McElwain makes ESPN appearances

Southeastern Conference coaches are making their rounds through ESPN programming on Monday and Tuesday this week, and Florida coach Jim McElwain is taking his turn on Tuesday.


McElwain joined the College Football Live crew to answer more questions about the Gators.

Q: “You’ve been run-heavy at times and pass-heavy other times at Colorado State. How do you handle that now that you’re in the SEC?”

A: “We had some really good coaches with a lot of background in ways to move the football. I’m a firm believer in finding out the strength of your team and strength of your players and play to those. As we started going, we found a running game a few years ago then Garrett Grayson threw it better and Rashard (Higgins) was a true freshman. We knew we had something special with those two the next year. Then we had Dee Hart to balance out the game.”

Q: “What’s the strength of your Florida team?”

A: “Well, first and foremost obviously our defense. They’ve done an outstanding job, the numbers speak of that and a lot of the players are back. We lost some good ones, but a lot of guys are coming back. I really like our secondary. It’s really good. We’ve got some good linebackers. The numbers are down a bit, but they’re good. For us, rebuilding the offensive line is something we’re doing. We finished spring with six linemen and now we’re up to 16 offensive linemen. There will be a lot of fresh faces.”

Q: “How quickly can you turn things around with Florida as a recruiting base?”

A: “What we need to do is the best we can in building our footprint to keep those guys instate. That’s something we’re trying to do. Everybody recruits Florida. There ain’t a school in the country that doesn’t recruit it. Plus there’s a lot of schools that have a lot of nice stuff. It isn’t all about stuff. It’s about what that degree can do for you. In our case, it’s about Gators taking care of Gators.”

Q: “Most people think Florida has as good of facilities as anyone in the country but that might not be the case. How are you addressing that?”

A: “One of the things we needed to do is, let’s step in the same direction that everyone else has gone. It’s not the coaches’ offices. I’m fine. I’m still in the one Coach Spurrier was in and I’m good with that. It’s about for the players. Our new dorms, from a security standpoint to the luxuries they can have in those. There’s our academic center, our nutrition center and office of student life. Then our whole practice facility has been gutted and added in the indoor. We’re going in the right direction. At the end of the day, you always have to be growing because somebody else is. It’s about constantly trying to move the needle.”

Q: “With the quarterback battle, how do you evaluate it?”

A: “That position, there’s guys that have great arms or great this and that. At the end of the day, it’s the guy who can move the offense down the field and make the people around him better. What we’re going to look for in August is, those guys have done an outstanding job to try to learn what we’re doing, but now it becomes how those guys rally around you during the game, during a scrimmage or practice. We put them in those situations to see how everybody else elevates around them.”

SPORTSCENTER (1:20 p.m.)

McElwain joined Linda Cohn on SportsCenter during the 1 p.m. hour on Tuesday.

Q: “What’s the difference in expectations at Colorado State and Florida?”

A: “I’ve got to say what a great place Fort Collins was and Colorado State giving us the opportunity to go in there and coach a ball team. There’s only so many of these opportunities in life. The expectations and pressure, that’s what you get growing up in Montana.”

Q: “Can you share some of the passion you’ve heard from the Florida fan base about the program?”

A: “I think it’s exciting. Anytime you have an opportunity in whatever profession it is to go do it at one of the best places there is, that’s really what you want to do.”

Q: “The Florida defense has been great, but how do you find more of a balance by improving the offense?

A: “One of the biggest things is for us to do a great job evaluating what the guys on offense do well. The same thing on defense, not trying to change the wheel there but implement some things for them to be successful. Offensively, it’s for us to put players in the best position they can to go make play and not turn the ball over and give our defense an opportunity to get some blows as well.”

Q: “Who will play quarterback?”

A: “Well, we’ve had a great battle. We’ve got two guys on scholarship now in Treon Harris and Will Grier. They’ve done a really good job embracing what we’re asking them to do. We’re excited to come out in August and see which one of those guys makes the people around them better. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Q: “Nick Saban has brought up college players getting their NFL Draft grades before their season is over. How do you feel about that? It’s something that you’ll have to deal with as Vernon Hargreaves III is currently projected to go No. 6.”

A: “And you know what, I think (Hargreaves is going) higher. He’s that good of a player. Those great ones, they’re going to always go out and try to be the best they can be in everything they do. It’s hard. There’s a fine balance there. It’s interesting that you wish and wonder some of the advice these young guys are getting, where it’s coming from. You wish at times they got better advice.”

Q: “How important is that for you and your staff to give players information on their future?”

A: “Not only myself, but it’s going out and getting experts in the field that can give them an honest opinion. It’s not some guy from home or whatever it is. Let them evaluate it, let them and their family sit down and see if that’s the stretch they want to make.”

Q: “What’d you learn from Nick Saban about coaching and succeeding in the SEC?”

A: “It was a great experience. To have that opportunity, I can’t tell you how lucky I was to be at such a great place like that with history and tradition. Coach Saban, there’s two things he left me with when I got there. He said, ‘look Mac, whatever you do, work hard and be complete in what you do.’ If we all do that in life, we’ve got a chance to be successful.”

Q: “What was your trip to Bristol like with Coach Spurrier on the plane this morning?”

A: “Somebody asked me back in the office if I minded (Spurrier on the UF plane to ESPN). I said, ‘well heck, I drive by his statue that’s him and the Heisman Trophy every single day. The guy won a national championship there. I should be asking him if I could ride on our plane, right?’”

THE HERD (12 p.m.)

McElwain went on Colin Cowherd’s radio show, but Cowherd was off the air on Tuesday. Danny Kanell and Jon Weiner were as in the hosts. Most of the talk centered around McElwain’s friendship with Cowherd, which goes back to their days as students at Eastern Washington. Here are the Florida-related questions.

Q: “Who is going to be your starting quarterback?”

A: “We’ve got two guys right now that had a heck of a spring. What we’ll be excited to see as a staff, we had an opportunity to see what they’re good at this spring and we’re not going to ask them to do something they’re working on. That evaluation now, as we go back and put what we’re going to do in this August. The one thing that shows is a great quarterback are the ones that move the football team. They’re not necessarily the greatest arm. I’m looking for the guy who can figure out the color jersey we’re wearing and throw it to the right colored jersey.”

Q: “Is Vernon Hargreaves III the best cover corner in college football?”

A: “That guy is unbelievable. You know what separates him, those guys that practice the way he plays. He practices hard, he practices to perfect his craft and really takes pride in that. He’s competitive. I love the way he comes to work every day. The guy can lock them down. He obviously helps you on defense because you can eliminate somebody and do other things to possibly give the other team some problems. He’s something special.”

Q: “How much easier did being in the SEC before make your current transition?”

A: “Having that experience is invaluable. Going through those four years, especially some of the games we were in. It’s invaluable. It’s really something you kind of miss being in it. What I mean by that is the day-in, day-out preparation. It’s something you have to know that someone is always working. You better be going. That’s exciting.”

Q: “What are realistic expectations for the Gators this season?”

A: “As a competitor, every day you go out to win. The first game has nothing to do with anything. The first game is just another day in the life. It’s what you do every single day. I always get a kick out of the countdown clocks. It doesn’t really matter. The most important thing is the now. What’d you do today to get better for tomorrow? That’s what we’re trying to get across with our team. It has nothing to do with running out of the tunnel in The Swamp, which is an unbelievable deal. It’s what we did today to get better.”

Q: “Florida hasn’t had a season averaging over 186 yards passing since 2009. Where are all the receivers on the roster?”

A: “I think we’ve got a couple guys that we need to figure out how to get them the ball. We’ve got this thing on our call sheet, a “get it to” sheet. You can’t let them take those guys away. You’ve got to move them around in shifts, motions or whatever it is to allow them to get touches. These guys have to have X amount of touches. Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell are two in particular with explosive playmaking ability. Now it’s up to us to figure out how to get them in mismatches and get them the ball.”

FIRST TAKE (11:20 a.m.)

Jim McElwain started out on First Take Tuesday morning with Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless and Cari Champion. Here’s the Q&A.

Q: “You’re now the head coach at Florida, are you feeling the pressure?

A: “I’m still kind of scratching my head. You go into this business, and there’s only a handful of those jobs. We had a great thing going at Colorado State, a place we felt like we could be forever. We expected to. Then all of a sudden we get this phone call, and to accept that challenge to be at such a great place like that and go test ourselves against the best in the SEC.”

Q: “What can be expected of your offense this year?”

A: “Well, one of the things in our responsibility is to get all these young guys integrated as soon as possible. We’ve got an influx of newcomers coming in and obviously an unsettled quarterback position. Both Treon Harris and Will Grier had good springs grasping what we’re doing. As a coaching staff, it’s looking back and saying, ‘what do these guys do best?’ Don’t ask them to do some of the things we need to work on. Let’s accentuate the positives. As we go in, it’s a challenge but every year is a challenge.”

Q: “What do you look for in a quarterback?”

A: “I’ve been fortunate to be around some really good ones and guys that have gone on to NFL careers. The one thing that really differentiates guys, it’s how they elevate the play of people around them. It’s amazing those guys that have whatever that is. I wish I could say what it is, and we’d all be rich doing it. At the same time, seeing how guys respond to them and how they produce when they’re on the field. That position is so important as to what the other guys do.”

Q: “Who is Jim McElwain on and off the field?”

A: “That’s tough. I’m a guy that grew up in Montana and went to Eastern Washington University. I don’t have a lot of pedigree probably as it goes in this business. A long time ago, a wise man told me to work your tail off and maybe somebody would take a look. We have (paid a lot of dues).”

Q: “When you say “we” is that family?”

A: “It’s family. It’s truly a family business. I think the only place my three kids have ever been in their lives every year is back in Montana when we go visit. It’s tough on them. Obviously, I jump and live in a hotel to get the job going. My wife is the one putting it together at home. For us, it’s a true family deal.”

Q: “How do you judge whether or not guys make the people better around them?”

A: “Here’s the interesting thing. When you’re watching offensive football, the offense either moves down the field or it turns the ball over or punts. It’s amazing the guys who can sustain a drive and hopefully end each drive in a kick. Sometimes the best play you make is throw it out of bounds and punting, something where you understand field position. Those are the things that help you win football games. For that guy, his ability to understand what color jersey to throw it to is one of the most important things we do.”

Q: “How demanding is Saban to work for?”

A: “As he is of himself. You never worried about it because that guy came to work every day and worked his tail off. The couple things when he hired me that really stuck was he said, “Mac, I’ll ask you to work hard and be complete in what you do.’”

Q: “What’s that mean by “be complete” to you?

A: “Be thorough. Don’t leave a stone unturned. Always take advantage of what’s there to learn and get better. We never arrive. As soon as we think we have, someone is outproducing us.”

Q: “Tough year for Florida last year. When you watched film of it, why do you think that happened?”

A: “Coach Muschamp and his staff were really good coaches. For whatever reason, something didn’t work. You can point at little things. Continuity on the offensive side of the ball, they happened to go through quite a few systems. Each system was great and the coaches were really good. They are going to be successful wherever they move off to, but that consistency is something you could see a transition from a certain type of player that one system might look at. Then there’s a new round of recruiting in another, which now creates that there isn’t a lot of continuity within those spots. That might be one of those things. In this business, there’s a lot of good coaches that things didn’t go their way.”

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