Florida football coach Jim McElwain not going after 'participation ribbons'

Florida football coach Jim McElwain not going after 'participation ribbons'

June 9th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Florida quarterback Will Grier (7) loosens up his arm prior to the first half of Florida's Spring Orange-Blue college football game in Gainesville, FL, Saturday, April, 11, 2015. The Orange team won the game 31-6. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Photo by Phil Sandlin

When Ron Zook replaced Steve Spurrier as head football coach of the Florida Gators in 2002, he inherited such passing-game components as quarterback Rex Grossman, tackle Max Starks and receivers Taylor Jacobs, Kelvin Kight and Carlos Perez.

Zook was out three years later, but he left Urban Meyer with the aerial arsenal of quarterback Chris Leak, center Mike Degory and receivers Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell and Chad Jackson.

A dazzling run of Florida quarterbacks had ended when Meyer turned the reins over to Will Muschamp in 2011, and Muschamp has left new coach Jim McElwain with quarterback concerns and a ravaged offensive front. If redshirt senior Trip Thurman, a 10-game starter at guard last year, can't overcome a nagging shoulder injury within the next several weeks, the 2015 Gators will have 12 linemen without any starts at the college level.

Florida coach Jim McElwain, left, gives Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III a encouragement during the second half of Florida's Spring Orange-Blue college football game in Gainesville, Fla. Saturday, April, 11, 2015. The Orange team defeated the Blue team 31-6. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Florida coach Jim McElwain, left, gives Florida's Vernon...

Photo by Phil Sandlin

FALLING FLORIDA

Since winning the BCS title in 2008 and the Sugar Bowl in 2009, the Florida Gators have been mostly mediocre:

Florida has not averaged more than 186 passing yards per game for a season since Tim Tebow's last year ('09):

The Gators have been outscored by Missouri 78-30 the past two seasons.

Florida has lost three of four to Georgia after losing just three of 21 to the Bulldogs from 1990 to 2010.

The Gators have lost eight of their last 11 games against SEC West opposition.

Florida can win an 11th straight game over Tennessee this season, which would match Alabama's 1971-81 ownership of the Volunteers.

Not that McElwain is expecting any sympathy cards amid a Southeastern Conference landscape that contains LSU and Ole Miss as cross-divisional opponents in addition to the annual rivalry with Atlantic Coast Conference power Florida State.

"That's why we go out and do it," McElwain said on a recent conference call. "Obviously I'm not here to get a participation ribbon, and every week our responsibility is to try and get our players in the best possible position to go out and make plays and be successful. We've got some really good players here, but we're thin in some areas, and that's pretty obvious.

"It's the hand we've been dealt, and I look forward to trying to piece this thing together. There probably will be a lot of new names on the roster as we move forward, but at the end of the day these guys all came here to win a championship, and that's what we're looking to do."

The Gators have been stout defensively in recent seasons, and it should be no different this year with the proven likes of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, safety Brian Poole, linebacker Antonio Morrison and defensive end Jonathan Bullard. Yet the offense has the potential to struggle for a fifth straight autumn, with the Gators having ranked 90th in yards per game last season after finishing outside the top 100 the three preceding years.

Standout tackle D.J. Humphries bypassed his final year of eligibility and was a first-round NFL draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals, but guard Tyler Moore also elected to skip his senior season and wasn't drafted. A career-ending spine injury this spring to Roderick Johnson, who could have played guard or tackle this season, meant Florida has had an eye-popping nine linemen since the 2011 signing class who no longer are in the program.

Thus the scarcity of options in April.

"The fact that I actually started to suit up and put a 70s number on should tell you something," McElwain said. "We had a pizza delivery guy and a bartender and one heck of an engineering student that came out and helped us get through spring practice. The guys who were there worked their tails off and grew together, and that's a spot through numbers where there is going to be an opportunity for some guys to come in and get some playing time."

Half of Florida's scholarship linemen this season will be true freshmen, but those include Martez Ivey, the nation's top tackle prospect.

Will Grier eclipsed Treon Harris at quarterback during the latter stages of spring practice for an offense that will be coordinated by Doug Nussmeier. It was Nussmeier who replaced McElwain as Alabama's offensive coordinator following the Crimson Tide's 2011 BCS championship, and McElwain swiped Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins for the same role in Gainesville.

"Obviously any experience within this league and knowing how difficult this league is can be a huge bonus," McElwain said. "Their experience in the league is really important, as was hiring guys who we felt fit the footprint of what we need to do in recruiting. We need to build relationships in some of the areas we need to get back into and make sure that we're covering it.

"I'm fortunate to have really good guys and hard workers who really care about the kids. They don't have separate agendas and are not independent contractors, and they're a lot fun to be around as well, which is a good thing. This job is hard enough as it is."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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