GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Starting his public Gator career at his introductory press conference, Head Coach Jim McElwain approached the podium without any prepared remarks and said, "How you doing?" It's that kind of folksy, human connection that the Gator Nation has longed for since the departure of Steve Spurrier.
McElwain was glib, funny, a good storyteller and seemingly open about his courtship with the University of Florida and his desire to become the head coach in Gainesville.
"When you look at the quality, it's something special here at Florida. It's a privilege to be here," McElwain noted.
He's a blend of Gus Bradley's message and Steve Spurrier's ability to control a room, whether it's reporters, boosters, football players or the assembled media.
"Let's be a part of being a positive influence on the people around us," he said about his general philosophy, not talking about offense or defense. "It's about investing in the young men who are (already) here."
When pressed about what he'll do on offense since that's his specialty, the new Gators coach said, "I'm the dog they dropped off at the humane society. I have a lot of breeds in me. You have to pick the right breed for the situation and bring that out." It's that kind of self-deprecating humor that will endear him to Gators fans, especially if he can back it up with a wide-open offense that produces wins.
"It's depends on who you have," McElwain said when asked how wide-open he'd be. "Who you have determines whether you throw it 40 or 80 times a game."
When Athletic Director Jeremy Foley started focusing in on McElwain as a candidate he said all he heard was, "Mac is a great guy a great guy. But when you talk to him, at his home with his family around it was obvious that he was that and more."
While McElwain demurred when asked about how the deal got done, he said he had a "hunch" that it would happen and feels no pressure from the money reportedly spent by the University to acquire him from Colorado State.
"Pressure. If there's one thing that I love it's pressure. I like to think I don't feel the pressure, I apply the pressure. If there's no pressure, why wake up in the morning. "
McElwain said that it wasn't just recently that he became interested in the job in Gainesville. "That happened the first time I recruited this state for the University of Louisville. I'm excited about rekindling the relationships that I started then."
Born in Kalispell, Montana and raised in Missoula, McElwain left the state to play football at Eastern Washington. He started his coaching career there as well. So he's grateful to Nick Saban for bringing him east to the University of Alabama where he was Offensive Coordinator from 2008-2011. "I owe him everything for taking a chance on a guy from out West."
He joked that some people might not say he coached in the NFL, "I coached the Raiders." McElwain said he'll have his first team meeting Monday morning and will give a look at the roster and the quarterbacks currently on it to see what they can do. "I'm the kind of guy who thinks I can win with my dog Clara Bell at quarterback," he quipped.
On his message to the team: "You're Gators, I'm a Gator. Give me an opportunity to make a positive impact on your life. Develop trust."
On his message to recruits: "You have a chance to win a National Championship here. But It's not just about the ball. It's about making a brand for yourself and making a brand for the rest of your life."
McElwain won't coach the Gators in their bowl game instead saying he'll be "eating popcorn. I want to see what the normal guy does."
When asked about McElwain's performance, one Florida administrator told me, "That's important. It might not be important everywhere but its important here."
That kind of understanding of what it means to be the University of Florida head football coach these days makes McElwain 1-0. He won the press conference.