JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida administrators are discussing whether they can fire coach Jim McElwain with cause, multiple sources told ESPN.
After failing to find any evidence to substantiate claims made by McElwain this week that his family and players received death threats, Florida administrators have worked to see if the coach’s allegations were enough to relieve the university from paying his full buyout of $12.9 million if he were to be fired.
The news came amid another tough result on the field for the unranked Gators (3-4, 3-3 SEC) on Saturday, a 42-7 dismantling by No. 3 Georgia (8-0, 5-0) in Jacksonville, Florida.
When asked about the speculation, Elwain said he first heard about buyout negotiations while walking into team breakfast earlier Saturday.
“It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” McElwain said. “We’ll see.”
Sources believe the university has enough cause to fire McElwain without having to pay his buyout. Sources also said that if McElwain were to be relieved of his duties, defensive coordinator Randy Shannon would be asked to be the team’s interim coach.
“At the end of the day, we were all brought here to win and we haven’t done it. The concern isn’t about my job. It’s about the players and my staff. That’s the concern, it isn’t about me,” McElwain said.
McElwain said he spoke to athletic director Scott Stricklin on Thursday, but the possibility of him losing his job wasn’t mentioned.
“Nothing in this world surprises me,” McElwain said. “I know what I was brought here to do: to fix the offense, and we haven’t done that. We haven’t won enough and we haven’t won championships.”
Prior to Saturday’s game, Stricklin released a statement dispelling rumors that the school was working on a buyout with McElwain.
“No one representing the University of Florida or our athletic department has had any conversations with Coach McElwain or his representatives regarding a buyout of his contract,” Stricklin said in a statement. “Our focus is on this great Florida-Georgia rivalry today in Jacksonville.”
The buyout talk coupled with the blowout loss has capped a tumultuous week. On Monday, McElwain told reporters unprompted during his news conference that his family and players received death threats.
“There’s a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger,” McElwain told reporters. “And yet it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is obviously when the threats [are] against your own players, the death threats to your families, the ill will that’s brought upon out there.”
When asked to expand on his claims, McElwain wouldn’t go into detail about the nature of the threats and said he wasn’t planning to contact law enforcement.
“A lot of angry people,” McElwain said. “In this business, we’re the ones that you take the shots at. That’s the way it is.”
Two days later, McElwain said that he was wrong to bring up the death threats that he also said “happened in the past.”
On Saturday after the Georgia loss, McEwain reiterated his regret for what had transpired with the death threats.
“When you look back, I’ve made mistakes in my life,” he said. “And yet I stand by everything that occurred. It is what it is.”
Florida officials were unaware of McElwain’s claims until he discussed them during the Monday news conference. The school released a statement regarding possible death threats but added that after meeting with McElwain, he “offered no additional details.”
“The University Athletic Association takes the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and families very seriously,” team spokesman Steve McClain said in the statement. “Our administration met with Coach McElwain this afternoon, and he offered no additional details.”
McElwain, who was hired in December 2014, entered Saturday with a 22-11 record and had won the SEC Eastern Division in back-to-back seasons, becoming the first SEC coach to make it to the SEC championship game in each of his first two seasons.
His 19 wins entering the 2017 season were the second-most by any SEC coach in 2015 and ’16. Those 19 wins tied Steve Spurrier for the second-most victories by a Florida coach in his first two seasons.