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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Jim McElwain's midseason departure catches Florida players by surprise

Florida Gators defensive back Duke Dawson (7) throws Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb (16) out of bounds during the fourth quarter of the Florida Gators game against Vanderbilt on September 30, 2017, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville.

Monica Herndon | Times

Florida Gators defensive back Duke Dawson (7) throws Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb (16) out of bounds during the fourth quarter of the Florida Gators game against Vanderbilt on September 30, 2017, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville.

GAINESVILLE — Duke Dawson didn’t believe it. One day after a 42-7 loss to Georgia, the Gators cornerback saw reports stating his head coach, Jim McElwain, was fired. A team meeting at 5 p.m. Sunday dismissed any doubts. The McElwain era had come to an end.

Now, with former defensive coordinator Randy Shannon serving as UF’s interim head coach, the team is trying to regroup and focus on a road matchup against Missouri (3-5, 0-4 SEC) Saturday at noon. But while the Gators (3-4, 3-3 SEC) are trying not to dwell on the coaching change, the shock behind the switch is still settling in.

Dawson had seen it happen before when his first coach, Will Muschamp, was let go. Florida’s younger players, meanwhile, didn’t have the same frame of reference.

“It was very surprising for a lot of guys, especially the young guys who just got here,” Dawson, a senior, said Monday. “It’s eye opening to them.”

Even for redshirt senior running back Mark Thompson, who transferred to Florida before McElwain’s second season, the news of his coach’s firing was unexpected. Like Dawson, Thompson said reality didn’t set in until UF athletic director Scott Stricklin addressed the team Sunday evening. …

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Malik Davis out for the year, Florida Gators will have open quarterback competition


GAINESVILLE - Florida Gators running back Malik Davis will miss the rest of the season after injuring his right knee in Saturday's 35-point loss to Georgia.

Davis, a true freshman from Jesuit High, leads UF with 526 rushing yards on 79 carries.

Before coming to UF, he starred in Tampa and left as Hillsborough County's all-time leading rusher.

In other non-coaching search news ....

Interim coach Randy Shannon says there will be an open quarterback competition. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks has been the starter, but Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire led UF on its only scoring drive last weekend in Jacksonville.
"Depends on who does the best things in practice," Shannon said.

Other staff shakeups: Defensive line coach Chris Rumph has been promoted to defensive coordinator (taking Shannon's old position). Robb Akey has been bumped up to a full-time assistant role.

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Final thoughts on the end of Florida Gators' Jim McElwain era


GAINESVILLE - We'll get into the Florida Gators' coaching search plenty over the coming days (and weeks). Before we do, a few final thoughts on the end of the Jim McElwain era:

As I wrote in today's Tampa Bay Times, McElwain and UF simply weren't a good fit. It's hard to explain, but you could see it every now and then. One example: McElwain was usually in a good mood for his Monday news conference, no matter what happened the previous weekend. Not this year. After the first few times, the AP's Mark Long asked McElwain why he seemed so unhappy.

"I haven't really thought about it," McElwain said. "I apologize if I'm not doing something right."

With the benefit of hindsight, I think he looked like someone who wanted out.

• I didn't think McElwain was a long-term solution at UF, but I didn't expect his tenure to end this year, unless the on-field product was a disaster (worse than a 3-4 start) or he was involved in an off-field scandal. This was somewhere in the middle, and the speed at which it devolved remains stunning. Driving to UF a week ago today, I never would have thought he'd be gone so suddenly. …

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Scott Stricklin addresses mutual separation of Jim McElwain, Florida Gators


GAINESVILLE - Florida Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin spoke with us a few moments ago to discuss the mutual separation of coach Jim McElwain as head football coach. A couple quick notes:

Stricklin said UF and McElwain have agreed in principle to a buyout figure, but the paperwork has not yet been signed.

Stricklin said the process to find McElwain's successor will begin tomorrow. He said he wants UF to be "fun," but he didn't say the next coach will have to have an offensive background (or be a sitting head coach). 

Stricklin doesn't expect to use a search firm but wouldn't rule it out, either.

He didn't want to commit to a timeline. But ideally, he'd have someone in place who could help bolster a recruiting class for the new December signing period. One caveat: He won't talk to coaches while their seasons are ongoing. Bowl games don't count, in this instance.

McElwain released this statement this evening via Twitter: "I want to thank the University of Florida, the fans and alumni for the opportunity to have been your head coach. My family and I will move forward with appreciation and good memories."

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Jim McElwain's time with Florida Gators seems to be nearing an end


Jim McElwain's time as the Florida Gators' football coach appears to be nearing an end.

Football Scoop reported Sunday afternoon that McElwain and UF are parting ways. I'm told nothing is official yet, and that nothing has been decided about his future.

Even players (like receiver Josh Hammond and quarterback Luke Del Rio) are confused about what's going on.

I’m confused ¯\_( ˘͡ ˘̯)_/¯

Gotta love finding these things out through twitter.... a heads up would’ve been nice

McElwain is the first head coach in SEC history to make it to the league title game in each of his first two seasons, but his Gators couldn't win the biggest games. His 22-12 record includes two double-digit defeats in the SEC title game, two lopsided losses to rival Florida State and Saturday's 42-7 embarrassment to Georgia in Jacksonville.

UF hired McElwain from Colorado State to replace Will Muschamp after the 2014 season. The Gators thought they had a sharp offensive mind who could bring back the fun and wins in Gainesville.

McElwain didn't do the first part, and he didn't do enough of the second. …

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My AP Top 25 ballot: USF drops out, Miami slips


A few quick notes on my latest AP Top 25 ballot:
USF dropped completely out of my rankings. I was lower on the Bulls than many of my fellow voters, because of the eye test and a very weak schedule. USF can still have a fine year and get back in my Top 25, but I can't justify ranking the Bulls right now after losing at home to Houston. USF's best win is probably a six-point victory at Tulane - the same Tulane team that Memphis trounced this weekend by 30.
Ohio State's comeback win over Penn State was great for the Buckeyes, of course. The other big winner? Oklahoma. Head-to-head wins are trump cards, to me, with comparable resumes. The Sooners and Buckeyes are both 7-1, so OU's double-digit win in Columbus matters a lot. That's why OU jumped all the way to third on my ballot, with Ohio State at fourth.
I dropped Miami three spots, to No. 8. I try not to penalize teams for winning conference games on the road, but barely beating a bad UNC team dented my view of the ‘Canes. That's the same UNC team, by the way, that Notre Dame beat by 23. Common opponents like that matter, too.
UCF rose one spot, to No. 14, in my rankings. I thought about bumping the Knights ahead of Virginia Tech, too, but we'll get a better feel for the Hokies when they play at Miami on Saturday.
I dropped Washington State from 16th to No. 25 ... below a USC team it beat. It breaks my rule, but the Trojans' resume is significantly better than Washington State's.
USF and West Virginia were the two teams that fell out of my Top 25. LSU returned to my rankings, which welcomed Arizona into the mix.
Here's the AP Top 25 ballot I submitted Sunday morning:
1. Alabama (8-0)
2. Georgia (8-0)
3. Oklahoma (7-1)
4. Ohio State (7-1)
5. Clemson (7-1)
6. Notre Dame (7-1)
7. Wisconsin (8-0)
8. Miami (7-0)
9. Penn State (7-1)
10. TCU (7-1)
11. Oklahoma State (7-1)
12. Washington (7-1)
13. Virginia Tech 7-1)
14. UCF (7-0)
15. Iowa State (6-2)
16. Auburn (6-2)
17. USC (7-2)
18. Stanford (6-2)
19. North Carolina State (6-2)
20. Mississippi State (6-2)
21. Memphis (7-1)
22. Michigan State (6-2)
23. LSU (6-2)
24. Arizona (6-2)
25. Washington State (7-2)

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Florida Gators dispute talk of Jim McElwain buyout negotiations


JACKSONVILLE - The ongoing off-field drama surrounding the Florida Gators has continued to game day.

Athletic director Scott Stricklin disputed a report Saturday that UF and coach Jim McElwain's agent have negotiated a buyout that would end his Gators career.

"No one representing the University of Florida or our athletic department has had any conversations with Coach McElwain or his representatives regarding a buyout of his contract," Stricklin said in a statement. "Our focus is on this great Florida-Georgia rivalry today in Jacksonville."

In the press box moments ago, Stricklin said he won't be adding anything to his statement today. But the fact that he needed to say anything at all, less than four hours before one of the SEC's biggest rivalry games says a lot about the program's state and week.

On Monday, McElwain made headlines when he said people associated with his program have received death threats. That was news, apparently, to his administrators, who pressed for details. McElwain didn't provide any - which UF made a point to mention in a carefully worded statement that evening.

Two days later, McElwain expressed regret for publicly mentioning the threats in the first place. …

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Georgia Tech broke Roberto Aguayo, Florida State football

AP photo

Two years ago Tuesday, Florida State lost in one of the most heartbreaking upsets in recent history when Georgia Tech ran back Roberto Aguayo's blocked 56-yard field goal to break a tie and hand the Seminoles a 22-16 loss.

Neither Aguayo nor the ‘Noles have been the same since.

Start with Aguayo, who was regarded as the top kicker in the country. In his previous 35 games, he hit 60 of his 66 field goals. In the six games afterward, he missed 2 of 11. His tenure with the Bucs ended disastrously, and he was signed to the Panthers' practice squad on Wednesday.

FSU has fared even worse.

Before the loss in Atlanta, FSU had won 12 consecutive one-score games. Since then, the Noles are 5-5 in such games.

FSU was 24-1 in its previous 25 games and 16-0 in ACC games before Georgia Tech. Since then, the Noles are 16-9 overall and 9-7 in the ACC.

There are many reasons why FSU is 2-4 and in danger of having its 35-year bowl streak snapped. One of them is simple: The Noles aren't making the big plays that change games.

"Because for the seven years we've been here, we've made those plays," coach Jimbo Fisher said Monday. "We've made them."

Now they're not. …

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Jim McElwain still mum on Florida Gators death threat details


Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain was asked again Wednesday about his remarks that death threats were made against people related to his football program.

