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Are Jim McElwain's Death Threat Claims Another Step Toward a Split With Florida?

The handling of Jim McElwain’s mention of death threats toward his team might be telling about where Florida is at right now. Plus, will Notre Dame finally score a touchdown on NC State? And do bad losses really hurt a team's playoff chances more than good losses? All that and more in this week's #DearAndy mailbag.
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Things got weird in Gainesville this week, and you had questions…

From Don: Why do you think [Florida’s statement regarding coach Jim McElwain’s death threat claims] was telling?

First, some background. During a press conference Monday, McElwain referenced “death threats to your families” while discussing the negativity surrounding the Gators’ season so far. Naturally, the reporters in the room followed up on the phrase “death threats.” McElwain elected not to elaborate. Naturally, Florida administrators wanted to know if their coach or his family had received death threats out of fear for everyone’s safety. Again, McElwain elected not to elaborate. (On Wednesday’s SEC teleconference, McElwain said he’d reveal more if the situation became unmanageable. It’s perfectly understandable why someone wouldn’t want to discuss such things publicly. But it is odd that person wouldn’t want to discuss them with an employer who might provide assistance.)

The telling part came next, when Florida’s athletic department released this statement Monday afternoon: “The University Athletic Association takes the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and families very seriously. Our administration met with Coach McElwain this afternoon and he offered no additional details.”

Someone very high up had to approve the wording of that statement, because it amounts to a very public distancing from the head football coach by the athletic department administration. That is a sign of an unhappy union. Typically, a situation like this would cause strife behind the scenes, but any public-facing correspondence would imply unity. This did not, and that wasn’t an accident.

I’ve said all season that McElwain’s two SEC East titles and his $12.5 million buyout would absolutely keep his job safe this year. Now I’m not so sure. If he can’t get along with the administration, it’s difficult to imagine the administration protecting him when much of the fan base wants a change. I may call Florida fans the nation’s most spoiled—because two all-time great coaches provided most of the program’s success in a short time—but they aren’t wrong here. The Gators won a weak East twice, but under McElwain they have yet to look capable of truly competing for an SEC or national title. Fair or unfair, that’s the expectation at Florida.

The liquidated damages clause in McElwain’s contract calls for him to receive $2.5 million for each year remaining on the contract if he’s fired. So his buyout next year would be $10 million, which is still a hefty sum. If things keep going south during the next month, athletic director Scott Stricklin might have to analyze how much he stands to lose in potential donations and season ticket sales by keeping McElwain.

It’s possible Florida could offer to waive the buyout McElwain would have to pay if he terminates the contract by getting another job, but it’s unwise to assume that McElwain would simply bolt to another school. Yes, he’s from the northwest. Yes, Oregon State is open. That doesn’t mean either is a fit for the other. Also, McElwain is a proud person. He wants to prove he can make this work at Florida. But if he and the administration are at odds, it’s difficult to imagine anything working long-term.

Also from Don: Do you think Mac wants out? Doesn’t seem to be a good personality fit. [Answer linked here, and in the video atop this story.]

From Matt: Why does it feel like playoff résumés are helped more by bad losses than good losses?

It may feel that way listening to and reading the discussion of who might make the playoff, but based on its actions the committee seems more interested in good wins than in either kind of loss. Ohio State’s experience is probably the most instructive. Ohio State made the playoff last year without winning its conference in part because the Buckeyes had an exceptionally good win (at eventual Big 12 champ Oklahoma) along with very good wins against Michigan and at Wisconsin in the conference schedule. The 2015 Ohio State team, which was probably better than the 2016 version and probably better than some College Football Playoff participants, had a very good loss (Michigan State) and finished No. 7 in the final rankings. The difference was it didn’t have a good win beyond Michigan. In 2014, the Buckeyes had a bad loss (Virginia Tech) and would have been left out if not for the strength of their late wins at Michigan State and Wisconsin.

The ultimate good loss team so far this season is Notre Dame, but I don’t know if the committee would weigh the quality of Fighting Irish’s loss to Georgia very heavily if Notre Dame sat at 11–1. I also don’t think it would matter in that case if Notre Dame was 11–1 with a loss to a bad or mediocre team. If that happened, wins against Michigan State, USC, NC State, Miami and Stanford would mean much more.

From @WojDaGawd: Notre Dame hasn't scored a TD against NC State in two tries. Do they finally cross the goal line on Saturday? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From Ikeyo: How have we reached the point in CFB where no coach can have a disappointing season without having job security murmurs build up? #Harbaugh

I’m convinced it’s the money. My lizard brain still remembers when $1 million was a lot to pay a major college coach. So even though the pay has risen due to market forces, it’s still tough for my brain to adjust expectations accordingly. If $1 million still feels like a lot, then a guy making $4 million a year or more should win every single game.

The rational side of me understands that he can’t win every game and that he’s coaching against people who also are making similar salaries. But that lizard brain can’t let it go. I don’t think I’m alone there. The acceleration of the firing cycle suggests plenty of decision-makers feel the same way.

From Cory: Bold statement, Barkley rushes for 150 yards in the Shoe? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From Ben: Considering blaring “Closing Time” in the office at 5 p.m. Good idea or GREAT idea? RT for a better chance at making me look like an idiot.

This is a fabulous idea. Semisonic’s masterpiece perfectly encapsulates the feeling at last call, and it will be a great reminder to your co-workers that they should have spent less time reading #DearAndy and more time working so they can head home or to Happy Hour when a late-’90s classic commands them to leave. But every terrible afternoon drive DJ in every mid-size market in America would remind you that you’re going to have to use this song on Friday at 5 p.m.

From Andrew: Would an undefeated TCU get left out of the final four for a one-loss "name" program? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]