While appearing on the Paul Finebaum Show Monday afternoon, Jim McElwain talked about how important experience in the Southeastern Conference is for his coaching staff. Both of his coordinators have been successful in the SEC. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won a national title in the same position at Alabama while defensive coordinator Geoff Collins led the Mississippi State defense throughout the year, including multiple weeks as the No. 1 team in the country.
Now that the focus has shifted to position coaches, McElwain continues to want coaches that know what life in the SEC is like.
“One of the important things in the four years I spent in the SEC, guys who have had experience in that league, it’s hard to explain unless you’re in it,” McElwain said. “That was really important, and we’re going to fill out our staff shortly with guys who have been in the recruiting wars, guys who have prepped against the great coaches in this league and understand what it is when you go into these hostile environments and what it takes to be successful.”
The Nussmeier hire was about familiarity. McElwain has worked with him in the past when both were at Michigan State. When McElwain left his job as the offensive coordinator at Fresno State, Nussmeier took over for him. When McElwain left Alabama to be the head coach at Colorado State, Nussmeier took over the offensive coordinator duties in Tuscaloosa.
The two are now reunited in Gainesville, charged with the responsibility of rejuvenating a Florida offense that desperately needs it.
“He did an outstanding job at Alabama, just took over where we left from and won a national title,” McElwain said. “It’s one of those things from a familiarity standpoint. We both understand the work ethic. Our time spent with Coach Saban is something that’s invaluable. It teaches a lot more about what it is to have a winning program in so many aspects. It’s not just Xs and Os. There’s a ton that goes into it, and that’s something I was able to take with me when I went to Colorado State.
“He’s like-minded, a great guy. He can’t play rock, paper, scissors worth a hill of beans. I put it on him all the time. He understands how to win and is very competitive. Being able to adapt to what we have is going to be a key.”
The Nussmeier hire was important, but with an offensive head coach, it was the defensive coordinator hire that needed to be a home run. McElwain worked with Collins for one year at Alabama and got to know him, but when Collins left for other jobs, McElwain always kept up with his defenses and realized their success. As Collins became a more well known commodity this year because of Mississippi State’s success, McElwain made one phone call to find his defensive coordinator.
“Geoff is a guy I knew from (Alabama) and our paths crossed for a year. I’ve admired what he has done and saw the success he had with the guys he had at Mississippi State. He really was my first phone call. Speaking as an offensive guy, it’s good stuff when you’ve got a good defense.”
McElwain also made it clear that the Florida defensive scheme won’t be changing much. For all of the issues under Will Muschamp, the defense was rarely one of them. The Gators will keep the scheme similar heading into the 2015 season.
“Geoff understands the system,” McElwain said. “It’s going to be very similar to what we’ve done. If it’s in good shape, there’s no reason to go try to fix the thing. Just keep tweaking it and make it a little better. We’ve done a great job on defense. I wanted somebody who had a like mind to what we were doing and what Will and his staff were doing on that side of the ball.”