McElwain’s QB success important for Florida

Florida coach Jim McElwain comes to Gainesville with a reputation for developing quarterbacks, and the numbers prove it.

We’ll look at his tenures at Fresno State, Alabama and Colorado State here since those three stops include his time coaching quarterbacks in college football. Jim McElwain took the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach jobs at Fresno State in 2007 but left after the season to take the same positions at Alabama. He stayed with the Crimson Tide from 2008-11 and left after the season to take over as the head coach at Colorado State.

On Thursday, McElwain officially accepted the job as head coach at the University of Florida. The Gators will introduce him at a press conference Saturday at 11 a.m., but before he takes the microphone, let’s check out his impressive career coaching quarterbacks.


When McElwain took over as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Bulldogs, Tom Brandstater was coming off an average sophomore season. He completed 54.5 percent of his passes while throwing 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in the 2006 season before McElwain showed up. His 106.7 passing efficiency and 135.5 yards per game didn’t blow anybody away.

The best year in Brandstater’s Fresno State career came in the one season that McElwain served as his offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. As a junior in 2007 under McElwain’s tutelage, Brandstater’s completion percentage jumped to 62.6 percent -- up 8.1 percent from the previous season -- with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions, eight fewer than the year before despite 69 more passing attempts. Brandstater’s passing efficiency also jumped 33.8 points to 140.5 with McElwain as his coach.

The year after, the quarterback’s numbers fell. His completion percentage and passing efficiency both saw significant drops, and Brandstater threw for just 10 more yards despite throwing 34 more passes than he did under McElwain.


When he arrived in Tuscaloosa, McElwain inherited an offense with John Parker Wilson as the starting quarterback. Under McElwain, Wilson threw the ball 139 fewer times in 2008 than he did the year before McElwain came to town. The fewer passes for Wilson in 2008 increased his efficiency. His pass efficiency jumped from 114.6 to 122.3 in his first season under McElwain, and his completion percentage went from 55.2 percent to 57.9 percent.

Wilson managed the offense to an undefeated regular season before losing to Florida in the SEC Championship game. When he departed, Greg McElroy took over at the quarterback position despite not being a big name in the recruiting process.

In his first season as a starter, McElroy posted a 122.3 passing efficiency while completing 60.9 percent of his passes, both well above anything Wilson did at Alabama. McElroy ended the 2009 season with 2,508 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Somehow in 2010, McElroy got better. He threw for 2,987 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. His pass efficiency jumped to 169, and the senior competed 70.9 percent of his 313 passing attempts.

When McElroy graduated, McElwain made sure A.J. McCarron was ready to take over. McCarron’s 147.3 pass efficiency, 66.8 completion percentage and 2,634 passing yards were the second highest in the four years that McElwain served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and all three numbers came during his first year as the starter. The only person to top them was McElroy in 2010.

McElwain got his first-year starter ready, and McCarron was able to make important plays to carry the offense instead of limiting the unit with his inexperience.


When McElwain arrived in Fort Collins, he took over a program without a clear returning starter at quarterback from the previous season. The offense juggled quarterbacks in his first season, but we’ll look at Garrett Grayson’s numbers since McElwain turned him into a great college quarterback.

Grayson’s first year under McElwain wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. He split time with other quarterbacks while throwing for 946 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He completed 56.5 percent of his passes and had a pass efficiency of 126.5.

Under McElwain’s leadership, Grayson became the full-time starters in 2013 and posted a 138.4 pass efficiency while throwing for 3,696 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He completed 62.1 percent of his passes while throwing the ball 478 times.

This season, Grayson has taken over and become one of the best quarterbacks in the country. His 176.3 pass efficiency ranks second in the nation behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, and his completion percentage is up to 66.8 percent. He’s seventh in the country with 15.12 yards per completion and second in the country with 9.8 yards per attempt. Grayson has thrown for 3,413 yards, 29 touchdowns and five interceptions while throwing the ball 138 fewer times than he did in 2013. He’s throwing the ball less but at a more efficient clip.

It doesn’t matter who has played quarterback for McElwain in the last eight seasons, they’re usually productive. The only time the quarterback position has struggled in his offense was 2012 in his first season at the helm for Colorado State. He has helped talented first-year starters like McCarron and McElroy have big seasons and shown he can develop quarterbacks like Grayson and Brandstater.

The challenge now turns to Florida.

The Gators have pieces at the quarterback position but haven’t put them together yet to help the offense. Jeff Driskel could elect to return for his fifth year and try to win the starting job back, but if he doesn’t, McElwain will have two high school All-American quarterbacks -- Will Grier and Treon Harris -- at his disposal this spring.

The turnaround might look lengthy from the outside, but McElwain’s track record could help speed things up on the offensive side of the ball.

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