GAINESVILLE -- Four years ago, Jeremy Foley lured a former Nick Saban disciple to Florida, hoping to replicate Alabama’s football juggernaut.
It didn’t work, but UF’s athletic director is courting another coach with a Saban pedigree, interviewing Colorado State’s Jim McElwain on Tuesday afternoon, per multiple reports.
According to FlightAware.com, a private jet owned by a Florida booster left Jacksonville early Tuesday morning, picking up Foley in Gainesville and flying to Joplin, Mo., for a brief stop. The flight then landed in Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal airport in Colorado.
The website OnlyGators.com first reported the flight plan.
McElwain, 52, was named the Mountain West Conference coach of the year Tuesday, rapidly turning around a perennial bottom-feeder in three seasons at CSU.
The Rams were 3-9 for three consecutive years before McElwain took over in 2012.
He’s 22-16 at CSU, including 10-2 this season with wins over Power Five schools Colorado and Boston College.
Following four years of offensive futility at Florida, Foley aimed to hire a coach “with a track record” of offensive acumen.
McElwain fits the bill.
He won a pair of national titles as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator from 2008-2011, and this season, CSU averaged 35.9 points a game, ranking seventh nationally in third down efficiency (51 percent) and passing (323.6 ypg).
Senior quarterback Garrett Grayson is third in the country in passer rating, boasting 32 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Meanwhile, wideout Rashard Higgins, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, leads in the country in receiving yards (1,640) and touchdowns (17).
Since 2013, CSU has scored 30+ points in 17 games. The Gators managed such a feat just 16 times in four seasons under Muschamp.
After a flurry of rumors over the weekend, Florida zeroed in on McElwain when Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze signed a four-year contract extension Monday, removing a potential target from the mix.
Foley turned his focus to McElwain, flying to personally interview and potentially offer the job Tuesday afternoon.
McElwain signed a five-year contract extension with CSU in August, with an annual base salary at $1.5 million and a $7.5 million buyout.
According to McElwain’s contract, the buyout is negotiable with “extenuating circumstances,” meaning Florida could pay the sum in whole or agree to a neutral-site contest to cover the cost.
If hired, McElwain aims to “retain” UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, esteemed defensive coaches and a pair of outstanding recruiters, per multiple reports.
Despite his SEC experience, McElwain is a Western native, born in Montana. He played quarterback for Eastern Washington (1980-83), and coached QBs and receivers at his alma mater from 1987-1994.
He was an assistant for 15 years in the Big Sky Conference before jumping to bigger jobs, including Louisville (2000-02), Michigan State (2003-05), the NFL’s Oakland Raiders (2006), Fresno State (2007) and then Alabama.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton