Why Florida fans should be excited about Jim McElwain
Reactions are mixed regarding the hiring of Jim McElwain as the next head coach of the Florida Gators, but Florida fans should be excited for the future.
When major programs fire their head coach, fans eagerly anticipate the announcement of hiring a well known name. Fans want a “splash.” Names like Gruden, Kelly, and Harbaugh spread across the message boards. As such, when a program like Florida hires Jim McElwain, it can be perceived as a disappointing hire.
If you recall, Will Muschamp was perceived unanimously as a great hire when AD Jeremy Foley snatched Coach Boom from Texas, so the initial fan reaction to the news is hardly a prediction of future success.
Why is McElwain the right man for Florida?
Let’s start with the obvious: McElwain is a former offensive coordinator with head coaching experience. He has shown quick results at Colorado State starting with a 4-8 record in 2012, 8-6 in 2013 and 10-2 in the current season.
After the Muschamp era, having an offensive leaning coach with head coaching experience was considered essential for Foley’s next hire. These characteristics along with McElwain’s recent success and previous experience in the SEC made him an obvious candidate.
McElwain is also a quarterback coach. He was the Oakland Raiders quarterback coach for a single season in 2006 before most of the staff was let go after the season. With Florida’s mighty struggles at quarterback since Tim Tebow departed, a focus on quarterback development is a must for the next era of Florida football.
McElwain’s offenses have produced regularly across numerous conferences and schools. After his stint in the NFL, McElwain ran the offense for Fresno State in 2007 averaging a healthy 419.5 yards and 32.9 points per game.
Of course, most SEC fans are familiar with McElwain due to his time as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator during the 2009-2011 seasons. McElwain was a big part of the two titles that Alabama secured in 2009 and 2011.
How did the Alabama offenses produce during this run? Alabama ranked 4th, 3rd and 3rd in the SEC for scoring offense during the three seasons.
Alabama quarterbacks Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron can attribute much of their success to McElwain. The simple fact that both guys were drafted speaks to McElwain’s success with his quarterbacks.
When McElwain arrived at CSU, he inherited a scoring offense ranked 101st nationally. This offense stayed put at 101st during his first season, but McElwain has since taken his scoring offense to national ranks of 22nd and 25th in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Maybe more intriguing to Florida fans is the fact that McElwain’s quarterback Garrett Grayson was named Mountain West player of the year. Grayson threw for 3,779 yards and 32 touchdowns (and only six interceptions). He broke single-season records in both categories that he set himself in the previous season. Moreover, Grayson is No. 2 nationally in passing efficiency this season (behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota). Grayson is No. 5 nationally in passing yards and tied for seventh in touchdown passes.
McElwain’s quarterbacks consistently develop and meet or exceed their potential. In addition to the two key characteristics of having offensive and head coaching experience, it’s likely that McElwain’s track record with quarterbacks was the other key selling point for Jeremy Foley.
He doesn’t have the reputation as an expert recruiter, but McElwain is a developer. Development of offensive talent has been non-existent in Gainesville since Urban Meyer. If McElwain can re-capture the reputation that offensive talent can flourish in Gainesville, recruiting will take care of itself.
Many Florida fans look to the misses of huge offensive prospects over the years as one of the keys to Muschamp’s downfall. Recruitniks remember Nelson Algholar who headed out west to Kiffin’s USC or the recent losses to that team in Tallahassee of elite guys like WR Ermon Lane and RB Dalvin Cook. Florida under Muschamp had a reputation of being a place where elite offensive players went to die.
Success on the field and sending guys to the NFL Draft will lead to success in recruiting. McElwain can do that at Florida, and with the fertile recruiting grounds around the state, there’s no reason that the Gators can’t return to elite status on both sides of the ball.
With that said, future success of a new hire is difficult to predict. The variables are many. How can Jim McElwain increase his chances for long-term success in Gainesville?
Continuity on the defensive side of the ball is key for McElwain. Muschamp built a defensive powerhouse at Florida, and the Gators return a number of elite players on defense. Perhaps even more importantly, several key, high-profile defensive recruits (e.g. Byron Cowart and CeCe Jefferson) that are considered Florida leans need to be locked up during this recruiting cycle.
Maintaining much of Muschamp’s defensive staff in Defensive Backs Coach Travaris Robinson, Defensive Coordinator DJ Durkin, and Defensive Line Coach Brad Lawing would go a long way towards maintaining success on defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, McElwain will likely be rebuilding the Florida offense from scratch, and frankly, it’s not likely that any Florida fans would object.
McElwain might consider trying to poach Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland. Perhaps hire him as OC? Stoutland coached the OL for Alabama during 2011-2012 and has ties to South Florida due to his time on the Miami coaching staff.
Stoutland recruited South Florida for Alabama and nabbed a guy for the Tide that you may have heard of this season: Amari Cooper. Experience with Alabama and recently Chip Kelly’s offense plus a knack for recruiting down south? Home run hire if McElwain could get him. Regardless, McElwain has the experience and connections to build a quality offensive staff.
Immediate fan response to the hire is irrelevant. Jeremy Foley isn’t hiring McElwain to appease fan emotion. He’s making a quality hire to stabilize Florida football and lead the program back to championship levels. Jim McElwain can do just that.