Former Florida Gators quarterback Will Grier’s performance in the West Virginia spring game reminded me of a book I know called Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me).
In it, the authors detail a conversation between a couple with marital issues. The 2 went out with another couple and the night ended in a fight. Both recounted what happened to their therapist. The quotes from that night were identical. But each interpreted the tone and intent of those words differently. Hence the fight.
I thought of it Saturday when my Twitter timeline blew up with discussion of Grier’s performance. A quarterback at Florida in 2015, Gators coach Jim McElwain’s first season, Grier earned a 1-year suspension halfway through for failing a performance-enhancing drug test. After some drama, Grier transferred to West Virginia.
Grier and his father met with McElwain to discuss the future, according to a 2016 Bleacher Report story. The discussion did not go well.
“I said, the exact quote, ‘I just want to know what your plans are for the future. Are you going to bring in more guys? Am I a guy you don’t see playing here in the future,’” Grier said, according to the story.
“He (McElwain) said, ‘You’re welcome here in the future, you’re a Gator, but I’m not telling you my plans. I’m not giving you any guarantees.’”
Florida QB drama: Both sides
I think Grier was honest. From his perspective, he accidentally took a banned substance. He incurred a 1-year NCAA suspension. Had it been a university test and not an NCAA test, the punishment would have been lighter.
Then McElwain showed up 2 hours late for the meeting. That would’ve made me feel like the coach didn’t care about me.
But I also understand why McElwain could hear those words from Grier and his father and feel like they were pressing for a guarantee. Think about his perspective. In the B/R report, Grier said the meeting took place in November. McElwain was coaching up Treon Harris at quarterback, and it wasn’t going well. Florida struggled to beat Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic and got stomped by Florida State that month.
Just like the couple from the book, Grier and McElwain each heard the conversation through his own prism. Remember, these two didn’t have a relationship built through recruiting. Grier committed to the Gators early and stuck with that commitment. He wasn’t ever going to go to Colorado State, so it’s unclear whether he ever met McElwain before the two united at Florida.
They had to build a relationship once McElwain came to Gainesville. McElwain spent all spring evaluating Grier and Harris. Grier took control of the job, then took an over-the-counter supplement without checking with the training staff.
McElwain comes from Nick Saban’s coaching tree. He must repeatedly tell players to check everything with the trainers. The positive test had to frustrate McElwain.
Evaluating Florida QB Will Grier
Lost in all the he-said, he-said nonsense, it’s still unclear whether McElwain thought Grier was good at playing quarterback. McElwain never listed Grier as the starter on the depth chart in 2015, even after his performance against Ole Miss (24 of 29, 271 yards, 4 TDs). There was discussion that Luke Del Rio could have challenged Grier for the starting job.
Indeed, if you look at their statistics through the first 100 pass attempts of their Gators careers, the numbers are virtually identical. Del Rio suffered a knee injury against North Texas and never looked the same. Grier didn’t play well on either side of that spectacular Ole Miss game.
People remember his fourth quarter against Tennessee — particularly the fourth-down conversion to Antonio Callaway. That was an awesome moment. But Grier struggled for much of that game, and struggled against Missouri just before the suspension.
None of this means Grier will flop at West Virginia. He looked great in the spring game (12 of 18 for 202 yards). But the West Virginia passing defense ranked 104th last season. And remember that Del Rio (10 of 11, 176 passing yards, 2 TDs) looked like a savior in the 2016 Orange & Blue Debut. Those games are designed to build confidence, not reflect reality.
Even if Grier turns in a Heisman-level season for West Virginia, I can’t fault McElwain for letting him walk. The coach/quarterback relationship has to be built on trust. He couldn’t trust Grier. Based on the events and Grier’s own description of the events, I can understand why.
Feleipe Franks vs. Will Grier
Lost in the juicy details of that meeting with the Griers: McElwain was late because he was recruiting QB Feleipe Franks. At the time, Franks was committed to LSU. It’s hard to believe Franks would’ve come to Florida had Grier returned midway through the 2016 season as a redshirt sophomore.
McElwain wasn’t being forced to choose between Del Rio and Grier. He chose between Grier and Franks, knowing that if Grier failed (or failed another test) he’d be left with Del Rio and Kyle Trask.
McElwain also faced the prospect of a divided locker room if Grier returned. Some players must have been bitter at Grier for his suspension. They got embarrassed by a near-loss to FAU and by the drubbing against FSU in the Swamp. They were the ones who had been told accountability mattered. They were the ones who asked trainers about the supplements they were taking.
Defense has been the main reason for McElwain’s success at Florida. Because Will Muschamp recruited most of those players, McElwain has received less credit for the back-to-back SEC East titles than he deserves, particularly from hardcore Gators fans.
The 2017 season always was going to be McElwain’s chance to showcase his offense. This is the season where the Florida faithful will hold him accountable for that unit, good or bad. In the heat of the moment, he had to decide on Grier or Franks as his quarterback.
I understand his decision.