And again, he declined to provide details but said he would "when it becomes unmanageable."

"I feel bad for sometimes being open and being honest, and yet at the same time, I've seen this movie," McElwain said during Wednesday's SEC coaches' teleconference. "I understand it. If it gets to a point, then we'll go from there."

McElwain brought up the threats, unprompted, during his weekly Monday news conference. He didn't share details with reporters, his administration or the University of Florida Police Department.

"We have not received anything at this time," UFPD public information officer Brad Barber said Wednesday morning.

Barber said UF police reached out to the University Athletic Association after McElwain's first comments to say that they were willing and able to assist in anything related to threats. The department has not increased its security around the program, Barber said. …

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The full context on Jim McElwain's death threats comments


As I wrote in today's Tampa Bay Times, Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain said death threats have been made against people connected to his program.

That, sadly, would not surprise me. I was threatened for covering the Jameis Winston scandal. Coaches get vitriol, too.

The athletics department released a statement Monday evening that said administrators met with McElwain, but he "offered no additional details" to them, either.

OK then.

Here's the full context of McElwain's comments. He was asked first about how his team has continued to fight, despite the suspensions, injuries and everything else. Then he was asked this follow-up question:

Q: Don't the coaching staff, coaches, these guys deserve some credit for hanging in there? …

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Jim McElwain: Florida Gators have received death threats after 3-3 start

UF coach Jim McElwain said there have been death threats made against people related to his program.


UF coach Jim McElwain said there have been death threats made against people related to his program.

GAINESVILLE - The Florida Gators' 3-3 start is causing some fans to become irrational - even by college football standards.

UF coach Jim McElwain said there have been death threats made against people related to his program.

"There's a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger and yet it's freedom to show it," McElwain said Monday during his weekly news conference. "The hard part is obviously when the threats against your own players, death threats to your families, the ill will that's brought upon out there, and yet I think it's really one of those deals that really is a pretty good testament to what's going on out there nationally. A lot of angry people. In in this business we're the ones they take the shots at, and that's the way it is."

McElwain declined to elaborate on the threats but said he isn't surprised by them. 

"You're in the business, that's all part of it," McElwain said. "When it's directed towards your players, when it's directed to families, wives, that kind of thing ... and yet at the same time they know what they signed up for as well. That's part of the business."

The Gators play No. 3 Georgia on Saturday.


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AP Top 25: USF stays ahead of UCF, but just barely

Quinton Flowers and USF dropped one spot to No. 17 in the latest rankings.

AP photo

Quinton Flowers and USF dropped one spot to No. 17 in the latest rankings.

USF remains ahead of UCF in the latest AP Top 25 poll - but just barely.

The Bulls dropped one spot to No. 17 in the latest rankings, released Sunday. USF improved to 7-0 after beating Tulane on the road Saturday. UCF rose two spots to No. 18 after a 31-21 win over Navy.

Miami remains at No. 8, between Clemson and Notre Dame.

Alabama stayed at No. 1, followed by Penn State, Georgia, TCU and Wisconsin. Check out the full Top 25 here, and you can see my rankings here.

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My AP Top 25 ballot: UCF moves into the top 15, Michigan falls out

AP photo

No major changes in my latest AP Top 25 ballot.

Last week, I struggled with 5-9. This week, it was 5-10 (Hi, Notre Dame!). You could justify ranking Miami, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Wisconsin and the Irish in almost any order, and I wouldn't argue much. I decided not to change 5-9 from last week, because Clemson and the Buckeyes were both off, and I don't think I learned enough from the solid wins Miami, OU and Wisconsin put together to warrant a change.

Notre Dame moves into my top 10 after throttling a USC team that has looked shaky most of the season. I thought about putting the Irish higher, but I didn't think any of the teams above them deserved to fall. 

UCF moves into my top 15 thanks to a 10-point win at a good Navy team. The Knights' previous 27-point win over Memphis looks better, too, after the Tigers rallied to beat Houston on Thursday night. …

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Florida Gators' Jordan Sherit out for the year after hip surgery


Florida Gators defensive lineman Jordan Sherit will miss the rest of the season after undergoing hip surgery earlier this week, coach Jim McElwain said Wednesday morning.

"It's a bad deal, man," McElwain said.

The former Hillsborough High standout has had an injury-plagued career. He tore his ACL during his senior season of high school. He missed time late in 2014 because of injury and only played in 10 games last season because of multiple injuries.

The redshirt senior appeared in each of UF's first six games, starting the last four. Sherit ranks among UF's leaders with 23 tackles (5 for a loss) and 2 ½ sacks. He suffered the injury Saturday in a 19-17 loss to Texas A&M.

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Florida Gators, Kevin Knox get preseason SEC basketball honors


After last year's run to the Elite Eight, the Florida Gators are one of the favorites in the SEC.

UF is picked to finish second in the league, according to a panel of college basketball media members.

Kentucky, of course, is projected to win the conference.

Guard KeVaughn Allen is UF's lone individual honoree; he's first-team pick to the all-SEC team.

Wildcats freshman Kevin Knox - a former star forward at Tampa Catholic - is a second-team choice.

You can see the full preseason honors here. 

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