Late Saturday night, while thinking about Florida's win over East Carolina and the Sunday Rundown to come from it, I was originally going to write about the Gators' discipline — and Jim McElwain's heated responses to his team's lack thereof — in either the Needs Improvement or Embarrassing sections.
Then I saw this fan-shot video — since taken down by the original uploader — of McElwain upbraiding Kelvin Taylor after the throat-slash gesture that followed his fourth-quarter touchdown, and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that cost Florida 15 yards. Thus, this post.
The profane transcript of McElwain's tirade — or tantrum, depending on your perspective:
(inaudible) — look at me! Don't look down! Fuckin' be a man! You let this fuckin' team down! That's fuckin' bullshit! And you think it's fuckin' okay! Fuckin' shitty!
Sunday morning, ESPN added a bit more context to the tirade, airing some of it (with bleeps) on SportsCenter.
Florida's coach went crazy on one of his own players (via @no_cut_card): http://t.co/X2Ep3BElef pic.twitter.com/M6gpPoYYWU— SB Nation (@SBNation) September 13, 2015
(inaudible) — are you doing? Did you fuckin' learn it in practice?
Audio wasn't part of what ESPN's broadcast showed on Saturday night — but everything else about what McElwain did to Taylor, including all but flecking his face with spittle in front of his teammates and turning back to him with a swing of the arm that looked more threatening than it probably truly was — got broadcast to millions, some of whom had opinions on it.
Most prominent among them? ESPN's Bomani Jones.
seriously, is someone supposed to take you seriously after this? pic.twitter.com/cWOdwiNAsw— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) September 13, 2015
Jones went on to call McElwain's reaction "dumber" than Taylor's original penalty and "nonsense", before basically dropping the mic with these two back-to-back tweets:
bottom line is many fans do not respect the humanity of the players. and you guys who don't are despicable.— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) September 13, 2015
yeah, cuz it’s not like will muschamp ever made a fool of himself screaming. excuse me, "coaching." https://t.co/qzL78Z0gCU— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) September 13, 2015
(Jones also ethered Doug Gottlieb, which just made me laugh.)
And, on the merits, I agree with Bomani. McElwain has made a show of making "Just do what's right" a mantra for Florida; while opinions on what's right to do in this situation will differ, him laying into a player in full view of his teammates for improperly celebrating a touchdown, most notably screaming he should "fuckin' be a man!" and respect a 53-year-old man who was shouting in his face, suggests either that McElwain thinks he did what was right, or that he is a hypocrite. That dichotomy extends to McElwain's heated press conference after the game, too, which solidified his disappointment and anger as things to be avoided.
Really, that's what yelling is supposed to do, in parenting or coaching or life: It is a means of responding to something that one does not like with vehemence that stands in for violence, and it is part of literally billions of attempts to instill discipline daily. For some people — on some people — surely, yelling works, establishing an unwanted action as something that carries the penalty of an angry response. It might well work for the Gators, too, if they decide this week that averting a McElwain tirade is a good enough reason to not do something stupid on a football field.
But: For some people, including children, yelling doesn't work. Some people respond better, or more swiftly, to a calmer approach, or to physical punishment; I imagine that the latter rationalization has been part of why billions of parents over the course of humanity have exhausted their voices and resorted to spanking children, thinking that this, this was the only way to help a lesson sink in for good.
And for some people, people of strong enough will, there is no external punishment that can change behavior. Tirades, even those richest in "fuckin' bullshit"-style vitriol, will inevitably roll off some backs, resulting in eye rolls rather than changes in comportment.
We don't think of spanking and corporal punishment for children much, but the majority of Americans still consider it acceptable. I think the majority of Americans and Florida fans will think that McElwain losing his cool — or, if you're a more cynical sort, putting on a show of losing his cool as part of the role of Angry Football Coach — is acceptable.
That doesn't mean you or I or anyone else has to think the same, though.
Part of the reason I don't? I'm inclined to think McElwain blistering Taylor and the "embarrassing" Gators on Saturday night won't do much: As he noted in his press conference, Florida has been "the most penalized team in the country" over the last 10 years, a span that includes two national titles and a Sugar Bowl berth under two coaches with wildly different approaches to discipline.
Lest you think that's new to just this millennium's Gators: The 1996 team that won Florida's first national title (under a fourth distinct type of coach) set a school record for penalty yards in its first 10 games, and still holds the record for most penalties by a Florida team in a single game, an astounding 17 against Vanderbilt.
Florida won that game, of course, and won when it racked up a program-record 152 penalty yards against Kentucky in 1987, and won on Saturday night despite 12 penalties for 105 yards. (The teams that committed the most penalties and accrued the most penalty yardage ever against Florida — respectively, Miami in 2003 and Florida State in 1996 — are 2-0 in those games, by the way.) I think, generally, that coaches and fans looking to blame and fret about penalties are mostly worried about teams that can't overcome them — and, given Florida's struggles to put away East Carolina, I think McElwain and Florida fans might well be justified in those worries for this year's squad.
But McElwain could've pulled Taylor aside, privately, and said "Kelvin, you cannot commit stupid penalties for us. We cannot afford those penalties." He could've simply substituted another player for Taylor for the duration of the game — he didn't, giving him three carries on a drive attempting to run the clock out — to make the point that Taylor doesn't deserve to play if he can't avoid penalties.
He probably could've handled that situation a dozen other marginally different ways and ended up with the same result on Saturday night — and no endless replays of him on SportsCenter on Sunday, things that arguably damage the Florida "brand" he has spoken of reverently.
The positive value of McElwain's process and decision to berate Taylor, in other words, will likely only be seen in future games. Maybe it will pay off: ESPN analyst Booger McFarland suggested in a Sunday discussion with Jones that he'd heard from Fred Taylor, Kelvin's father, who apparently suggested his son needed to be called out. Taylor tweeted Sunday afternoon that he loves "Coach Mac," and has "nothing but respect" for him and his efforts "to make me a better person."
And if Florida magically sheds a penchant for penalties that dates back beyond most of its current players' lifetimes, I'll be the first to call McElwain a miracle worker for somehow finding the exact right moment in which a profane tirade shut off the spigot. I can concede the possibility that McElwain dropping F-bombs on a player will work and maintain my own distaste for the tactic.
Until that happens, though, I'm going to be sitting here, skeptical about the value of publicly showing up a college student for whom enduring an adult telling him to "be a fuckin' man" is part of a gig that doesn't pay actual money.
After all, it's not like mixed messaging didn't happen mere seconds after McElwain exploded at Taylor. In the above video, Florida wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon is the next person to speak, saying two contradictory things in consecutive breaths:
Play with class! Play with class! ... Next time we get back out, same thing!
Why wouldn't a coach want his players to comport themselves to meet nebulous standards of "class," while also maintaining the edge necessary to play a sport in which doing anything possible to push other humans around and take the territory they occupy is the objective?
That's just football.