New UF offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier reunites with Jim McElwain to revive Gators' offense

The Gators' offense ranked no better than No. 96 nationally during four seasons under Will Muschamp

GAINESVILLE — Even in a profession full of intersecting paths and philosophies, the union of new UF head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is unique.

Long before McElwain and Nussmeier joined forces for the first time at Michigan State, they were on opposing sides of a heated rivalry.

McElwain coached quarterbacks and wide receivers at Eastern Washington, while Nussmeier was a star quarterback at Idaho.

"I won't talk about the records because he might get upset," joked Nussmeier, whose Vandals were 3-1 during his four seasons (1990-93).

Nussmeier's coach at Idaho, John L. Smith, would unite his former record-setting quarterback and McElwain from 2003-05 in East Lansing, Mich.

In 2006, both assistants left to coach quarterbacks in the NFL, McElwain to the Raiders and Nussmeier to the Rams. McElwain returned to college a season later, and would remain one step ahead of Nussmeier, who succeeded him as offensive coordinator at Fresno State (2008) and Alabama (2012-13).

Together with McElwain at UF, Nussmeier finds it funny nearly 25 years have passed since the one-time competitors from the Pacific Northwest first met.

"You talk about over time, to think that," the 44-year-old said Friday.

But McElwain and Nussmeier have had little time to reflect with so much ahead for both of them.

Time is of the essence with national signing day on Feb. 4, spring practice in March and the season opener on Sept. 5. McElwain said it is essential to have someone who thinks like he does about offensive philosophy and player development.

"Nuss and I can sit and talk the same language and it's not going to take a five-hour conversation," McElwain said this week. "It's going to take a two- or three-minute, 'Oh. Yeah. You know what I'm getting at?' And boom. There you go."

The Gators are still looking for the boom on the offensive side of the ball, with the team ranking inside the top 100 nationally under former coach Will Muschamp for the first time in 2014, checking in at No. 96.

Nussmeier said he and McElwain are focused on recruiting, not Xs or Os until they have time to evaluate the roster.

"We're going to do what our personnel allows us to do and fit our system to what our people can do," Nussmeier said. "We're not going to get stuck in a box."

Two like-minded offensive coaches already can agree on the importance of finding the right quarterback. Each, after all, played quarterback in college — McElwain at Eastern Washington in the early 1980s — and coached the position in college and the NFL.

"It's hard to find teams that don't have a good quarterback that are successful," Nussmeier said.

Muschamp used several during his four seasons at Gainesville, though UF entered the past three with Jeff Driskel as the starter. First-year freshman Treon Harris overtook the turnover-prone Driskel in October.

Driskel has since transferred to Louisiana Tech, while Harris' main competition will likely come from redshirt freshman Will Grier.

"I think it will be a great competition," Nussmeier said. "I don't think there's any reason to say it will just be two."

Skyler Mornhinweg is the only UF quarterback other than Harris to have thrown a college pass. Nussmeier wants to sign another signal caller to the mix next month.

"Ideally you'd like to have a quarterback in every class," he said.

Nussmeier has a check list in mind as he looks to add a quarterback to the 2015 class.

"Decision making, eyes and feet — can you get your eyes and your feet in the right place at the right time?" he said. "And can you anticipate and get the ball off?"

But Nussmeier, UF's fifth offensive coordinator in six seasons, is not going to predict how the Gators' offense will take shape in the coming months.

Whatever form it takes, the goal will be simple.

"To score points," he said. "Honestly, I wish I could go further into that one, but we're not at that point yet."

egthompson@orlandosentinel.com

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