One of the first major reactions to Florida's reported hiring of Jim McElwain on Thursday came from ESPN/SEC Network megaphone Paul Finebaum:
In Jim McElwain, I think Jeremy Foley just hired the next Urban Meyer at Florida.— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) December 4, 2014
It sounds good. It makes sense on the surface, where Urban Meyer's two national titles mean more to most than anything else. It definitely got a man who leverages attention better than almost anyone in sports media more attention.
It's also wrong.
Florida's greatest past coaches and players leave long shadows. I've written about this before, and will write about it again, but Florida fans would really prefer a world in which Steve Spurrier is the coach for life and Tim Tebow is the all-time quarterback. We are spoiled, almost irrevocably and irredeemably so, and we can't help it. And people like Finebaum know that, which is why they feed the mythos.
But Jim McElwain is not the "next Urban Meyer." And if he were, I doubt he would've been targeted, much less hired.
Look at the substance of what both coaches have done. Meyer, regarded as an offensive mind, has never called plays, to anyone's knowledge, whereas McElwain has done that as both offensive coordinator and head coach. McElwain is a branch of the John L. Smith and Nick Saban coaching trees; Meyer's philosophies about toughness are derived from Woody Hayes and Bo Shembechler, and his lineage traces to Earle Bruce, Sonny Lubick, Lou Holtz, and Bob Davie.
Look at the stories of who both coaches are. Alabama and Colorado State players are currently lavishing praise on McElwain for being a good man and a good coach, while Meyer is largely regarded — at least by most, though shades of gray exist — as a just-win mercenary with a laissez-faire approach to discipline whose grip on Florida's locker room was loose as a baby's in the latter years of his time in Gainesville.
Look at how Florida responded to the Meyer years, by hiring straight arrow Will Muschamp and doing everything in its power to rebuild a program that was "broken" despite setting up base camp just short of the mountaintop, and verging on dynastic status.
Both coaches have won, of course, and had before getting to Florida — both coaches had success at Mountain West schools, in fact. But parallel results alone do not a comparison make. Process matters at Florida.
Jeremy Foley did not and does not want another Urban Meyer, I believe, and that belief is based on actions even more than just what I know and have heard: If he did want another Meyer, that man is working in Starkville, Mississippi, and would probably have listened if Foley had placated him sufficiently. Instead, Foley plucked an apple from a different coaching tree, and is hoping for a different process that produces the same results Meyer did.
At Florida, being good is as important as being good at it. And Urban Meyer's specter lingers in UAA offices as a cautionary tale far more than as a ghost that haunts Foley and other decision-makers.
Some fans will not let Jim McElwain be anything more than someone to be measured against Meyer and Spurrier; certainly, that was the case with Ron Zook and Muschamp. Those fans are playing into a narrative that gives professional opinion merchants like Finebaum the easiest button to push.
I wish they wouldn't. I won't.