Jim McElwain is being floated as a potential candidate for the Oregon job, should it open. While the rumors may seem crazy at first, they’re not all that farfetched.
Jim McElwain has certainly made a splash in Gainesville by becoming the first SEC coach in history to lead his team to the conference title game in his first two seasons.
Under McElwain, Florida has gone 18-7, including last season SEC title game appearance against Alabama. Now the Gators will again go toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide and McElwain’s former boss, Nick Saban.
Yet despite his successes in Gainesville, there is a chance the Florida head coach may be looking for a change of scenery.
Under Helfrich, Oregon has gone 37-16 since Chip Kelly left the program following the 2012 season. Helfrich led the Ducks to the national title game in the 2014-15 season, ultimately losing to the Ohio State Buckeyes, 42-20.
The fallout from that title game defeat has resulted in a precipitous drop for the program. Oregon has seen its record worsen over the past two seasons, and the Ducks finished the 2016 season at 4-8.
If McElwain is interested in the position, it wouldn’t be a guarantee he’d get the job — even with his back-to-back SEC East titles.
Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin and Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck would both be serious candidates if Helfrich were to be let go. Fleck is now the hottest coaching name on the board now that Tom Herman has accepted Texas’ head coaching position, while Harsin has kept the Broncos rolling post-Chris Petersen.
However, the idea of McElwain leaving the Gators for the Ducks isn’t as farfetched as one might think. It could make sense for him to make the jump back to the Pacific Northwest if offered the position in Eugene.
He’s from Missoula, Montana and played quarterback at Eastern Washington, where he later got his start as a coach before eventually becoming Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama. His wife, Karen, whom he met in college, grew up in Washington, so it would be a homecoming, of sorts, for her as well.
Of late, McElwain has taken umbrage with grumblings over his coaching efforts despite having guided his team to two consecutive SEC East titles. He also faces a situation where much of the bedrock of his team, the defense, will be leaving after this season, and a new athletic director, Scott Stricklin, will be in charge of Florida athletics. With a potentially weakened team, a new boss in place and while already facing perceived, unwarranted criticism, McElwain might very well feel his run at Florida has peaked. Life certainly won’t get any easier with those impending hurdles, and the fan base won’t grow any less impatient.
Oregon likely won’t be afraid to loosen up the purse strings a little to bring McElwain over from Florida — especially with booster Phil Knight dropping dollars all over Eugene.
McElwain has spent two seasons as an SEC head coach and actually had success, which is difficult to do. He could immediately turn the Ducks into a contender once again, considering he has rising sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert to build around – the key position that has haunted his tenure at Florida.
Is it likely he leaves Florida for Oregon? No, it’s a long shot. However McElwain is positioned nicely to bargain with suitors, and a look from the Ducks is certainly warranted considering his recent successes.