JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — University of the 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 McElwain’s allegations were enough to relieve the university from paying McElwain’s full buyout of $12.9 million if he were to be fired.
Sources told ESPN that they 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.
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.”
Florida officials, who were unaware of McElwain’s claims until he discussed them during his news conference, later 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.”
On Wednesday, McElwain said that he was wrong to bring up the death threats that he also said “happened in the past.”
“It’s just something that came up and obviously was on my mind,” McElwain said. “It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it right to air that laundry.”
McElwain also said that he met with athletic director Scott Stricklin and Executive Associate Athletics Director for Internal Affairs Laird Veatch, and “they were really good and supportive.”
Saturday added another level to an already complicated situation when 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.”
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.
McElwain’s 19 wins entering the 2017 season were the second-most by any SEC coach in 2015 and 2016. Those 19 wins tied Steve Spurrier for the second-most victories by a Florida head coach in his first two seasons.
The unranked Gators (3-3, 3-2 SEC) are playing No. 3 Georgia (7-0, 4-0) on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida.