Jim McElwain knows that you only get one chance to do it right. At this level and in this football conference, you don’t get do-overs and you can’t afford a bad hire when putting together your first staff.
“I’m very patient in what we’re doing because I believe you’ve got to get this right from the start,” McElwain said at his first 2015 press conference as Florida’s new football coach Wednesday. “And that’s not only with the coaching, that’s with everything that is involved with touching the desk of the head football coach.”
Patience has shown in McElwain’s month on the job since he was hired. There have been no panic hires. This isn’t like 2002 when Ron Zook had less than a month to assemble a staff before National Signing Day and landed Ed Zaunbrecher as his offensive coordinator and loony John Thompson as his defensive coordinator. Zaunbrecher had name recognition from calling plays at Marshall for Byron Leftwich, but the better fit was Larry Fedora, who was the wide receivers coach for two years before taking over the offense completely in 2004. Thompson lasted one year.
Nor is this like 2011 when Will Muschamp pulled off a shocker by naming Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator. Charlie certainly had name recognition but his personality and Muschamp’s were doomed to clash from the beginning. They were the SEC’s odd couple of 2011. Charlie was gone to Kansas before the Gators played in the Gator Bowl that year.
For his offensive coordinator, McElwain chose Doug Nussmeier, whose reputation as a developer of quarterback talent is close to impeccable. They worked together under John L. Smith at Michigan State and Nussmeier followed McElwain twice – to Fresno State in 2008 and to Alabama in 2012. They share very similar offensive philosophies so there will be no learning curve.
Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins was on the football support staff as director of player personnel at Alabama in 2007 and comes highly recommended by both Nick Saban and UCF head coach George O’Leary, where Collins worked in 2008-09 as linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator. He’s a Georgia native so he’s got strong connections into the fertile Atlanta metro area, which is bursting at the seams with high level prospects.
The additions of former Miami head coach Randy Shannon and UCF secondary coach Kirk Callahan give the Gators two outstanding on the field coaches who are considered lights out recruiters who can open doors in the state’s two biggest metro areas. Shannon, who coached 17 first round draft picks as a position coach and defensive coordinator at Miami before he became head coach, can get the Gators into South Florida doors they’ve been unable to open in years. Callahan, who worked as a grad assistant for Urban Meyer in 2010 and for Muschamp in 2011, did a fine job coaching the secondary for a couple of top ten defenses at UCF, is the son of Florida prep coaching legend Sean Callahan, whose program at Seffner Armwood continues to churn out championships and stud prospects.
With one exception of a wide receiver coach, McElwain’s first staff is complete and features only Mike Summers (offensive line) as the only holdover. Although he says there is no timetable for a wide receivers coach speculation continues to swirl around Mike Groh although there are hints and whispers that the new coach could be Zach Smith (Ohio State wide receivers coach), Derek Dooley (former Tennessee head coach and wide receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys) and Stan Hixon, a Lakeland native who was Saban’s wide receivers coach at LSU from 2000-03 and currently coaches the receivers for the Houston Texans. While all these guys are intriguing, Smith would be a true lights out hire. He’s one of the best recruiters in the Big Ten and is a 2007 Florida graduate. He worked as a graduate assistant at Florida in 2008-09, and worked for Doc Holliday at Marshall and Steve Addazio at Temple prior to taking the job at Ohio State.
A lot of thought went into this coaching staff. There is a nice combination of familiarity, NFL experience and strength on the recruiting trail. It’s a staff that McElwain is very comfortable with and as we are starting to learn, he’s at his best in his comfort zone. This is a very confident coach with a plan for long term success and the understanding that there aren’t any second chances to get it right at this level.
On Monday the Twitterverse was jumping with reports that Jameis Winston would be returning to Florida State for his junior year. On Tuesday, Winston’s dad said there would be no decision made about whether his son was staying or going on to the NFL until after Monday’s national championship game between Oregon and Ohio State. On Wednesday, Winston declared for the NFL.
Okay, so it isn’t next week. Timing and Jameis have been off all year anyhow. He’s gotten into trouble at Publix for shoplifting crab legs. He’s been suspended for a game for jumping on a table in public and shouting vulgar, degrading comments about women, and he’s thrown what seems to be a half-bazillion interceptions. So, forgive him if next week came a few days early.
The choice to go to the NFL should have been a no-brainer and there shouldn’t have been any suspense about it. Jimbo Fisher should have been shoving Winston out the door and FSU should have been telling their problem child that as great a football player as he’s capable of being, his sell by date has expired in Tallahassee and it’s time he was taken off the shelf.
Of course, they didn’t do that, but Winston took the initiative and declared. From a talent perspective, he’s capable of making throws that few quarterbacks in the NFL can make so someone is going to make him a top five draft pick, if not the number one overall. But whoever gets him is going to get a ticking time bomb unless it’s stipulated in the contract that Winston goes nowhere without babysitters who can keep him out of trouble. Whoever Winston selects as an agent needs to get him out of the Tallahassee/FSU environment immediately, surround him with grown men who have outgrown the concept that when a drugged or drunk woman moans that she’s not giving consent, and keep him focused on throwing footballs and reading defenses. He’s an elite talent when it comes to throwing a football. When it comes to making elite decisions when he’s not on the football field, he’s absolutely clueless so someone needs to step in and take the guesswork out of the what do I do with my spare time equation.
As a side note, the woman who claims Winston raped her, filed a civil suit against FSU on Wednesday, claiming her Title IX rights have been violated. The lawsuit alleges that FSU fostered “a hostile educational environment” and didn’t properly investigate the rape allegations, which is required by federal law.
The woman’s attorneys are John Clune, who represented the woman who alleged Kobe Bryant raped her and has handled campus rape cases at Wake Forest, Stanford, Harvard and Colorado, and Baine Kerr, who represented the woman who claimed she was gang-raped at a party at the University of Colorado. She settled for $2.5 million and the UC president, chancellor and athletic director were forced to resign.
Maybe that’s what we should call the University of Alabama football program. Wednesday, Jonathan Taylor, who was dismissed at Georgia six months ago after he was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend, enrolled at Alabama and is listed as one of eight signees who have started classes and will participate in spring practice. Also back on the team is D.J. Pettway, who spent last season at a juco. Just 10 months ago he was dismissed from Alabama when he and three other Bama football players were arrested and charged with robbery in Tuscaloosa.
As reported by Fox Sports, back in December Saban was asked about Pettway and his response was, “Where do you want them to be? Guy makes a mistake where do you want them to be? Want them to be in the street? Or do you want them to be here, graduating?”
And helping win football games, although WE KNOW that would never cross St. Nick’s mind. And here you thought there would never be another Father Flanagan for college football when Bobby Bowden retired.
One more note for Alabama: Other January enrollees include five-star prospects Blake Barnett (QB), Bo Scarbrough (RB), Deionte Thompson (DB), Ronnie Harrison (DB), Brandon Kennedy (OL) and Dallas Warmack (OL).
Brian Schottenheimer, who soaked up whatever Steve Spurrier had to teach about offense while serving as Danny Wuerffel’s quarterback caddy in the 1990s, has joined Mark Richt’s staff at Georgia where he will serve as the offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer, the son of long time NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer, spent last season as the offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. Prior to Georgia, Schottenheimer worked in the NFL with the Jets, Chargers and Redskins and prior to that worked on the college staffs at Syracuse and Southern Cal.
Georgia returns six offensive starters including Nick Chubb, who ran for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns even though he only started eight games. Georgia loses starting quarterback Hutson Mason. A spring battle at quarterback is expected between third-year sophomore Brice Ramsey and redshirt freshman Jacob Park.
Oregon’s spring semester began Monday so the Ducks will be required to adhere to the NCAA’s 20-hour rule this week as they prepare to play Ohio State in Monday’s national championship game in Dallas. Practices, conditioning, film sessions and team meetings count toward the 20-hour limit as does the game, which counts as three hours no matter if it goes into a dozen or so overtimes.
Ohio State’s spring semester doesn’t start until Monday so the Buckeyes don’t have to deal with the 20-hour rule. That means Ohio State can practice, hold meetings, watch film and lift weights to its heart’s content.
Slave driver that he is, Urban Meyer gave the Buckeyes an off-day on Wednesday.
You would think that with however many hundred uniform combinations Oregon can come up with thanks to benefactor Phil Knight, chairman of Nike, that the Ducks would come up with something dazzling for the national championship game. They’ve gone with all sorts of combinations and hues of green and yellow and they’ve worn a lot of black base with green and yellow highlights as well as black and pink. They’ll go all-gray with duck wings on the shoulder pads for the national championship game.
Two-part question: (1) What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the staff that Jim McElwain has assembled and (2) which coaching hire surprised you the most?
The first time I heard “Doctor My Eyes” I was negotiating rush hour traffic in Savannah, on my way back to my office at the Morning News. The song stuck in my head and led me to make a trip to the mall to buy Jackson Browne’s first album. There were only three songs that I really liked on the album (the other two were “Jamaica Say You Will” and “Rock on the Water”) but it was enough to make me a Jackson Browne fan. I was caught by surprise when he released the album “Standing in the Breach” last year, his first album in six years and only the third since 1996. I really like the first cut on the album “The Birds of St. Marks,” which is today’s song.