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Edward AschoffMark Schlabach 24d

Florida, Jim McElwain part ways; DC Randy Shannon named interim coach

College Football, Florida Gators

GAINESVILLE, Florida -- Florida and Jim McElwain have mutually parted ways after the football coach claimed family members and players received death threats last week, which the school was unable to verify.

McElwain's claims "created a different storyline and caused a lot of distractions," athletic director Scott Stricklin said at Sunday's news conference.

Stricklin also added, "This is more than just wins and losses. I'll leave it at that."

Defensive coordinator Randy Shannon will serve as interim head coach. Shannon, who was Miami's head coach from 2007 to '10, was promoted to defensive coordinator in January.

The Gators are 3-4 (3-3 in the SEC) and play at Missouri on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Florida must win three of its last four games to become bowl-eligible.

Stricklin said that he met with McElwain on Sunday morning, and then UF officials initiated negotiations with McElwain's agent, Jimmy Sexton. The Gators advised Sexton that they intended to fire McElwain with cause and believed they owed him nothing because McElwain failed to alert university officials about the alleged death threats against his family and players, sources familiar with the negotiations told ESPN.

McElwain later released a message on Twitter:

The school owed McElwain a buyout of $12.76 million under the terms of his contract, but it is believed that he accepted much less to settle without going to court. Stricklin said the sides had reached an agreement, but it hadn't yet been signed, and he declined to reveal the settlement amount.

"This is a mutually agreed upon decision," Stricklin said.

Although Stricklin went out of his way to compliment McElwain during the news conference and called him a "great man," it's clear that last week's events were the final straw in a tenure that deteriorated quickly.

After failing to find any evidence to substantiate McElwain's claims of death threats being made, Florida administrators spent much of past week exploring whether they could fire him with cause to avoid paying him the full buyout. Then the Gators were dismantled 42-7 by then-No. 3 Georgia on Saturday in Jacksonville. It was Florida's third straight loss.

Stricklin said McElwain didn't meet with Florida's players on Sunday.

McElwain, who was hired in December 2014, has a 22-12 record and won the SEC Eastern Division in back-to-back seasons, becoming the first SEC coach to make it to the SEC championship game in each of his first two seasons.

His 19 wins entering the 2017 season were the second most by any SEC coach in 2015 and '16. Those 19 wins tied Steve Spurrier for the second-most victories by a Florida coach in his first two seasons.

But Florida's offense struggled mightily in each of the past three seasons. The Gators rank 113th in the FBS in scoring, with 21.3 points per game, and 111th in passing, with 165.7 yards. Plus, Florida has struggled to develop a quarterback.

Now the Gators are searching for their third head coach since 2011, and they'll be paying off McElwain and his predecessor, current South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, for a while. The Gators still owe Muschamp, their coach from 2011 to '14, about $1.5 million of a $6.3 million buyout.

"You like paying money to people who are currently working for you, right?" Stricklin said. "What's done is done, and what's in the past is in the past."

Stricklin said Florida's search for a new coach would begin immediately and, in a "perfect world," he would have someone in place to have an impact on the Dec. 20-22 early signing period for college football.

Among the candidates who might be considered are Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, UCF's Scott Frost, South Florida's Charlie Strong, Oregon's Willie Taggart, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Memphis' Mike Norvell.

Mullen, 45, worked as Florida's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Urban Meyer from 2005 to '08 and helped the Gators win BCS national championships in 2006 and '08. He coached Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow at Florida and Dallas Cowboys star Dak Prescott at Mississippi State. Mullen has a 67-44 record in eight-plus seasons with the Bulldogs and has guided them to seven straight bowl games.

Stricklin was Mississippi State's athletics director from 2010 to '16 before leaving for Florida.

"When Florida has been really good, from a distance it has looked really fun," Stricklin said. "I want it to be really fun."

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