During his weekly XL Primetime radio segment,Mark Long, a beat writer who covers the Florida Gators and Jacksonville Jaguars for the Associated Press, went hard in the paint on new Florida Coach Jim McElwain. Mainly, Long doubts McElwain’s ability to be candid with the media.
“I have some serious concerns about his ability to tell the truth or his ability to want to tell the truth – maybe that’s just the way he plays it. Everything’s very orchestrated or manipulated.”
Bad first impression…
One specific example that Long cites comes from Florida’s first spring practice on Monday. In it, Will Grier took the first snap on offense – a sign that he’s likely the clubhouse leader to start. Given that Florida’s quarterback race is the team’s top competition this offseason, reporters asked the coach about Grier receiving first reps over Treon Harris. Here was McElwain’s response:
“I didn’t know. Did he? Somebody had to I guess. He must have run in there first. Good for him. Nice job.”
It’s not just the reticence to give away any information, but more so the feigned ignorance that got Long’s goat. For an offensive-minded coach not to know which signal caller was running out is unfathomable. To Long, even pretending so was “bush league.”
“The guy who rolls out first is an orchestrated, calculated, planned event – who’s going to take the first snap – and for (McElwain) to sit there and tell us he didn’t know who was going to take the first snap…that was just happenstance, I find that hard to believe and it raises my suspicion of the guy more,” Long said. “This stuff he pulled (Monday), he didn’t know who ran out and took the first snap with the offense? The thing he’s hired to do, to fix, anyone… knows how unbelievably important taking the first snap is from a team standpoint. You’re sending this guy out and it’s a statement and you know it’s a statement. I think it was a little bush league for him to pretend it wasn’t.”
Give a little and get a little
Long’s frustrations are understandable. Reporters are there to collect information on the team, and then put together a story so fans/followers feel in the loop. It’s not uncommon for coaches to obscure details surrounding their program, but there is a certain give and take with the press.
McElwain has sauntered into Gainesville and, by and large, won over a majority of the fan base with his folksy charm and slick tongue. His entire demeanor is a 180 from the brusqueness of Will Muschamp. Even without any tangible results on the field, it’s easy to see why people have gravitated towards him – hungry for a change, even the slightest difference from the previous regime is akin to a victory (smiles, colloquialisms, etc.). For long, however, the homey vibe of McElwain comes across as something different: a used car salesman.
Right now, to me, he’s a used car salesman and I have a hard time believing anything he says because I don’t find him genuine. This is not a big secret, I’ve said it before … I’m not the only one who feels like this, we all get this sense that he doesn’t answer questions. It’s unbelievably frustrating.
Form the reporter’s vantage point in the trenches, the differences between Muschamp and McElwain – at least in terms of spin – are minimal. To exhibit as much, he discussed Muschamp’s final press conference. According to Long, Muschamp spent an hour constructing his farewell address, and placed weighted emphasis on the line about Florida’s roster being stocked with talent for the next coach. The purpose being that Muschamp set the next guy up for success; whether it translates is up to that coach. Essentially: a self-promotional smokescreen.
“That line that you’re talking about… I have it on very good authority that Will Muschamp spent an hour, a considerable amount of time, in his office preparing for that, ‘I’ve been fired’ speech, and that was the line he spent the most time on – wanting to deliver it at the right moment. That line – I guess it sets it up – if there’s talent and (the Gators) play well and they win games, kind of like the first Urban Meyer national title, you can get credit a la Ron Zook for leaving all this talent behind. And if they stink, you’ve set it up to where, ‘it’s not my fault, I told ‘ya there was plenty of talent, this is him.’ I think it was very manipulated, very calculated on Will’s part. Everybody used it. It made it everywhere (in the media). It was very much prepared on his part and it served a purpose.”
In regards to his feelings on McElwain, Long stood firm when questioned by people on Twitter.
@imbillmcneal pretty much everything
— Mark Long (@APMarkLong) March 17, 2015
@scottmiller1977 ha. No. This isn’t just about the QB situation. The guy ducks questions — in spring
— Mark Long (@APMarkLong) March 17, 2015
In sum, for Long, it’s not so much the coach speak. Every reporter deals with that. It’s the perceived intent of deception that is troublesome. To his mind, Jim McElwain, at this juncture, is not somebody who can be taken at face value, even regarding what should be simple questions. A pretty strong sentiment coming from an individual with daily access to the program and its coaches.
Is Mark Long justified with his frustrations, or is Jim McElwain no different from any other coach out there? Sound off in the comments below!