McElwain believes 'chaos' will strengthen Gators in long run
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Coach Jim McElwain insists he enjoys a little chaos. If that's the case, then he really must be relishing his time at Florida.
The 25th-ranked Gators have endured their share of trouble over the last two years. Between fights, suspensions, arrests, investigations and performance-enhancing drugs, McElwain has seen just about everything college football has to offer these days in a little more than 20 months on the job.
Welcome to Gainesville, coach.
"One of the things I enjoy is the chaos," McElwain said last week. "You can't simulate the chaos that goes on in a game. And yet you can use distractions, uncertainty, and use that to help hopefully strengthen you in those times when you're in those games. Our guys have handled that I think very well. It's amazing. What you hope to see happen is you don't miss a beat. You go forward and you keep working on what you've got to do to get better."
Indeed, Florida has managed everything thrown its way. There's been plenty, too, including recent incidents involving key players on both sides of the ball.
Here's a look at some of the adversity McElwain and the Gators have faced:
-- Star cornerback Jalen Tabor and tight end C'yontai Lewis were suspended from all team activities last week for fighting in practice. McElwain also said they will have to sit out next week's opener against UMass. McElwain said both players are expected to return to the team Thursday.
-- Standout receiver Antonio Callaway, who was suspended for most of the spring semester, was cleared of sexual assault earlier this month. A Florida athletics booster serving as a hearing officer found Callaway "not responsible" based on a preponderance of evidence. The accuser, her attorney and witnesses boycotted the hearing, saying the officer was biased because of his financial contributions to the Gators. The accuser has until Friday to appeal. Also troubling for Florida: Callaway testified he was high on marijuana at the time, and the incident is believed to have occurred just days before Florida played Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
-- Quarterback Treon Harris was suspended along with Callaway for his alleged role in the incident. It was Harris' third suspension in two-plus years at Florida. He left school in June, deciding to transfer before the hearing.
-- Freshmen receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells are facing felony charges for allegedly firing BB guns into a residential hall last month. Although they are likely to get deferred prosecution as first-time offenders and serve community service, they still could be benched for the opener.
"Each situation is different and yet we have a sense of expectation," McElwain said. "But more than that, I've got a sense of responsibility to help each and every individual in the organization, you know, with expected behavior, ways you go about your daily work, especially in a team environment."
McElwain has had plenty of guys to help since becoming Florida's coach in December 2014.
Although the Gators won 10 of their first 11 games in 2015, clinched the Southeastern Conference's watered-down Eastern Division and earned the program's first trip to Atlanta since 2009, there were distractions along the way:
-- Cornerback J.C. Jackson was suspended in April 2015 after he was arrested and charged with felony armed robbery and burglary. Jackson was found not guilty in November and eventually transferred to Riverside City College in California. He's now enrolled at Maryland.
-- Quarterback Will Grier was suspended one year in October for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He has since transferred to West Virginia.
-- Cornerback Deiondre Porter was suspended indefinitely in October following his arrest for allegedly firing a gun in the direction of his pregnant girlfriend. The case is still pending. Porter was arrested again in nearby Jacksonville in April for his role in an alleged armed robbery.
-- Receiver Demarcus Robinson was suspended for the fourth time in his college career, this one just days before the Gators played rival Florida State. He was reinstated the following week, in time for the SEC title game, after McElwain allowed his seniors to vote on Robinson's status.
-- Five others served one-game suspensions in 2015: Harris, Tabor, defensive end Alex McCalister, safety Marcus Maye and receiver Latroy Pittman.
There's surely more issues ahead for McElwain and the Gators. The "chaos" is part of college football, at least at Florida.
"Coach Mac is serious," defensive end CeCe Jefferson said. "You just have to do what's right. That's what he preaches every day. That's the message we got from him."