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Florida Gators’ rough start has led to death threats

This Sept. 2, 2017, file photo shows then-Florida head coach Jim McElwain watching his team warm up before an NCAA college football game against Michigan, in Arlington, Texas. McElwain was hired by the Wolverines to coach their wide receivers. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)
This Sept. 2, 2017, file photo shows then-Florida head coach Jim McElwain watching his team warm up before an NCAA college football game against Michigan, in Arlington, Texas. McElwain was hired by the Wolverines to coach their wide receivers. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida coach Jim McElwain can handle the heat, the hate and even the harassment.

He gets paid to deal with it.

But he would like his players, coaches and all their families, including his own, to be left alone.

McElwain said Monday that Florida players and families have received death threats amid the team’s struggles. McElwain acknowledged the allegation while responding to a question about whether the team deserves credit for staying competitive despite missing more than 20 scholarship players because of injuries and suspensions.

“Credit in this business is internal; it’s never external,” McElwain said. “It’s a good lesson for the way things are. There’s a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger and yet (there’s) freedom to show it. The hard part is obviously when the threats against your own players, death threats to your families, the ill will that’s brought upon out there.

“It’s really one of those deals that really is a pretty good testament to what’s going on out there nationally. A lot of angry people. In this business, we’re the ones they take the shots at and that’s the way it is.”

McElwain declined to say whether he personally received death threats. He added that he has not contacted police.

When pressed for details, he said, “Let’s move.”

The university’s athletic department released a statement hours later saying officials met with McElwain and that the coach “offered no additional details.”

“The University Athletic Association takes the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and families very seriously,” a spokesman said. “Our administration met with Coach McElwain this afternoon and he offered no additional details.”

McElwain is 22-11 in three seasons in Gainesville. The Gators (3-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) have lost two in a row as they prepare to play third-ranked Georgia (7-0, 4-0) in nearby Jacksonville on Saturday. Florida opened as a 14 1/2-point underdog.

The Gators rank 102nd in the nation in total offense, showing little progress from McElwain’s first two years. Despite the injuries and suspensions, there is cause for criticism, and McElwain has acknowledged the team’s shortcomings. It also should be no surprise that someone would take it too far in an era in which coaches, players and families are easily accessible via social media.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said last month his family received a racist and threatening letter at their home. Sumlin’s wife posted a picture of the letter on Twitter. The handwritten letter read: “You suck as a coach! You’re a (racial epithet) and can’t win! Please get lost! Or else.”

McElwain said the threats don’t surprise him.

“You’re in the business, that’s all part of it,” he said. “When it’s directed toward your players, when it’s directed to families, wives, that kind of thing. And yet at the same time they know what they signed up for as well. That’s part of the business.”

Players said all the negativity is impossible to ignore.

“We’re just going to keep moving forward,” linebacker Kylan Johnson said. “We’ve got Coach Mac’s back. We’re just going to continue to be positive moving forward.”

Added safety Chauncey Gardner: “What’s the point of us paying attention to someone threatening one of our family members? I mean, he didn’t put his hands on him or his wife’s, so were not really focused on anything they have to say or what their opinion is.

“Let `em talk. That’s all they’ve been doing. That’s all they’re going to keep doing.”


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