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Jim McElwain's vision becoming clearer at Florida

Jim McElwain is trying to upgrade the entire Florida football program, from the players to the facilities. Logan Bowles/USA Today Sports

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Scattered around Jim McElwain's office are propped-up cutouts of computer-generated renderings of a Florida Gators future fans have dreamed of for years.

They are images of a massive state-of-the-art, standalone football facility that will become a wonderland for football players and coaches. There's a walk-through meeting area and a futuristic locker room, complete with what could be mistaken for Gator head-embroidered La-Z-Boy recliners. There's a two-story weight room with a cardio balcony and a players lounge.

It's a futuristic art gallery representing part of the vision McElwain has slowly been constructing during his more than two years of coaching the Gators. McElwain is surrounded by images of an evolution that one of the premier college football programs has been reluctant to pursue as other programs add bowling allies and waterfalls to complement their already shiny bells and whistles.

“The one thing we’ll always have is sunshine and palm trees. And yet, that’s not the only thing that sells now," McElwain told ESPN during the spring. "I’m really happy with our direction. Now we’re getting a lot of those pieces in place, not only players, but organizationally. You’re seeing a lot of development in a lot of different areas.”

McElwain isn't the lone architect behind the idea for Florida's new football plans. The wheels had been in motion for football-related upgrades before he arrived after the 2014 season, but facilities have been a topic of conversation more than a few times for McElwain over the years.

Since McElwain's arrival, Florida has constructed a $17 million indoor facility (finally catching up with just about every other major football program), updated its dormitories and seen a $25 million renovation of the Otis Hawkins Center for academics. The hope is that in June 2019, the football team's $60 million project -- part of a $100 million project announced by former athletic director Jeremy Foley in September that will include upgrades to the baseball and softball stadiums -- will create a three-story, 130,000 square-foot facility (equipped with a dining hall for all student-athletes and located across from the Gators' practice fields) that will serve as the meeting and training headquarters for football.

For McElwain, the new football facility is key for player development and well-being. The look will be great, but its function is something the Gators desperately needed.

“Coach Mac is changing this whole culture of Gator football into something great," sophomore center T.J. McCoy said.

Foley might have turned the Florida athletic department into one of the nation's best during his 25 years in charge, but it has been a seamless transition to Scott Stricklin, 47, who embarks on his own vision with McElwain. The former Mississippi State athletic director, who headed facility upgrades of more than $140 million in Starkville and saw significant increases in booster club membership and donations during his time there, seems like the perfect creative partner for McElwain as he continues to push the aesthetics of Florida's football program.

“In this day and age, facilities tell your staff, your student-athletes and that outside world where your priorities are," said Stricklin, who would eventually like to add state-of-the-art upgrades to the Swamp, as well.

While aesthetics are a major part of McElwain's vision, he also is building the actual football part in his direction too. Back-to-back SEC Eastern Division championships have been somewhat tainted for some by consistently mediocre offenses, but as McElwain enters his third season in Gainesville -- with a team picked by the media to finish second in the East to a Georgia team he's 2-0 against -- the evolutionary process is taking place on his roster.

Slowly, McElwain has constructed a receivers group, headlined by All-SEC member Antonio Callaway, deep threat Tyrie Cleveland and do-everything jitterbug Brandon Powell, that could be the SEC's best. Running back Jordan Scarlett, who rushed for 889 yards (5 yards per carry) last year, is getting early NFL love, while Lamical Perine could start for a handful of SEC schools. McElwain also returns four starters along an offensive line that could be the SEC's most improved unit and a legitimate strength for the Gators.

Florida hasn't been able to say all of that at the same time in almost 10 years.

Then, there's recruiting. After blemishes in McElwain's first two classes, he has had a ton of momentum over the past few months.

First, a doomed 2017 class had a furious finish, with 10 of Florida's 23 signees committing in the last five days of the recruiting cycle, hurling Florida up seven rankings spots to close at No. 13.

Months later, McElwain is again rolling, gaining seven commitments in seven days. Four are ESPN 300 members, including quarterback Matt Corral, who some recruiting services have listed as a five-star prospect. The guy who has struggled to put offenses on the field in Gainesville snatched a four-star offensive lineman, the No. 2 tight end and a four-star receiver in the past week to complement Corral, who could be the quarterback recruit Gator Nation has been waiting for for years.

But on his own campus, McElwain thinks he already has a decent quarterback situation. He finally has two quarterbacks he personally recruited and signed in his offensive image in redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks (ESPN 300 member) and Kyle Trask. Franks left spring atop the depth chart and, according to people in Gainesville, he has had a terrific summer.

McElwain also brought in graduate transfer Malik Zaire from Notre Dame, who is a true enigma but has won over the locker room. Zaire gives the Gators more athleticism and will immediately compete for the starting job.

"We're now up to finally our number in the scholarship count that we want to be in the quarterback room," McElwain said. "We've got some real options there. And that's a good thing.”

McElwain hasn't hit Nick Saban level. He isn't standing with Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher or Dabo Swinney yet. But he's finally building the way he wants. It might not have come at the warp speed Gators fans have clamored for, but McElwain is constructing this Florida program in his image, and it's starting to pay off.

“Now getting there and breaking the door down, that’s what we have to do," he said. "I feel good about these guys, our guys feel good about what they have to do to accomplish that.”