Update – According to Brett McMurphy of ESPN, Jim McElwain and Colorado State have cleared the buyout issues, which means he is now free to join Florida. McElwain and the Gators have already agreed he’s coming to Gainsville. Unless something unpredictable happens, Florida will announce McElwain as their new head coach before the end of the day.
Things between Florida and Jim McElwain are set for him to become their new head coach. The problem is with his current employer, Colorado State, looking for a substantial buyout to let him out of his very long contract.
Florida fired Will Muschamp after four mostly lackluster seasons, without any conference or division titles, and missing out on a bowl game last year. The big problem for Florida was their offense. They were ranked 90th in the nation in that category this season, and that was their highest during the Muschamp era. McElwain, turning the Rams into n offensive powerhouse over the last three seasons following his stint as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with Alabama seems like the man for the job. Colorado State finished the regular season at 10-2 and are 22-16 under McElwain.
So what’s holding everyone? McElwain recently signed a 10-year deal paying him $1.5 million a season. There’s a $7.5 million buyout clause that the school’s president, Tony Frank, is the only one allowed to remove or even reduce. Not in writing, there are talks of Frank going towards McElwain if he is offered the opportunity of a lifetime from a different school. Apparently, Frank doesn’t think that Florida calling is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Florida, it seems, were expecting that flying out to Fort Collins would help them negotiate a lessened fee, but that hasn’t been the case so far. Whether or not Florida is that kind of elite program that should earn McElwain an easier way out is simply in the eye of the beholder. They have won two national titles in the past decade, but since 2009 haven’t been able to really do anything substantial – not in the conference or on a national level.
The Gators aren’t willing to pay that kind of money to Colorado State in order to buyout McElwain’s contract, which was signed less than six months ago. They do have to pay $6 million more to Muschamp for his early termination. A big school with a lot of revenue and plenty of resources, but money doesn’t grow on trees, even not for one of the biggest football programs in the nation. It’s either heading down the list of candidates or asking rich alumni and boosters for some help, which they’re usually more than willing to give when it comes to football.
The problem for Colorado State is this: McElwain becomes a lame duck coach. He wants to leave, his players know he wants to leave, and recruits know it’s only a matter of time before he’s gone. Him coaching without really wanting to be there doesn’t really help the program. There’s more than a good chance that this is simply the school trying to make the most of the situation, and cash in on something close to the buyout fee, in order to have the financial capability of attracting a good coach when McElwain leaves.
This has always been the thing in college football: Coordinators get a job with a small school and soon enough, the good ones get picked off by the bigger fish in the pond. Colorado State can also go in another direction, and try to force Florida into playing a road nonconference game, something they haven’t done in years. SEC schools don’t like to do that. Sometimes, asking for less money opens other opportunities that just might be worth it.