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Tuesday Thoughts: Jim McElwain's same old sound and fury

Jim McElwain has mastered a boring method of dealing with the media.


For me, the only interesting part of Jim McElwain's trip through the ESPN "car wash" on Tuesday — part of an ongoing effort by the network to steal the shine from the Media Days being put on by the ACC and Big 12 continue highlighting the SEC — was his stop on Colin Cowherd's radio program. And Cowherd, a friend of McElwain's who shared a floor with the coach at Eastern Washington University in the early 1980s, wasn't even there!

Instead, professional SEC antagonist Danny Kanell and South Florida radio host Jon "Stugotz" Weiner, filling in for the absent Cowherd, took turns peppering McElwain with football questions and queries about Cowherd's college days, with Kanell handling the pigskin talk and Stugotz the softballs. McElwain, as is his wont, parried most of Kanell's questions well: He refused to name a starting quarterback...

...and mentioned that Demarcus Robinson and Brandon Powell are players that Florida's offense will need to get the ball to in the fall, also calling Vernon Hargreaves III "unbelievable."

It was nothing new, not really: McElwain spent more time cracking on and detailing his relationship with Cowherd than anything, and that was the amusing part of the interview. Apparently, Cowherd would call all nine innings of baseball games in distinct voices for each game, and didn't have trouble with meeting women at EWU, but McElwain razzed him for not showing up for his own show, said he only went to class "enough to graduate," dubbed his favorite kind of cheap alcohol "on sale", and got in the last word with a cutting remark on Cowherd's haircuts:

In his other appearances on ESPN programming — he did First Take before The Herd, then SportsCenter and a couple of segments on College Football Live after it — McElwain managed to refer to getting quarterbacks to throw it to the right color jersey and the concept that the quarterback who moves the offense best is the best quarterback for Florida more than once, rehash a Will Muschampism (probably immediately derived from their mutual mentor, Nick Saban, though much older in football lore) about it being good for the offense if every drive ends in a kick, and parry Skip Bayless with dad joke judo:

This day was a regurgitation of the same stuff I've heard from McElwain for months. I lamented (sort of) this lack of new information on Twitter, and 247Sports' Thomas Goldkamp corrected me: Mac did sort of note with Kanell and Stugotz that he scripts opening drives and likes to have a "layup" for his quarterbacks early on in games, burying the nugget in his response to a question about what wide receivers would emerge.

And I guess I could note that McElwain saying "It's not just about stuff" in regards to facilities is a bit of a de-escalation from the saber-rattling he's done, both publicly and privately, about Florida's perceived inferiority to other SEC schools in new construction and gleaming shrines to football.

But the only "new" stuff an attentive observer could've gotten from McElwain on this day was either so minor — breaking: offensive coach likes to script plays for his offense — or so benign — McElwain debuted his "Gators take care of Gators" bit, on the value of being part of the Gator Nation even after a playing career, which had previously been mentioned in Gator Club meetings this spring — that the value of listening to McElwain go through the "car wash," to any fan who pays more than a little attention, is virtually nil.

Of course, this exercise wasn't for those fans. The average ESPN viewer is not the average blog and message board denizen, not even close, and there's assuredly a whole swath of Florida fans who were hearing McElwain say new things today. There's value in that — even if this entire endeavor is really just about creating content for ESPN and advertising Florida's football program, advertising the football program to jaded or casual fans isn't worthless.

For the diehards, or most people still reading an 800-word article on a blog about the value of being on ESPN in July, this was just McElwain saying the same old things and giving the non-answers he's so good at giving. And I get that: This is supposed to signify nothing, and I think I prefer McElwain's circumlocution to, say, Gus Malzahn agitating for an eight-team playoff (which will ultimately happen, because money) and stirring up a dumb controversy over self-interest and strength of schedule.

Still, though: Muschamp managed to be self-referential, self-deprecating, and genuinely funny with a stupid tweet on one of his "car wash" treks, and he usually had the same goal of being folksy and trying not to be too forthright in his interactions with media that McElwain clearly does. It's possible to say nothing well and still toss in a dash of color.

And it was hard not to pine for more colorful commentary during McElwain's last stop on College Football Live, which featured him sitting in a chair next to Steve Spurrier, listening to the silver-tongued South Carolina coach explain his decades-long trolling of other fan bases with "corny" zingers as something he has to do for laughs at booster club meetings. Spurrier spun a few old yarns in explaining his rationale, and Florida fans weaned on Spurrier's offense consider that their ideal, Florida fans who came of age in the '90s will pine for Spurrier's wit until we pass from this mortal coil.

McElwain may not have that gift of gab, or at least not the same inclination to needle. He's got a public communication strategy that works, and that's all right.

But it's easier for me to stomach non-answers and information in dribs and drabs from a coach when that coach's team does the talking on the field. Winning, after all, makes all sorts of things tolerable.

Let us hope McElwain's Gators make actual noise with their fury this fall.

Jim McElwain's ESPN "Car Wash"

First Take

The Herd


College Football Live