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SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: FLORIDA VS ALABAMA

December 2, 2016

Jim McElwain

Atlanta, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach McElwain for some general thoughts on his team entering the game, and then we'll take your questions. Coach?

COACH MCELWAIN: Sure. How's everybody doing today? All right?

The guys are excited to not only get back here but excited to go out and perform tomorrow. Our guys have been through a ton, and yet, you know what, they've really overcome and learned a bunch about who they are and what they're all about. Tomorrow we're going to go test ourselves against the best. Looking forward to that.

Obviously, this being the 25th year anniversary, it makes it even a little bit special, a little bit more special, and with the two teams playing in it that kicked this whole thing off. In fact, Coach Spurrier, Coach Stallings -- and I'll call him Coach Kramer because I remember when he was coaching at Central Michigan, I believe it was -- are all back here to celebrate this event. I think that's something really special to see all the MVPs that have come back.

What this game means to so many -- not only football fans, but for all the players that have ever played in the SEC Conference, to be able to be part of this event is something that you'll remember for the rest of your life. You know what, can't wait for tomorrow to get here.

Questions?

Q. Jim, as a former quarterbacks coach, former offensive coordinator, what Lane Kiffin has done, in position to win a third straight SEC title with three different starting quarterbacks, what does that say about his ability?
COACH MCELWAIN: Well, he's a good ball coach, and he's got a lot of good coaches around him as well. Obviously, what they've done with those quarterbacks, in particular, with this freshman quarterback and how they've adapted to his game and how that quarterback has adapted to what they're asking him to do.

They've done a great job of highlighting the people around him. Obviously, the explosive plays really show. And more so, adapting to how this quarterback's game not only beats you with his arm but really with his feet. When you look at their rushing totals, you may say it's a down year for their running backs. Well, you lump his 900 yards in there, whatever the heck it is, it seems like a pretty up year for their running backs. So he's done a great job.

Q. Speaking of Jalen, what have you seen from him, specifically from his composure, against some of the better defenses you played this year?
COACH MCELWAIN: I love watching this guy. Nothing -- nothing ever bothers him, you know what I'm saying? When you see that in a player like that, I think it speaks not only for him getting there and being part of that thing early -- let's not lose track of those guys that are graduating a little early and coming for spring practice. That is a huge advantage. In fact, we've got a bunch of those guys playing for us this year, not at the quarterback position, but obviously at other spots.

But really, I think being the son of a coach, growing up around it, and understanding that whatever just happened, learn from it and move on. Don't let it affect you. I've never seen him even, in any way, show the emotion of disappointment even when something goes not great. He's going to be -- he's a great player now and going to be a great player in this conference for the years to come.

Q. Coach, just how -- what are your thoughts on what Alabama is accomplishing right now? The 24-game winning streak, just the dominance.
COACH MCELWAIN: It's a credit, obviously, to Coach. It's a credit to their university. It's a credit to what they have committed to and given the ability to go be great. They've never said no, and yet what it's done for that university and that brand since Coach has been there has been unbelievable.

But give the credit to him because what he has built, and being able to do it in this conference day in and day out, year in and year out, with the amount of guys that, you know, they get to leave and go to the NFL, and he just keeps replacing them. That's not only a credit to Coach, but it's a credit to the commitment of the whole university, their fan base, and the people associated with the organization have put in to make it what it is.

Q. This is an achievement for a lot of schools to get here and a milestone even for some, but is it almost just kind of like an expectation, I mean, for him?
COACH MCELWAIN: I think it's an expectation for the Florida Gators. First thing when we got here -- I don't know that we haven't played as much as anybody in this game. I think for both programs, to be here on the 25th anniversary is huge, but you come to the University of Florida, the expectation is to go play in Atlanta. That's something our guys have done.

Likewise, you want to win a Championship. This is the first step in winning that Championship.

Q. Coach, I know you don't read the message boards or anything, but Coach Nussmeier gets a lot of criticism from the fan base. Can you talk about the job he's done and just evaluate.
COACH MCELWAIN: He's done an outstanding job based on the hands we were dealt when we got here and figuring out those parts and those pieces and giving us opportunities to win ball games has been really good. Obviously, there's things that need to be continually tweaked and looked at. You know what, the one thing I do know is our guys play their tails off, and that's great to see.

It will be a constant evolution as we move forward as to how we go about it.

Q. Jim, what's Jarrad Davis looking like as far as how much work do you think he'll get tomorrow? And even if he's in there for something less than a full-time role, will that be an emotional lift?
COACH MCELWAIN: Oh, there's no doubt about it. Yeah, I expect him to play. There's certain guys that you coach and you're around as your career goes on, he's one of those guys that, if there's even a little opportunity, he's going to do everything he can to be out there. Part of him coming back to school, helping himself as he goes, getting his degree as he promised his mother, was to come back and be a part of a Championship team, and he's going to be a part of that, and that's what's great.

