First-year Florida coach Jim McElwain opened up about his reverence for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel on Wednesday during the weekly SEC football coaches’ teleconference.
McElwain, a 1984 Eastern Washington graduate, worked on his alma mater’s staff from 1985-94.
That’s when he became familiar with Pinkel, who worked on Huskies legend Don James’ staff as the wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator from 1979-90.
“All us people out west tried to emulate what they were doing out there,” McElwain said of James’ program, which won the 1991 national title.
McElwain grew especially fond of Pinkel.
“I’m sure he wouldn’t remember, but, I know this, I sat on every word he had watching his drills and tried to learn as much as I could,” McElwain said.
Pinkel said he did, in fact, remember a young McElwain.
“That was a long time ago certainly for me too, but I have great respect for him,” Pinkel said. “He’s doing a great job with that program. There’s nothing easy about building a new program, and they’ve started off pretty well.”
Missouri and Florida, which vaulted 14 spots to No. 11 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25, meet at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Columbia.
It’s the first night game on the Faurot Field turf since the Tigers clinched the SEC East championship with a win against Texas A&M in the 2013 regular-season finale.
“We didn’t have a night game last year at our stadium, so we’re excited about that …” Pinkel said. “The night atmosphere, I think our students feel it and are a part of it.”
The game also serves as MU’s homecoming.
“That’s the two-time defending champ and, based on history, I’m sure that they’ve got confidence that they’ll put it on the Gators,” McElwain said. “I’m sure, based on that history, they felt pretty good about us being their homecoming.”
Missouri romped past Florida 36-17 in the only previous meeting in Columbia two years ago.
The Tigers also had a hand in ushering in the McElwain era by administering a 42-13 beating against the Gators last season in The Swamp. He was hired from Colorado State last December to replace Will Muschamp.
Florida fans broke out a “Fire Muschamp” chant during third quarter of the game, which featured four return touchdown by Missouri (Marcus Murphy, kickoff and punt return; Markus Golden, fumble return; Darvin Ruise, interception return).
The Gators are 5-0 under McElwain, including a 38-10 victory against then-No. 3 Mississippi last Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., so nobody’s calling for his head at the moment.
“The expectations are what you sign up for,” McElwain said. “If you don’t have expectations of success, it’s never going to happen.”