How he’ll try to replicate it at Florida remains up in the air until he’s able to fully evaluate the offensive personnel the Gators have.
At Alabama, McElwain’s offense pounded the ball on the ground with Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson. At Colorado State, his offense threw the ball around and quarterback Garrett Grayson is currently second in the country in pass efficiency.
Wherever he has been, the Florida coach has been able to mold the offense to his players’ strengths and find a way to win, but it comes from a lot of different directions.
“I’m that dog that (got) dropped off down at the Humane Society, and he has about a little bit of every breed in it,” Jim McElwain said. “Whatever the situation is, you try to bring that breed out that helps success.”
Through his constant evaluation as the Gators head into the offseason, McElwain and his future staff will put together a scheme that they believe can make the offense successful immediately. It’s inevitable that the roster won’t be set up to run his ideal offense in 2015, so they’ll continue to recruit those areas and make the roster more able to run the offense he wants in the future. That’s where his nickname for the offense -- “The Humane Society” -- came from.
McElwain’s evaluation of the returning talent on the Florida offense started before he was officially announced as coach. As soon as he started to feel like the $7.5 million buyout would be overcome and the job would be his, McElwain turned on the film and started to watch what the Gators had on the offensive side of the ball. He didn’t want to comment specifically on what he saw since it wasn’t an extensive look, but he immediately started to formulate plans for what he wanted to run in Gainesville.
“(We will) really accentuate what they do well, adapt to that and then recruit some of the areas that maybe we need to get to as we form who we are in an identity,” McElwain said. “Obviously, we believe in balance. Some games based on what the defense taking away, you need to have the versatility to be to do the other thing. That’s really where it evolves.”
It all starts at the quarterback position, where McElwain has developed a reputation as one of the best position coaches in the country. It’s still too early to know whether Jeff Driskel, Will Grier or Treon Harris will be under center when the Gators open the 2015 season, but even in the limited film he has seen, McElwain believes he can find a quarterback to win with.
“You've got to understand in this offense I believe I can win with my dog Claire-A-Bell,” McElwain said. “That's the attitude.”
But it also involves work ethic from the quarterbacks on the roster. If they want to get to the level of some of the quarterbacks that played under McElwain, they have to be willing to work and listen to the coach.
The track record should make it easy for them to buy in. During his one year at Fresno State, McElwain helped quarterback Tom Brandstater have easily the best season of his four-year career. At Alabama, he inherited John Parker Wilson under center and helped him become more efficient before turning an unheralded recruit in Greg McElroy into one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country.
He prepared first-year starter A.J. McCarron to lead the Crimson Tide to a national title in 2011 before leaving at taking the Colorado State job. In his third season in Fort Collins, McElwain’s offense produced the receiver with the most yards in the country and the second most efficient quarterback in the country.
So what’s the secret for a quarterback to be successful in a McElwain offense?
"Eliminate the clutter, that's the key,” he said. “Eliminate the clutter and understand the important things. First and foremost affecting the people around you in a positive way. Second thing is, be one of those guys that's going to out-study every person there is on what you need to do from a game-plan standpoint, what you need to do from a characteristics standpoint to stand apart. The last thing is to throw it to the color jersey we're wearing."
When he’s looking at the play sheet on the sideline during a game, McElwain has a special column off to the side. He called it the “get it to” column, where he has a few plays specifically called to get the ball in the hands of the best playmakers on the team. He compared it to an end of the game situation for Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan when the Gators draw something up to get the ball in the hands of their best scorer with the game on the line.
That’s refreshing news for Florida fans after watching the offense sputter through the past five seasons.
“It’s about finding out who those people are and determine situations and touches throughout the game for you to be successful,” McElwain said. “You’ve got to do that through multiple formations, multiple shifts. Just be constructive. (The defense can) take guys away if they’re just standing there in one position. That’s where the multiplicity in what you’re trying to accomplish comes to fruition.”
The scheme and formations Florida will use in 2015 are still up for debate, and there’s plenty of time before McElwain and his staff have to figure out what they will be. For now, his Humane Society approach to offense will leave all options open.
While memories of putrid offense in recent years fill the minds of Florida fans, McElwain sees opportunity.
“Oh I’ve seen some pretty good stuff that’s worked here in the past,” he said. “We’ll get that going.
“I don’t know what you call it, but it will be a blast.”