McElwain visits practice to say goodbye

University of Florida’s Running Back Mark Thompson takes a breather after running through a foot drill during practice Monday. Thompson, a senior, was asked to step up his game and contribute more to the team by Interim Head Football Coach Randy Shannon as they practiced in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Monday afternoon. [Doug Engle Ocala-Star-Banner]

At the end of his first day not being Florida’s football coach, Jim McElwain stepped onto Florida Field for one last time late Monday afternoon to say goodbye to his players.

McElwain came onto the field at the conclusion of the Gators’ practice and greeted the players who found out Sunday afternoon that he’s no longer their coach. There were no tears, but some hugs and then a few informal words from McElwain. Then he was gone.

“He told us he’s a Gator, he’s always going to be a Gator, and he still has love for us and if we need him he’s there,” senior safety Duke Dawson said. “Of course (it was good to have a chance to say goodbye). I had a relationship with Coach Mac. Him coming back and talking to the team, it was great to see because people thought he wasn’t going to come back.”

The players, like many others, found out about the split between McElwain and UF on social media throughout the day Sunday. They had a 5 p.m. meeting with athletic director Scott Stricklin on Sunday, but did not have a chance to get with McElwain. They finally did Monday.

“We had just got beat by Georgia,” senior wide receiver Brandon Powell said of the meeting with Stricklin. “Everybody was still stuck on the loss, then to hear some news like that … you can tell some of the young guys were hurt.”

But now that Coach Mac has said his goodbye, the Gators say they’re ready to move forward with interim head coach Randy Shannon, who is popular among the players.

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To borrow a phrase McElwain used just last week, the few UF seniors have seen this movie before.

They went through the same thing when Will Muschamp was fired late in the 2014 season.

“I’m just worrying about Missouri this coming weekend,” Powell said. “But I’ve done been through it before with Muschamp. I know how to handle it, just got to go out there and finish your job by the end of the day.

“For me it is (easy to refocus) because I’ve been through it before. I know how to handle it this time around. At the end of the day, I can just control what I can control, and that’s getting my team better and getting ready for Missouri.”

Powell said he’s trying to assist the younger players who are still trying to overcome the shock of unexpectedly losing their coach, and the man who recruited them to Florida.

“The receivers, I tried to explain it to them,” Powell said. “Some of them asked me how I’ve been through it with Muschamp. We’ve got a couple of Muschamp guys still here. We’ve been trying to explain it to all the younger guys about staying focused. You’ve got to control what you can control. That’s all it is at the end of the day.”

Dawson is also helping the younger players cope.

“I mean it was very surprising for a lot of guys, especially the young guys who just got here,” Dawson said. “It’s eye opening to them. The thing they have to do is just move forward and continue to work.

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“Just keep your head up. In life things happen. It’s something that you’ll need to be able to handle later in life, situations like this. I just give them all the advice I can.”

Senior running back Mark Thompson described the past 48 hours as “chaotic,” but said that things have already started to settle down.

“It was unexpected,” he said. “I don’t think anybody on the team saw that coming, but things happen. Just like how it is for us, a next-man-up mentality. Coach Shannon can get things done and get things moving.

“He’ll give it to you straight. He won’t beat around the bush. If you want to know something and you have to want to talk to him about any concerns, he’ll tell you the truth and be honest with you. That’s the way it should be.”

After saying goodbye to their former coach, Powell said the players are ready to play for their new coach.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I love Coach Shannon. Coach Shannon, he’s a good coach, you can talk to him about anything. He’s honest with you. I’m just excited to play for Coach Shannon right now.”