Florida football went 29-21 during the last four seasons, including an appearance in the Sugar Bowl and two bowl victories during that span.
Many programs would be thrilled with that level of success, but the Gators’ benchmark — set by national championship in 1996, 2006 and 2008 — is much higher.
It’s McElwain, who was the offensive coordinator on Alabama’s national-title teams in 2009 and 2011 and coached Colorado State to 18 wins over the last two seasons, who now is tasked with restoring Florida to national prominence.
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But he knows that’s easier said than done.
“Part of the experience of being in this conference (as a coordinator) is realizing it doesn’t happen just overnight,” McElwain said Monday on the first day of 2015 SEC Media Days.
“It’s something that we know. And yet, every time we go to work every day, every time we wake up, our responsibility is to try to go out there and win.”
He understands that the pressure to win at Florida will be immense given the program’s track record for success.
The Gators won or shared the SEC East division crown 11 times in 18 seasons between 1992-2009 and played in the SEC Championship Game 10 times.
During the last five seasons, Florida shared a division title in 2012, but failed to reach the conference title game and won more than eight games only once.
Meanwhile, Missouri has won the last two SEC East championships and claimed 23 wins the last two season.
McElwain won’t shrink away from the lofty expectations of Florida and its fans.
“It’s kind of great to have the expectations,” he said. “That’s something that we look forward to and we embrace.”
Drawing from the talent-rich Sunshine State could expedite the Gators’ resurgence.
Strictly from a talent standpoint, Florida isn’t in terrible shape, but the culture needs to change a bit.
“I don’t think we lost our confidence in winning,” junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said. “Right now, we are focused on the little things, like getting guys on time to meetings and workouts, and staying out of trouble.
“It’s the little things that lead to the big picture. The main message coach McElwain has emphasized so far is to do what is right. He’s really focused in on us doing what is right both on and off the field.”
Of course, the players hope McElwain’s rebuilding effort coming off a 7-5 campaign isn’t a long-term project.
“I don’t have time for him to take two years for that to happen,” senior defensive end Jonathan Bullard said. “I’ve got one year left, so hopefully this year. … But I definitely think he’s going to turn it around. He’s on the right track.”
Gator Nation is finally pulling in the same direction again, which is the first step in reinvigorating The Swamp.
“It’s a process, but that’s all of our vision,” Hargreaves said. “That’s a good thing. That’s where you start. Everybody has the same mind-set. Everybody wants to be back on the top.”
McElwain deserves some credit for that.
“The way coach Mac’s personality is, he brings energy and fires everybody up,” sophomore wide receiver Brandon Powell said. “That helps us out. … He’s got a national championship, so he knows what it takes and he pushes every day in practice and workouts. … If we put in the work, the sky’s the limit.”
Florida’s players appreciate the respectful manner with which McElwain has handled the transition.
McElwain isn’t cleaning house or laying down the law. He’s resetting expectations and redefining the program, shaping it in his image.
“He’s a player’s coach and a coach who understands the more players respect you, the harder they’re going to play for you,” Bullard said.
“We’ve got a ways to go, and yet there are some good things in place,” McElwain said. “Coach Muschamp and his staff did some really good things, obviously setting the table, and we need to just pick up from that and move forward.”