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Florida Gators coaching search: What's the holdup on Jim McElwain?

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There's little doubt that Jeremy Foley went out to Colorado to get a deal done with Jim McElwain. So why haven't we heard of one yet?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With Jeremy Foley spending the night in Fort Collins, Colorado, it's very much clear that Florida's athletic director is poised to pull the trigger and hire Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain as Florida's head coach.

That's why Foley flew out, after all: Conventional wisdom says that Foley wouldn't go see anyone on his own plane (technically, a plane owned by a Florida booster who allowed the UAA to use it for this purpose) unless he was compelled to bring that person back to Gainesville and introduce him as Florida's hire. If Foley did return without McElwain, it would be a massive loss of face for one of the nation's best (and proudest) athletic directors, and it doesn't wash for even an obstacle like McElwain's significant buyout to stand in Foley's way.

But it hasn't happened yet. Why not? Here are three guesses.

Negotiating a buyout is tricky

There's no question that the buyout is the most complex part of hiring McElwain. And, despite my suspicions that Florida can write a check and wave it off, it's also a good bet that Foley and Florida don't want to write more zeroes on a check than they absolutely must to acquire McElwain's services.

Some might call that "being cheap," but it's really just sound business (and life) practice to negotiate until you get the best deal possible. Both sides seem to have leverage, too: Colorado State's got what is a solid contract on paper, something Florida wants, and less to lose if a deal falls through, but Florida has money that CSU needs, and, apparently, a verbal commitment from Colorado State president Tony Frank to "reduce if not eliminate the breakup fee if a 'dream job' were to come along," according to what former CSU athletic director Jack Graham told The Coloradoan on Tuesday. (Florida, quite clearly, would qualify as a "dream job"; Graham, it should be noted, disagreed with Frank on the decision to grant McElwain that status, and was later fired by him.)

This isn't as cut-and-dried as hiring a coach with opt-out clauses would be, and it's probably going to take some concessions by both sides. Concessions, especially if they veer from straight exchanges of money to quid pro quo arrangements, take time.

But, again, Foley wouldn't fly out to Colorado — with Lynda Tealer, Florida associate athletic director and contract whiz, in tow, as The Coloradoan's Matt Stephens notes in the video embedded at the above link — if he weren't set on getting a deal done.

"Optics" matter

Foley was adamant about his interest in conducting this search "the right way." Flying out to Colorado and back to Florida in one day to secure and retrieve a coach would be satisfying, especially to fans who want their programs to be run with the sort of brusqueness that signifies preeminence to the sympathetic and arrogance to everyone else — but it's not "the right way" to do this.

If he wants to leave, McElwain's got a family to clear it with first. If he's leaving, McElwain probably wants to meet with his players and coaches and inform them of his departure; that's a lot easier to do in the morning than late at night, and it's only now ticked past nine a.m. in the Mountain Time Zone. Allowing that to happen, and allowing Colorado State to get its own ducks in a row, could also be part of the concessions made by Florida to effect this hire.

Likewise, leaving without a done deal would be seen as sloppy, and neither Florida nor Colorado State — which would need a new coach, of course — wants to be seen as that, especially when dealing with a power broker like Jimmy Sexton, agent to McElwain and many other prominent coaches. (Arguably, baking a "dream job" provision into what seemed like an ironclad contract is already evidence of sloppiness.)

This all falls under the umbrella of managing perceptions, basically public relations, but it's really what consultants, political operatives, and everyone on Scandal would call "optics." The way a thing looks, especially to people who only know how something looks from the front, matters more, in some senses, than the way it is.

McElwain wanting to bail on a school and a just-signed contract for a bigger opportunity and a much better check, but being held up by a mistake made by the school's president, and leaving everyone fuming? That's way less flattering a portrait than everyone taking their time, and ensuring everything is done "the right way."

There's more to do on Florida's end

Tuesday's report from Football Scoop that Foley and McElwain agree on the importance of retaining interim head coach and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson sounds really good. And both Durkin and Robinson are under contract with Florida through the end of this season, so the Gators have some leverage there — but they also have a host of other assistants to make retain/dismiss decisions on, and McElwain has a Colorado State staff to think about, too.

An outgoing coach, especially for a smaller school, is easier to handle than an incoming one: Paying a buyout or allowing for an opt-out, letting the coach take what he wants, and going about filling in the holes is much easier than figuring out how to make puzzle pieces fit. And Florida has to do that with a guy who might be more interested than many coaches would in keeping a fair bit of Will Muschamp's staff, but will obviously also want to bring in some of his own hires.

All of that doesn't need to be accomplished by the time McElwain embarks on the Foleyplane, but it's a good idea to have some semblance of a plan going forward. And even if last night was largely spent working on finding a way out of his contract, if Foley and McElwain have come to terms, it's a strong bet that they've also started plotting the future.