Jim McElwain has a knack for making football players better. Just ask his former quarterback, Garrett Grayson, who was drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints out of Colorado State.
Since then, though, Grayson has been cut by the Saints and landed on their practice squad, while McElwain has moved on to become head football coach of the Florida Gators, leading them to an SEC divisional title in back-to-back season, his first two with the program.
While McElwain’s career continues on its upward trajectory, Grayson’s has been covering steadily at the Mendoza line, if not falling well below periodically. So, at the advice of his agent, Grayson turned to the man who got him here in the first place: McElwain.
Grayson turned to his former coach last season after getting cut following a dismal preseason with the Saints. Though he found work with the practice squad during the season, he’ll be in Gainsville all offseason working on his craft and trying to rediscover what made him a worthy prospect in the first place.
McElwain was more than willing to help.
“It’s one of those deals that when you get into coaching, you really mean that you’re gonna be there for these guys and help in any way you can, even after they’re done playing for you. This is just an example of that,” McElwain told ESPN in a recent interview. “We’ve got a bunch of guys in the organization that are helping him. It’s all hands on deck. And that’s how we kind of treat people — whatever we can do to help ’em.
“But I told him now, I’m gonna put him on a schedule. So he better not miss anything because then he’s gotta deal with me.”
Grayson is incredibly grateful for the help, and is drawing inspiration from a man whose job he’s chasing: Saints All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees, who was benched during his second and third seasons with the San Diego Chargers before breaking out and becoming the star QB he is today.
“We asked Drew some questions about his career in San Diego,” Grayson explained. “And he said going into that third year, that offseason, he committed himself to working as hard as he could, not taking much time off, just trying to perfect his craft. And, obviously, it’s worked out.
“So I’m kind of taking that story and kind of using it as motivation that it can be done. And, hopefully, it works out for my benefit.”
McElwain thinks they can find whatever issues plague him. even if they have to go back to basics. Together, they’ll figure out “what are the things we need to polish and what are the things that are kind of broken.”
“My message to him was, you know what, ‘This is good. You’re kind of getting back to your roots a little bit,'” McElwain told ESPN “He is really driven. He’s a little bit of a quiet guy, and yet he is truly driven. And I know he has the skill set and talents. It’s a matter of trying to bring those out and figuring out the flaws that we need to get better at.”