Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain checks in at No. 30 in a new Athlon Sports rankings of the 128 coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision published on Tuesday.
Steven Lassan writes this about McElwain:
30. Jim McElwain, Florida
An argument could be made for McElwain to rank higher on this list after leading the Gators to a SEC East title and a 10-4 record in his first season in Gainesville. McElwain’s first year came with its share of obstacles, as Florida lost starting quarterback Will Grier to a midseason suspension and struggled on offense in the second half of 2015. Despite the offensive woes, the Gators still managed to hold onto the East title and head into 2016 as a projected top 25 team. Prior to Florida, McElwain went 22-16 at Colorado State, increasing his win total each year after a 4-8 debut in 2012. One area for McElwain to work on - recruiting. Florida has ranked No. 13 (2016) and No. 21 (2015) after three top-10 finishes from 2012-14.
To start at the bottom: Lassan has a point about recruiting. Florida's started slow on the trail under McElwain, with the momentum of a ferocious close to the 2015 cycle and a fast start to the 2015 season dashed by that Grier suspension and the subsequent cratering of the Gators offense, and a pair of (so far) mostly underwhelming hauls on defense leaving legitimate worries about depth beyond the players brought in by Will Muschamp.
Florida's recruiting isn't awful, except compared to the high standard of recent precedent, but it's certainly closer to a range occupied by coaches thought of as good but not great, as Thomas Goldkamp wrote earlier this week. And I get docking McElwain points for that in a rankings exercise like this one.
What I don't get is McElwain this low.
Two of the coaches ahead of him are Mike Leach and David Cutcliffe, whose teams combined have two more 10-win seasons than McElwain's teams do, despite Leach and Cutcliffe coaching a combined 28 full seasons to McElwain's four. Butch Jones, Hugh Freeze, and Mark Richt are all ahead of McElwain, too, despite McElwain's Gators beating all three coaches' teams in 2015. Bret Bielema, whose Arkansas program has yet to post nine wins, is in the top 20, as is Dan Mullen, who has as many 10-win seasons in seven tries in the SEC as McElwain has in one.
I can't argue for McElwain to be among the top 10 coaches in the game at this point, and I would stop short of putting him in the top 15. It's also hard to rank this many coaches without some real head-scratchers, as Lassan demonstrates by inexplicably slotting Les Miles at No. 25, behind more than a dozen coaches without a national title, and putting Mark Helfrich at No. 34.
But I don't think McElwain is worse than 29 coaches in college football, especially given who some of the 29 coaches in this specific rankings were.
Maybe I'm wrong? Let me know in the comments.