Spring practice is over, but Jim McElwain is still busy.
Florida’s head coach is in the middle of a nine-stop speaking tour around the state of Florida. McElwain took about 20 minutes to answer questions from a group of reporters before speaking to the Broward County Gator Club on Wednesday evening.
Here’s what McElwain had to say …
Question: How important is to recruit well in South Florida and does Mark Richt’s presence in Miami make it more difficult?
Answer: “What he’s done and the record he’s put on paper, he’ll do an outstanding job here. I was kind of wishing maybe he would get a job somewhere else. But I know this, he’ll do an outstanding job here and he’ll put a great program together and he’ll put a good product on the map. Yet for us, it’s not only about how good the football players are down here, but obviously getting the right ones. This has been an important area for us. We have 20-plus players on our roster from this neck of the woods and we need to continue to do that. I think having Randy Shannon on our staff and obviously Kerry Dixon, who spent some time at FIU and FAU down here and has some real relationships, I think that’s really important for us.”
Q: How do you continue getting recruits from South Florida away from Florida State and Miami?
A: “First of all, there’s enough to go around. Look, we aren’t the only three schools recruiting down here. Every single school in the country comes down here and for the right reason — there’s great football. Each kid is an individual person and they’re looking for a certain thing that each school is unique. So they’re going to choose the school that fits them. I know this, we’re going to come down and get as many as we can.”
Q: It seems like you had an abnormally large group of early enrollees this year with 12. Is that something you will try to do more in future years?
A: “Well first of all, you’re kind of at the mercy of your roster as to how many you can bring in. In other words, guys that are graduating and guys that maybe choose to leave early. So those numbers will vary for every school from year to year. I was surprised a little bit at how many are choosing to (enroll early) and yet it’s not something we put out there and say you have to be here because I think about how important it is to finish your basketball season or play baseball or run track or going to the prom, whatever it is. Yet some guys are ready and prepared. I know it was really good for a lot of those guys who came early. It helped our program from an influx of energy and instant competition in some cases, which elevated the play of all the people around them. I look at it as if they’re ready, here’s an opportunity to knock down another 15 credits toward a degree, now you’re really in that ballpark to knock it out with the use of summer school in three to 3.5 years. That’s the important piece on that.”
Q: Is there one player in particular that enrolling early helped out the most?
A: “I wouldn’t say one guy. I think a lot of guys really benefited from it at each position. But I would say at the quarterback spot. I don’t think you’ll see it now, but I think you’ll see it as time advances that the extra half year of being involved in the program and the system and learning the nomenclature and understanding what it is to play the position, I think that position in particular probably helps them advance a little.”
Q: What are some things you like about your team coming out of spring?
A: “Well I think the first thing is, I really like where our guys are at as a team. Just the vibe in the locker room, understanding more so the routine and the expectations of what our organization is putting forth. So familiarity has been great. To see how far we came from a year ago in spring to where we were this spring, it’s rather numbing to be honest. Yet, the big part is the understanding of what we expect and how we go about our business and the investment they need to make in themselves to benefit the people around them. That was fun to see. So we’ll see what it translates to, but I know this, at least there were some night I could get some sleep.”
Q: Discuss your defense, which has to replace some stars this year.
A: “I think those guys were real and we’re still real. We’re replacing some, I mean shoot, some high-round draft picks and rightfully so. They were really, really good players. I was most proud of those guys in that they had a choice to make, do we really get involved in this or do I just get ready for the NFL? Those guys invested and those guys really were the reason we were able to make some of the waves that we did. We’re going to miss them and yet you don’t replace them and you don’t just take a guy and say, ‘Go be Jon Bullard or Vernon Hargreaves or Keanu Neal or Antonio Morrison.’ That just doesn’t happen. But the thing that needs to happen is as those guys in those spots start to grow, those other guys around them need to elevate their play. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”
Q: Do you meet with the players who decide to leave early for the NFL Draft?
A: “As you get some of these draft reports back, you’re able to talk about what’s best for you and your family and your career. I’m all for it. As I’ve spoken to clubs, they ask about all these guys leaving early. And I ask, ‘What profession are you?’ The guy said he’s an engineer. OK, so what if Boeing called you when you were a sophomore and said, you know what, don’t finish school right now. Come to us and we’re going to give you $10 million. What are you going to do? So, I think we need to be realistic here.”
Q: Does Luke Del Rio remind you of any quarterback you’ve coached in the past?
A: “It’s interesting because as a coach’s son, the guy is kind of older beyond his years and maybe playing experience because he grew up around it. To put him in a category of a guy, I hate to ever do that. But there are certain traits that you need to be successful at the position and one of those is how you go about your preparation. He’s a guy that really knows how to prepare.”
Q: Are you expecting an improved offensive line this season?
A: “We’ve come light years. It was problematic. You’re playing three true freshmen, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a little problematic. Yet through that experience, these guys have grown. I think the leadership piece has been pretty darn good now. We went through spring without Martez Ivey, who had some surgery done, and he’ll be back, but that helped us gain a little more depth at some spots. So are we there yet? No. Are we still a work in progress? Yes. Yet, we’re so much better than what we were.”
Q: Any change in status for suspended WR Antonio Callaway and QB Treon Harris?
A: “No. Still the same thing.”
Q: Unlimited text messages to recruits, does that change things for you much and are you OK with that kind of rule?
A: “Whether I like it, dislike it, believe in it or don’t believe in any rule, we’re going to adapt and do what you can based on whatever those are. Yet I just hope it doesn’t become a nuisance for those players. But that’s the way it is and everybody is playing by it, so that’s how you’ll do it.”