Florida's Jim McElwain praises Jim Harbaugh for 'pressing envelopes'

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Not every Southeastern Conference coach is condemning Michigan and Jim Harbaugh for spending spring break in the Sunshine State.

Florida's Jim McElwain, who probably had as much to lose as anyone, as the Wolverines practiced just a few hours south of Gainesville and squarely in the Gators' recruiting footprint, actually praised Harbaugh for "pressing the envelopes."

"I kind of look it as more power to him," McElwain said Tuesday, the day before the Gators opened spring practice. "It's totally legal. He's not doing anything that's illegal. He's pressing the envelopes. He's putting their name in the paper every day. And, you know, that's cool. I mean, I'd come to Florida, too.

"There are great players here, right? There's a reason every school in the country comes here and recruits. So I think for them it's trying to gain an edge and give them an opportunity to practice in great weather. I don't plan on taking ours to Michigan. I'm all for what he's doing."

Michigan spent spring break at IMG Academy, a one-of-a-kind trip that might never be allowed again in college football. Harbaugh's traveling road show drew the ire of the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the NCAA president sounded less than thrilled with the trip.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and ACC commissioner John Swofford said that kind of trip should be banned because it falls during spring break, when players usually are off. NCAA President Mark Emmert questioned whether the trip was in the spirit of the current movement toward giving players more time off and said the question over whether Harbaugh and other coaches can make trips like this in the future is a matter before the NCAA's football oversight committee.

Michigan paid IMG Academy to use its facilities for the week and used its 5,000-seat stadium for the final practice.

Nearly every SEC coach has weighed in on the topic. Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Tennessee's Butch Jones joked about attending Michigan's open practice. Georgia's Kirby Smart said Harbaugh is "obviously trying to gain a competitive advantage," and Mississippi's Hugh Freeze questioned the move by saying he's "not sure how a college coach can be on a high school campus during a quiet [recruiting] period."

Alabama's Nick Saban has been among the most vocal.

"If we're all going to travel all over the country to have satellite camps, you know, how ridiculous is that?" Saban said. "We're not allowed to go to all-star games, but now we're going to have satellite camps all over the country. It doesn't really make sense."

McElwain, who was admittedly embarrassed by his team's 41-7 loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl in January, stayed out of the fray.

He said he held out-of-town practices while coaching at Eastern Washington and at Montana State. But he has no plans for the Gators to work outside of Gainesville.

"I know the administration would hate to see the budget cost," McElwain said. "So I'm not asking for it."

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