GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida has targeted Colorado State’s Jim McElwain to fill its coaching vacancy.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley spent several hours at McElwain’s home Tuesday and was expected to spend the night in Fort Collins, Colorado.
A person familiar with the coaching search said Foley was planning to offer the job to the former Alabama offensive coordinator. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because Florida has not publicly announced details of the coaching search.
But aspects of the search became public Tuesday.
Foley and several of his top assistants boarded a charter flight that left Gainesville on Tuesday, landed in Joplin, Missouri, and then continued to Fort Collins to meet with McElwain, the person said. Reporters followed them to McElwain’s home.
Foley fired Will Muschamp on Nov. 16, a day after the team’s sixth home loss in eight games. Muschamp agreed to stick around for the final two regular-season games and finished with a 28-21 record in four seasons.
Foley detailed several requirements for Muschamp’s replacement, saying 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.
Foley said offensive success was paramount for Florida’s next coach after four years of offensive futility in Gainesville, where fans got somewhat 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, but Muschamp said two weeks ago that he’s leaving behind a “deep and talented roster, so don’t let that new guy tell you he ain’t got no good players.”
“They got some good football players in that locker room,” Muschamp said. “I feel like we’ve headed in the right direction at quarterback, as far as the depth and quality of the guys you got in the room, both lines of scrimmage, talented secondary as I’ve been around as far as those guys coming back, linebackers. You got some good players.”
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.
McElwain has a $7.5 million buyout in his contract, which is posted online, but Florida is hoping to negotiate a lower settlement.
A provision in the contract allows Colorado State President Tony Frank 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.
McElwain was Alabama coach Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach between 2008 and 2011, when the Crimson Tide won two national titles. He tutored quarterbacks John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron.
Nowadays, McElwain has the nation’s second-ranked quarterback in pass efficiency. Garrett Grayson has thrown for nearly 3,800 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions this season. The Rams also have receiver Rashard Higgins, who leads the nation in yards per game (149.1) and touchdowns (17).