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.

[Is there anything with this waivers thing to worry about with Giancarlo Stanton?]

[Pahokee’s Anquan Boldin will have a strong influence on Buffalo Bills]

[The two places in America where there’s nothing but love for Jay Cutler]

“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.

Confident Jim McElwain is remaking the Gators again

The Florida Gators barely beat FAU last year. In overtime.

They edged Vanderbilt 9-7, struggling mightily to outscore a team that completed three passes for 30 yards.

Florida coach Jim McElwain speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Monday, July 11, 2016, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
HOOVER, Ala. – Florida coach Jim McElwain speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference football media days, Monday, July 11, 2016 (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Against Florida State, the Gators would have been shut out at home if not for a safety that the Seminoles gifted them in the fourth quarter.

Finally, in a bowl game that only Jim Harbaugh could love, Florida got rolled 41-7 by Michigan.

Is it any wonder that the Gators are flying under the radar at this week’s SEC Media Days in Alabama? Based on the results listed above, and the fact that coach Jim McElwain’s best quarterback from last season has transferred to West Virginia under the cloud of NCAA suspension, Florida’s ability to win a second consecutive SEC East title deserves to be doubted in every way.

Except one.

The Gators offense has to be better this year for the simple fact that it can’t possibly get worse.

McElwain has four quarterbacks from which to choose, with everyone figuring that Luke Del Rio will be the one, but really, it all comes down to this assessment from the 2015 SEC Coach of the Year.

“We’ve really got good arm talent,” McElwain said, “and I’m looking forward to stretching the field vertically.”

Good arm talent is the beginning point for any quarterback. It’s the opposite of what Treon Harris displayed last year. It’s the reason every play felt like fourth-and-long in the season’s final month.

A little foot power comes in handy, too. That’s why McElwain put so much energy into flipping powerful place-kicker Eddy Pineiro’s commitment from Alabama to Florida in February. Austin Hardin, the Gators’ previous best, made five field goals last season and missed three extra points. That’s middle-school stuff.

[Dolphins’ stadium, the one rushing renovations, also had a bumpy debut in 1987]

[The upside on Hassan Whiteside, who was Riley’s first free-agent priority]

[My strangest day in the business, an afternoon with Macho Camacho]

So we’ll talk more in the weeks to come about specific players at specific positions and what kind of magic potion it’s going to take to beat Tennessee again.

For now it figures that the defense will be good and Antonio Callaway will find his way back in the lineup and McElwain will go into his second Gainesville season quite happy that nothing spectacular is expected of the Gators.

One game, that 38-10 rout of Ole Miss, is all it took last year to get people believing in Florida again.

One game, maybe that trip to Knoxville Sept. 24, could do it again.