A few of us here at MaizeNBrew.com have emotional connections to other schools. Some grew up fans, others became one after moving, and a few of us have degrees from schools that aren’t Michigan. I belong to those first and final groups. Growing up in Florida, my family was filled with Gators. I now live in Gainesville, attending graduate school after completing my amazing time in Ann Arbor. Don’t get me wrong, my allegiances lie with the Wolverines, but I’m about as up to date on the Florida program.
On December 2nd, 2014, Brady Hoke and his staff were fired. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was amongst the excommunicated. Less than a month later, the dullest offensive mind in college football joined Jim McElwain’s staff at the University of Florida. My one-year Nussmeier nightmare turned into four as Nuss produced the following statistical outputs in Maize, Blue, and Orange
2014: 115th in yards, 111th in points
2015: 112th in yards, 99th in points
2016: 116th in yards, 107th in points
2017: 110th in yards, 109th in points.
I italicized Nussmeier’s year at Michigan and bolded the years at Florida since that’s where this piece needs to get its focus. Why? Because that’s when Nussmeier was working hand-in-hand with Michigan’s new “Wide Receiver Coach That’s Actually Calling Plays,” Jim McElwain.
Now, full disclosure: I am physically pained by a team I cheer for hiring McElwain again. I felt the same when Nuss was rewarded for physically breaking Devin Gardner and Shane Morris with a new job. There are not enough words on the entire internet to describe what an absolute train wreck his tenure at Florida was. His two SEC East Titles create a shallow perception of accomplishment, but the truth is that the East hasn’t even been as good as the American Athletic Conference.
McElwain’s offense is supposed to be so good that his dog could win games running it. While it’s possible that Nussmeier’s presence is enough of a cancer to drag down this mythical offensive beast, McElwain deserves ire for keeping Doug around and refusing to make changes. In his 3 years as head coach, McElwain averaged an offensive ranking of 112th in yardage and 105th in points. YUCK!
Now, dear reader, you may say to me, “assistants play other roles too and McElwain could add something as far as recruiting and player development!”
Florida’s recruiting under McElwain wasn’t up to par. In his two and a half seasons as head coach, McElwain signed two full classes of his own and the 2015 transition class. He also laid the foundation for the Gators’ 2018 signings - howevah, Dan Mullen certainly made it his own (thank you for stealing Emory Jones from OSU btw).
Mac signed two 5-star recruits at Florida, though both had previously committed to coach Will Muschamp. He had zero 5-star commitments or signings besides Muschamp’s holdovers. Including the transition class, Mac locked up 22 4-star prospects across his three National Signing Days between 2015-2017. In comparison, Michigan totaled 38 4-stars over that span. Tossing out Mac and Harbaugh’s respective transition classes, our Jim out-paced their Jim 35-20 when it came to Blue Chips (4 and 5 stars) in 2016 and 2017.
Going beyond the recruiting, player development in every single possible way went poorly. On the field, freshmen routinely outperformed upper-classmen before becoming sophomores and regressing behind the new crop. Off the field, well the 9 players suspended for credit card fraud (if you dig deep enough, you realize how much worse this story actually is) sort of speak for themselves. The arrests, suspensions, and rumors go beyond but I’d prefer not to turn MNB into TMZ.
McElwain deserves credit for getting the administration to put more money into the football program and facilities, but I want to wrap this warning up with what is his biggest, of many, flaws: his personality.
Mac is fiercely loyal to his players, but a messy falling out with Will Grier and another with Jordan Cronkrite show that the 55-year-old has a petty side. He threw his administration under the bus in a 15-person closed-door and off-the-record meeting with pre-selected press members. He referred to boosters’ questions at a Gator Club meeting as “stupid” and refused to answer. When faced with fan frustration at getting annihilated by Florida State, Alabama, and us, dem Mighty Michigan Wolverines twice each, Mac got defensive and tried to re-frame expectations as winning the division, which he did twice.
Gainesville is like Ann Arbor, a small and concentrated pressure cooker of expectations and fan/booster-involvement. Jim McElwain, a bad fit for Florida, is an even worse one for Michigan. My time in school and covering this team has made me 100% sure of that.
All we can do now is hope for the best. This program has no shortage of questions to answer in 2018. With everyone needing to prove something, perhaps this will galvanize the team to achieving greater things together moving forward.