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Jim McElwain should be in the hunt for national Coach of the Year

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Except for the most  indefatigable optimists who root for the Florida Gators, who really thought they would be 9-1 and on their way to the SEC Championship Game? Be honest.

There is at least one person who believed it could be done, and that is Coach Jim McElwain. Publicly, he can say all of the right things about believing, but down deep he had to be focusing on building his program for the long haul.

Give him this, he knew what it would take to get there and saw very early that many of his players did not. The sideline tirade during the second game of the season against East Carolina is now a part of Florida history and sports folklore.

But his team seems to have gotten the message. Only a 7-point loss to Leonard Fournette and LSU is all that is keeping the Gators from being in serious position to be selected to the College Football Playoff. They can still get there.

With expectations low, it is much easier to exceed those expectations. In addition, the team is still winning after losing starting quarterback Will Grier. That is a recipe for the coach of an overachieving to win the national Coach of the Year award.

McElwain will get strong consideration for the national honor. The SEC version should be a slam dunk.

Such things are not new to McElwain. Last year he earned Coach of the Year honors in the Mountain West Conference following Colorado State’s 10-2 season and a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl.

No Gator coach has ever won any of the major awards. This includes Coach of the Year Awards by The Sporting News, Walter Camp, or the Bear Bryant Award.

Coaches winning national championships are rarely selected. It is hard to imagine that Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer were shut out. Bobby Bowden was selected in 1991.

There will be some good competition. Jim Harbaugh has brought Michigan back to power status in his first year. Dabo Swinney has built a championship contender at Clemson. Kirk Ferentz has Iowa on a quick rise to playoff caliber.

Swinney may lose some votes because many expected the Tigers to be a top-level team. Iowa and Michigan, like Florida, are surprises.

Another coach sure to get a great deal of recognition is Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo. The Midshipmen have only one loss and have exceeded expectations and crashed the top 25.

Florida still has three games remaining; next week against Florida Atlantic, before Florida State comes to Gainesville in two weeks. Then, it will likely be a matchup with Alabama in the championship game.

McElwain may not win, but he has clearly gotten the most out of his team, the end result of excellent coaching. Perhaps the first Gator coach to be selected is not far away.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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