Gators’ Jim McElwain follows the clumsy coaching norm by keeping Antonio Callaway on the team

 

Antonio Callaway, the only sure playmaker on a Florida offense that has ranked among the nation’s worst for a couple of years now, is suspended for the season opener against Michigan.

The kid earned every bit of it, and really should be kicked off the team by now. This latest case of misusing school-issued funds to buy textbooks and then resell them is piled on top of previous problems.

GAINESVILLE – Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway runs after a reception against Kentucky a 2016 game. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Pleading no contest to a marijuana charge and paying a fine. Being suspended for a semester by the university during a sexual assault investigation that eventually came to nothing. Getting pulled over as a passenger in a car with a 40-year-old man whose criminal history is well known to police. Being far too well acquainted, overall, with the school’s hearing system for student conduct code violations.

Of course, Gators coach Jim McElwain needs this spectacular wide receiver and kick returner against the Wolverines on Sept. 2. Heck, the way this offense struggles to put points on the board, he needs Callaway against Northern Colorado the following week.

“Very disappointed,” is how McElwain described his reaction, as well as the necessity to suspend six other players for the opening game because of the same text-book scam.

Very light, in Callaway’s case, the punishment. He isn’t learning anything from all of these close calls and dodges except that McElwain, like most major coaches trying to get a shot at the national title, will do whatever he can to keep his best players eligible.

Here, meanwhile, is what I have learned through the years of watching college players trade touchdowns for true accountability.

First, there is a reason that the Gators and many other high-profile programs generally schedule an easy game or two to open each season and have done so forever. It allows room for painless suspensions in response to offseason idiocies. This Michigan opener is an experiment, and with the exception of Miami as a season kickoff game in 2019, it’s not the kind of instant challenge that Florida will pursue on a regular basis.

Second, Cam Newton got away with a lot of stuff before he left the Gators in 2009 but more than that we probably still don’t know the whole story.

Urban Meyer knew what he had in this transformational quarterback, the logical successor to Tim Tebow, and he didn’t want Cam to get away. So even though a Fox sports report said Newton was caught three times for academic cheating before and after an arrest for buying a stolen laptop computer, he only decided to transfer to a junior college when the university threatened to expel him for repeated violations of the school’s honor code.

Was Newton worth the trouble that Meyer and his staff must have gone through to try to keep him on the team?

The fraternity of coaches probably has a different answer on this than you might, but consider that Gene Chizik had an undefeated and national championship at Auburn in his one season with Newton at quarterback. Two years later, without Newton, Chizik bottomed out and got fired.

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“I saw these strides, right, and then sometimes you take a step back,” McElwain said of Callaway’s suspension. “Yet I’m sure he’s not the only one that’s done that, and yet it’s my responsibility to keep teaching.”

Teach on, just like Nick Saban has done by deciding not to suspend Da’Shawn Hand for the season opener against Florida State, even though the star defensive end was charged with DUI for being asleep at the wheel of a car while impaired.

This is how it works with the best players, in every sport, at every level. This is how it always will.