During Will Muschamp's final press conference, he famously declared, "Don't let that new guy tell you he ain't got no good players. Tell you that right now. They got some good football players in that locker room." It was a nice nod to the players he left behind, and he's right that there are some good football players in that locker room. There simply aren't enough of them, though.
On the offensive line, only four non-freshmen scholarship players remained after graduation and NFL Draft declarations. The best of them, Roderick Johnson, retired in the spring due to a congenital spine condition. At quarterback, only three scholarship players remained in Treon Harris, Will Grier, and Skyler Mornhinweg. Harris showed limited promise last year, and he has multiple disciplinary strikes against him. Grier redshirted last year and hasn't played a collegiate snap. Mornhinweg showed he's not a I-A quarterback in 2013 and transferred to Columbia in May. Unbelievably given that it's a defensive position and Muschamp was a defensive guy, linebacker had only six total players returning from last year.
When a new coach comes into a program after a the last guy has been fired, he typically takes his lumps in the first year and lets young guys play in the positions of need. Basically every coach gets a pass in his first year. After all if things were in great shape, the previous coach probably wouldn't have been fired.
Jim McElwain has not taken that normal strategy in his first seven months on the job in Gainesville. Instead, he's been very active on the graduate transfer market in trying to bolster his roster.
At offensive line, he landed two-time FCS All-American Mason Halter. At quarterback, he added Josh Grady from Vanderbilt while also pursuing Notre Dame's Everett Golson (went to FSU) and Virginia's Greyson Lambert (Georgia). Just last Friday, Georgia Tech's Anthony Harrell chose to finish his career at UF. Two other non-graduate transfers have come in as well, with one being Oregon State QB Luke Del Rio. The other was NC State 2015 signee T.J. McCoy, who transferred to be closer to his ailing father.
Adding Harrell probably was a move out of pure necessity, as McElwain only signed one linebacker this year (a two-star guy, for what that's worth) and several of the returning ones have had injury issues. The other additions aren't necessarily of that kind.
Grady is eligible to play right away, but he couldn't really crack the field last year in Nashville despite Vandy's disastrous quarterbacking saga. He makes three scholarship quarterbacks eligible to play this fall, but it's not that different than having two. Urban Meyer won the 2006 national championship with two scholarship quarterbacks after moving his third stringer to tight end. Going with only two is risky, but it's not unheard of and wouldn't be out of line entirely given that it's a new coach's first year.
McElwain signed six true freshman offensive linemen. It wouldn't have been pleasant, but he could have decided to take a year to give some of them along with the redshirt freshman some experience. He sought out and brought in Halter anyway. And Halter didn't come to Florida on his own, as he was set to transfer to Old Dominion before the Gators came calling.
These graduate transfers are, by their very nature, not long term fixes. Bringing in a few guys to play their final seasons in Gainesville this fall will not help the team out in 2017 or beyond. I couldn't tell you if McElwain sees these additions as merely a stopgap to add depth and prevent a disastrous first season or if he sees them as missing pieces to make a run at the division title in his inaugural year.
Like I said, Muschamp wasn't wrong when he said that he gave McElwain a team with some talent. The defense has good players at every position, as even at linebacker the few returning ones are good. The offense has some nice pieces like Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell, and Kelvin Taylor, and for the first time in a while it's stocked with multiple tight ends who are legit threats in the passing game. If Grier turns out to be the first above average quarterback Florida has had since 2009, the team could do some damage.
Maybe having Halter at tackle opposite five-star signee Martez Ivey is the difference between the quarterback having time to throw and not. Maybe Harrell is the guy who prevents the team from having to play 4-2-5 nearly all the time because there aren't enough linebackers not to. Maybe Grady provides something for practice that none of the walk-ons could.
Or maybe Florida is in for a long season with or without those guys. That's entirely possible too, as transitioning schemes on offense yet again and the potential for extreme depth issues with a couple of key injuries could send UF spiraling towards a 2013-like season. Maybe adding those graduate transfers is a desperate hedge against a second missed bowl in three years.
Either way, McElwain is showing a sense of urgency with these moves. These actions aren't the typical kind for a first-year head coach, but then again, he's the only head coach out there personally paying $2 million of his own buyout to his former school. McElwain has and will continue to try to manage expectations with his words, but his actions are those of someone not waiting around for success to come to him.