GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After working though a buyout issue, Jim McElwain is leaving Colorado State to become Florida’s next head coach.
The Gators announced the hiring Thursday at the same time McElwain started a team meeting with players and assistants. Florida said McElwain agreed to a six-year deal that will average $3.5 million annually. He made $1.5 million this year at Colorado State.
McElwain accepted the job after working with Colorado State to reduce his $7.5 million buyout. Florida will pay the Rams $3 million over six years. McElwain will pay $2 million over time. The Gators also will pay Colorado State $2 million for a game in Gainesville between 2017 and 2020.
“Coach McElwain was someone we targeted from the beginning of the search,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “The more we worked through the process and did our due diligence, coupled with our meeting and conversations with him and those around him, it was obvious he is the right person to lead the Florida Gator football program.”
The Gators already are on the hook for about $8 million to pay fired coach Will Muschamp and his staff. Florida also has about $87 million in on-campus projects underway, with roughly $60 million of that raised.
The Gators traveled to Colorado with the belief that the buyout could and would be whittled down. But Colorado State President Tony Frank initially stood firm on $7.5 million, and the financial roadblock prompted Foley to leave Colorado without an agreement.
McElwain, his attorney and both schools finalized the settlement Thursday. McElwain and his family will be introduced at a Saturday news conference in Gainesville.
ESPN first reported the hiring.
“He has an engaging personality and is someone who can connect with a variety of audiences and he operates with a high level of integrity,” Foley said. “I welcome him and his family to The Gator Nation and I’m looking forward to working alongside him and his staff as they build a championship program both on and off the field.”
Muschamp, who was fired Nov. 16, agreed to coach the final two regular-season games and finished with a 28-21 record in four seasons.
McElwain is 22-16 in three seasons at Colorado State. He was offensive coordinator at Alabama, where he helped the Tide win two national titles, before moving to Fort Collins, Colorado.
Foley detailed several requirements for Muschamp’s replacement, saying his next coach had to have high integrity, character and needed to be a fit at Florida.
The 52-year-old McElwain has NFL experience, Southeastern Conference ties and a track record of success on the offensive side of the ball. His offense ranks 13th nationally, averaging 498 yards a game.
“He has a proven track record on the offensive side of the ball, has coached in the SEC, won two national championships and has had success as a head coach,” Foley said. “He has recruited the South and the state of Florida and has spent time coaching at the highest level in the NFL.”
McElwain took over a program that went 3-9 for three consecutive seasons (2009-11), but has enjoyed a quick turnaround since his arrival. The Rams went 4-8 in 2012 and 8-6 last year before this season’s breakthrough performance. They have wins against rival Colorado and Boston College in 2014.
Foley said offensive success was paramount for Florida’s next coach after four years of offensive futility in Gainesville, where fans got somewhat spoiled watching Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ‘n’ Gun” in the 1990s and then Urban Meyer’s high-scoring spread scheme in the late 2000s.
The Gators finished 105th, 103rd and 113th in total offense during Muschamp’s first three seasons. They rank 90th this season, but Muschamp said last week that he’s leaving behind a “deep and talented” roster.
McElwain could be the coach to take players to the next step.
He grew up in Missoula, Montana, and played quarterback at Eastern Washington, where he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant in 1985. He was promoted in 1987 and served as quarterbacks and receivers coach until 1994. He served as the offense coordinator at Montana State for five years (1995-99) before going to Louisville, where he coached receivers and special teams (2000-02).
He also spent time at Michigan State (2003-05), the NFL’s Oakland Raiders (2006) and at Fresno State (2007). At Fresno State, his offense averaged 419.5 yards and 32.9 points a game, which got Saban’s attention.
Florida got a firsthand look at McElwain’s scheme and success in the 2009 SEC title game. The Tide managed 490 yards in a victory that knocked the Gators out of contention for a second consecutive national title.