GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Athletic director Jeremy Foley is back in Florida. Colorado State’s Jim McElwain remains at home.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation, negotiations hit a snag Wednesday over McElwain’s $7.5 million buyout. The person spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the parties have declined to discuss details about the talks.
The person said Florida traveled to Colorado with the belief that the hefty buyout could be whittled down. But Colorado State President Tony Frank stood firm on $7.5 million. The financial roadblock prompted the Florida contingent to leave without an agreement.
Because the buyout is McElwain’s responsibility, it’s up to him, his attorney and Colorado State to reach an amicable deal, the person said.
Foley and several of his top assistants left Fort Collins after nearly a day of negotiations, and both schools were mostly mum about any decisions regarding Florida’s opening head-coaching position.
The Gators released an ambiguous statement as they left Colorado: “We’ve had very productive conversations with Coach McElwain and his wife Karen and those continue.”
Reporters were waiting for Foley when he landed back in Gainesville, and he was equally vague about what transpired in Colorado.
“We gave you what we gave you,” he said. “That’s the end of the conversation. There’s nothing else to report. We had a great conversation. We’re not there yet. Might have something more tonight.”
Foley is looking to replace Will Muschamp, who was fired Nov. 16.
McElwain emerged as the top target, but the buyout proved to be the sticking point. The Gators already are on the hook for about $8 million owed to Muschamp and his staff, and they have roughly $87 million in on-campus projects underway. And of that $87 million, the athletic association has raised around $60 million.
The Gators apparently didn’t believe they would have to write a $7.5 million check to land McElwain.
A provision in his contract allows the Colorado State president to reduce or eliminate the hefty fee for “extenuating circumstances” should McElwain voluntarily step down before the deal expires. Former Colorado State athletic director Jack Graham told the Coloradoan on Tuesday that Frank agreed to reduce or eliminate the fee in June if McElwain’s “dream job” came along.
“It created opportunities for schools like Florida, Michigan and Nebraska — all arguably dream jobs — to go after Mac,” Graham told the paper.
Failing to land McElwain seemingly would be a setback for Florida, which doesn’t want even the appearance of settling for its second or third choice.
Foley has said little publicly about the search since outlining several requirements for Muschamp’s replacement. He wanted his next coach had to have high integrity, character and needed to be a fit at Florida.
The 52-year-old McElwain was born in Montana and spent much of his coaching career out west. But he also has NFL experience, Southeastern Conference ties and a track record of success on the offensive side of the ball.
McElwain is finishing his third season at Colorado State. He led the Rams to a 10-2 record and was named the Mountain West Conference’s coach of the year Tuesday.
His offense ranks 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.