When Alabama and Florida take the field on Saturday afternoon for the SEC Championship, fans expect a physical, defense heavy game. These are two programs that have played each other many times before, and that familiarity will show up on the field. It will also extend to the sidelines.
Florida head coach Jim McElwain spent four seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide from 2008–2011, orchestrating offensive attacks that included players like Greg McElroy, A.J. McCarron, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. His tenure at Alabama included two national titles.
He almost didn’t get the job at Alabama back in the day. When Alabama Head coach Nick Saban called the then-offensive coordinator of Fresno State, McElwain hung up the phone, convinced one of his friends was prank calling him. He quickly realized his error, and didn’t hang up on Saban when he called back.
After his successes at Alabama, McElwain was hired as the head coach at Colorado State, where he quickly turned the Rams around from a 4-8 record in his first year to a 10-2 record in his third year. He took a program that had not been considered to be very successful in recent years and built it into a contender in the Mountain West in a very short amount of time.
McElwain’s successes caught the attention of a struggling Florida program that had just fired Will Muschamp after two straight lackluster seasons. The Gators soon hired the offensive-minded McElwain to replace the defensive-minded Muschamp.
The Gators were likely hoping for a turnaround like the one McElwain achieved at Colorado State. They still got plenty of talented recruits even while Muschamp struggled, so it would just be up to McElwain to find ways to win. The 2015 SEC Preseason Media Poll slotted Florida in as the fifth team out of seven, right behind South Carolina.
Flash-forward to today, where the Gators are the SEC East champions with a 10-2 record and the Gamecocks projected to be better than Florida are dead-last in the conference at 3-9.
The Gators have played much better than many expected, combining the fifth best scoring defense in the country at 15.5 points per game with a balanced offensive attack. McElwain and his team have exceeded almost all expectations, and could put the cherry on top of the season with an upset of his former boss in the SEC Championship.
Florida is listed as a 17.5 point underdog and is coming off of an ugly loss to Florida State last week, so the momentum does not appear to be in their favor. Yet McElwain’s years under Saban might have given him a pretty good idea of how Alabama operates. The offense and the personnel have both changed since he last was on the Alabama sideline, but McElwain’s experience with Saban gives him an edge few other coaches in the country have.
Regardless of the outcome, it will be an emotional game for both coaches. McElwain views Saban as a mentor, and Saban truly respects his former coordinator. McElwain will surely be hoping to show his former boss what he’s learned since leaving Tuscaloosa.
Source:: The Crimson White Sports