (1995-99), Louisville (2000-02), Michigan State (2003-05), the NFL’s Oakland Raiders (2006) and Fresno State (2007). At Fresno State, his offense averaged 419.5 yards and 32.9 points a game, which got Saban’s attention.
Florida got a firsthand look at McElwain’s scheme and success in the 2009 SEC title game. The Tide managed 490 yards in a victory that knocked the Gators out of contention for a second straight national title.
Now, Florida is counting on him to him to get its program — mostly the offense — back to prominence.
“He couldn’t turn down this job,” Colorado State senior guard Mason Myers said. “We know. We seniors know how it works.”