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01 January 2016: Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain before the 2016 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl between the Michigan Wolverines and Florida Gators at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

Second season means go-time for Gators

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

Coach Jim McElwain’s first season with the Florida Gators was a mixed bag.

There was a soaring 10-1 start, an SEC East Division title, and the promise of big things.

That was quickly followed by three consecutive defeats — a home loss against Florida State, an SEC title game defeat against Alabama, and a deflating 41-7 bowl-game thumping at the hands of Michigan.

The debut season is over. The second season is here.

If history is any indication, the Gators have something much bigger in store.

Here’s a brief history of second seasons for notable Florida football coaches:

* Will Muschamp — In 2012, the Gators went 11-2 and earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl, where they fell 33-23 against Louisville. That followed Muschamp’s 7-6 debut season.

* Urban Meyer — In 2006, the Gators went 13-1, winning the SEC championship and pounding Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS Championship Game in Glendale, Arizona. That followed Meyer’s 9-3 debut season.

* Steve Spurrier — In 1991, the Gators went 10-2, winning the program’s first official SEC championship to earn a spot in the Sugar Bowl, where they lost 39-28 against Notre Dame. That followed Spurrier’s 9-2 debut season.

* Galen Hall — In 1985, the Gators went 9-1-1, winning the SEC championship, but having it stripped by NCAA sanctions. They were ineligible for a bowl game. That followed Hall’s 9-1-1 debut season, when he was elevated from offensive coordinator to head coach after the third game. That was also an SEC title stripped away by NCAA sanctions.

* Charley Pell — In 1980, the Gators were 8-4 and reached the Tangerine Bowl, where they defeated Maryland 34-20. That followed Pell’s 0-10-1 debut season.

* Second Season Summary — For those five previous Gator head coaches, that adds up to a 51-10-1 record, one national title, three SEC championships (one stripped), and four bowl games.

That sounds good to McElwain, who was pleased with positive strides made during his first season, but not at all pleased with the way things finished.

“By no means can you ever be satisfied,’’ McElwain said. “Well, you know what, we exceeded expectations, so let’s call it good. That wasn’t good.”

He elaborated:

“I’m very disappointed in how we finished. It’s not something that we’re proud of and not something I take very lightly. At the same time, it was an opportunity for us to learn. As you go through life, the piece of learning is what it’s all about.’’

This is not expected to be a championship season for the Gators, not by a long shot, especially in what looks like a fairly loaded SEC. In the East, Tennessee seems poised to claim its first division title since 2007. Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs can’t be discounted, although they will be an unknown quantity until the season kicks off.

The Gators might be a ranked team, but they are mostly flying below the radar. Given last season’s offensive ineptitude, it’s possible for the Gators to have fewer victories while showing some improvement. Any kind of chains-moving traction would be welcome in Gainesville, perhaps setting up the possibility for contention when it is least expected.

At Florida, the second coaching season usually means it’s time to turn the corner.

McElwain would be delighted to carry on that tradition.

Second season means go-time for Gators

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