Q. This is the first year that we've had a repeat Alabama-Florida since '08/'09, and you were on that '08/'09 end of it from Alabama's perspective. What did -- and I'm taking you way back. I'm sorry. Losing in '08, what kind of fuel did that provide for '09? And are there corollaries for this year?
COACH MCELWAIN: It's really -- I don't know about the losing, but really understanding the experience and more so what you may be able to do to help yourself be successful when that -- hopefully that next event comes up, and in our case, that next event was the following year.

I remember right -- I mean, we were a little bit of a surprise in '08, just kind of how we went about our business and then being able to get back here. Getting a taste of it and being able to get back here, I know that was something our guys were driven to do, and we were fortunate enough to come out on the front end of that one.

Q. What's the most important thing for you guys to do early in this game to put the disappointment of last week behind you?
COACH MCELWAIN: There's a lot of things that you learn as a competitor, and one of them is learn from your past failures to help you be successful in the future. That game was put behind us a long time ago. We got off the bus at 3:45 in the morning on Sunday. As I told them, everybody got off the bus, it's over. We've got to move on. We're playing in the SEC Championship. Let's go put a great piece of work together, and our guys have done that, and they're excited about coming out and playing tomorrow.

Q. First of all, congratulations, Coach.
COACH MCELWAIN: Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

Q. What are three key aspects you're looking for from your team tomorrow?
COACH MCELWAIN: Three key aspects. I think, first and foremost, don't blink. Don't blink. See what you see and go get it. Whatever you do in doing that, don't ever back down. Don't back down with anything.

I think the three things probably as what we look for is you can't give them any cheap ones. So the turnover piece is obviously huge. Limiting explosive plays and not allowing the sudden strikes that show up quite a bit and taking care of your opportunities when they're there. Those are the biggest things we've got to do.

Q. A couple things, back to Coach Saban. One, as somebody who worked with him, beyond just going out and getting the best players, best assistants, what kind of stands out to you as the reason he's been able to maintain this level of success? And a follow to that. Is it tough, now that you're on the other side, does it almost feel like you're playing for crumbs, like a lot of the SEC. Just when he occasionally doesn't win it all, there might be something there, but I understand how frustrating it is.
COACH MCELWAIN: It really isn't. Being a part of it, I was really fortunate because I was able to see a commitment and understanding of the organization and what it takes on a daily basis to help yourself have the opportunity to be successful. It isn't just about football now. It's about anything you do in life.

Yet the one thing that's really unique there is the overall commitment of the people around Coach Saban that has allowed him to build the organization, build the infrastructure, build the things in total support in him to be able to go out and be successful. That commitment is something that is like no other.

I think you just take a look at even when he arrived and the overall university enrollment that has gone up. I think some of the Alabama guys in here could probably speak to that a little bit better. That name and brand recognition and what he's done and what it's brought for the State of Alabama and the University of Alabama.

But being able to be part of seeing how he built that, and that commitment from everybody that touches his desk to the same focused point of what it's going to be. You know, I've heard coaches put it. It's about being in the line. Everything's got to be in alignment. Everything's got to be aligned. That's one thing he was ahead of his time as far as making sure everybody was aligned. It was a fascinating working experience.

Q. (No microphone)?
COACH MCELWAIN: Here's the good thing. We were able to go to Colorado State and impart some of that and get that thing jumped around in a pretty short fashion. I'm really proud of what we're doing right now at the University of Florida. A lot of those same principles and values of being successful -- you know, we're a great place now. We have the same opportunity to go be able to do that. That's what's good.

In seeing where we're at, we're a long ways from getting where we're going to be, but you know what, we probably got here a lot quicker than a lot of people maybe even thought. I can attribute that to a lot of the things that I was able to learn from Coach along the way.

Q. (No microphone).
COACH MCELWAIN: No, it's not unbeatable at all. I mean, no. Last time I checked, I think we're a pretty good football team.

Q. You prepared for this Alabama defense last year. They had a pretty stout front seven. They lost several of those guys. Is it possible they're better up front this year?
COACH MCELWAIN: I actually talked to Coach about that today at the luncheon deal we were at. They're different, and what I mean by that, the speed that they have right now is better than I've ever seen. They still have those big guys in there when they need them, but really the overall team speed is something that I think has really stood out to me as we spent the week watching them, and a couple crossover games that you get when you're working in the season.

Yeah, Jeremy has picked up right where Kirby was. He brought some things that were unique to what he did at Georgia and obviously fit him into that system. So I give him a lot of credit too for what he's doing to adapt him to the players that they're putting out there on defense.

Q. Austin Appleby, how do you feel about him since he's back in as a starter? How do you feel about how he's played and what are you hoping he's going to step up a little bit with?
COACH MCELWAIN: Here's the thing I love about Austin. He's a guy that prepares as well as any quarterback I've been around. Really, the big key there is going to be don't chase ghosts. Don't see ghosts. You're prepared. You know what to do. Now go ahead and let it loose. And I expect him to do that tomorrow.

Q. Jim, you said that you guys have maybe gotten back here quicker than most people expected. When you got here, what was your expectation? I know the goal is to get here, but when you kind of evaluated the roster, what hurdles have you kind of had to climb to get here?
COACH MCELWAIN: Well, someday when I'm retired sitting on the dock at Flathead Lake, I'll probably look back and think about that. But right now we've got a task at hand, and I have to go win this football game.

You know, it's interesting the goal piece. Everybody -- you set goals to go achieve goals and that kind of thing, and yet understanding that goals only happen when you're willing to invest and you're willing to do it every single day to go achieve something, I've seen this football team understand what that is through some things and through some adversity that I'm really proud of. They could have sacked their bats and gone home a while back. You know what, they didn't, and I'm proud of them.

Q. I know you guys came into the year really expecting the tight end to be a big central mismatch. What are some of the reasons they maybe haven't been quite as explosive as you thought they might be?
COACH MCELWAIN: I think part of it is they've been a little bit nicked up here and there. Just call it the way it is. And the flip side of that is the different formational things we do, they've done some really good things. We've had some drops and had some things occur that way. Yet at the same time, you know what, they're a big part of what we do, and we plan on it moving forward.

Q. Coach, Appleby opened up on Monday and said he was very confident in the game plan going in. How important will it be to adapt during the game?
COACH MCELWAIN: Well, any time you face a Nick Saban-Jeremy Pruitt defense, you're going to see something you've never seen. You're going to see something from the archives that's been sitting there that they're just ready to pull out versus a certain thing. I mean, I know. I've been there. I've lived it. I used to go up in practice against it and hear him say, hey, what about that one? I didn't see it in the install, which made you really sharp as a coach to be able to adjust and adapt to what you are going to be able to see.

The one thing I know that they do, they do a great job of studying your personnel and attacking those weaknesses. So we've got to do a great job to see what, in their vision, are the weaknesses and then be able to adjust off of that.

Q. Coach, is it flattering or insulting that you're being mentioned for the Oregon job? Flattering in the fact that you're being mentioned or insulting that people would think you'd want to go there?
COACH MCELWAIN: Well, that's a great way to put it. I think any time -- I think what's pretty cool is any time anybody kind of likes you. Growing up where I grew up, not a lot of people like you. So I think having that opportunity where they really care about you, if it is the case -- I mean, I don't know. You read more than I do about it. But to be mentioned, I've got my hunch maybe somebody in recruiting is trying to throw that out there because we've got some early signings coming up.

But I think any time someone takes notice, I think that's pretty cool. It certainly doesn't hurt my feelings, I guess is what you're asking.

You got the best stuff, man. I enjoy it. I do. In case you guys don't know, this guy's stuff, he's got great wit, great sense of humor, and unbelievable sarcasm is why I kind of like him. I love it. I do. I'm serious.

Q. We've got to live with him.
COACH MCELWAIN: Well, that's up to you guys.

Q. This won't be as good.
COACH MCELWAIN: Is that the old disclaimer? Is that what we talk about?

Q. You talk about how they were pretty creative in the way they were able to come up with defensive schemes. How challenging is that for you to maybe think of something different, kind of creative, maybe special in this kind of game?
COACH MCELWAIN: I think one of the things you do -- I even go back to when we played them when we were at Colorado State. Some of the things that I know at least kept them up there for an extra 10 or 15 minutes that might mess with their matches or whatever that is, whatever those things are. So doing a little bit of that, trying to keep them off balance from that standpoint, and not letting them zero in and target what you're going to do is really going to be the key.

Q. You mentioned the recruiting aspect of the coaching rumors. I guess, how do you deal with that from a recruiting standpoint? At what point does it have to reach a certain level where we do have to address with the recruits I'm not going to Oregon or whatever the rumor is at the time?
COACH MCELWAIN: Rumors are always out there. I remember, even when I was at Alabama with Coach, every year he was going to Texas or the NFL, I think, and they would drag the NFL thing on because the NFL thing was so late, trying to make sure that that never happened. That's the beauty. It's a free world, man. People with do whatever they want and say whatever they want. I know how excited I am to be a Gator.

Q. Coach, a couple times this week you've mentioned the infrastructure that Nick Saban's been able to have at Alabama. Where are you with that at Florida? And how far have you come as far as getting that set up?
COACH MCELWAIN: I think that commitment is there. I think that the recognition of what they have built is there. Where is it right now? I know that we're talking about it. I know we've got a commitment to get some things built.

Here's the great thing. We're talking about having a one-year, a three-year, a five-year, a seven-year, a nine-year, a ten-year plan so you can see it all develop, and that's a good thing. It's exciting to be a part of that.

THE MODERATOR: Other questions for Coach? All right. Thank you very much.

COACH MCELWAIN: They just -- no, he already cut it off, man. Go ahead. Shoot it out there. This better be good. I'm holding everything up. And one thing I do know, don't hold Coach Saban up. So this had better be good.

Q. There's a perception out there with Alabama's success that there's a separation between them and the rest of the conference. Your team having won this division twice in a row is quite an achievement. Do you see that, or do you think it's one of those years where they're ahead of everybody else?
COACH MCELWAIN: Look, they've got good players. Here's the thing. They've done it, and they keep building. Here's the one thing that people don't realize. Once they start one thing, they're already finishing it and going to another. That's the great thing about sustainability, and what Coach has built, man, it's sustainable, and that's a good thing.

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