Flashback to October 12, 2015.
The mood was somber, dark, and gloomy, almost like that of a funeral. Florida’s newly emerging star quarterback, Will Grier, was about ready to address a group of reporters regarding the recently surfaced rumors that he had taken performance enhancing drugs- just 40 short hours after guiding the Gators to a 21-3 win over the two time defending SEC East Champ Missouri Tigers. Fans listened in and watched helplessly, knowing that nothing Grier or McElwain could say would make things any better.
Grier took the microphone, and said: “I took something, that, um, had something in it. And I did not check with the medical staff… I’m really sorry. To everybody. I’m just really sorry.” And with those words, Grier had completed his last official act as a Florida Gator.
The script for Grier’s career at Florida reads like a Hollywood script with a bad ending ten minutes into the movie. After five years of ineptitude at the quarterback position, Grier came in, eventually overtook Treon Harris for the starting job- and shined. Cue the 4th and 14 miracle to Antonio Callaway to beat Tennessee, where his career began in earnest. Florida was left for dead in that game, and Grier’s 4th and 14 bullet to Callaway that turned into the game winning touchdown will forever live on as one of the great moments in Gator history. Grier was hailed as a hero for throwing that pass, and the hype only heightened from there.
One week later against 3rd ranked Mississippi, Grier lit up the Rebels on a night unlike any other in recent history, throwing four touchdown passes in a 38-10 blowout that was worse than the score indicated. Following that win, the hype began to boil over in a manner I hadn’t seen since the Tim Tebow days. Grier’s name was placed in the same sentence as those of Tebow, Rex Grossman, Danny Wuerffel and Steve Spurrier. There was Heisman talk. Above all, there was hope- both for the rest of the season and for future years. And while Grier didn’t play great against Missouri the following week, he played well enough for the hype to continue, as made the plays he had to make in a convincing win.
Then came October 12, the day Grier was suspended for one full year by the NCAA for failing a drug test. This wasn’t the Will Grier people were used to. There were apologies, tears and a sense of regret from the energetic kid with a confident smile. We all know what happened next- Florida’s offense went downhill, and the regular season ended with an embarrassing loss to FSU thanks to Treon Harris making every mistake imaginable. And then the story concluded in the last way any of us thought- Florida announced that he would transfer.
Gone were the hopes and dreams for the future of the Florida Gators, along with the guy who’d elicited them in the first place. The four games Grier started for Florida would be the only ones, and a career that looked like it could someday become a great one was over before it really began. And so when looking back at the small sample size of hope he provided, it’s easy to think about what could have been.
Now, the details of the whole mess are still somewhat unclear. How much of his success was due to the drugs he took is impossible to really know, and so it’s hard to wonder how good he would have been if he’d never taken them and thus exactly how bright the future with a PED-less Grier would have been. As we approach the year 2016, though, the topic is getting wrung dry. Debates about whether or not Grier lied, what he took, who’s decision it was for him to transfer and whether or not UF placed restrictions on him continue to rage on and on. But let me ask you this: what we do know is that Grier is gone now, and never coming back. So, who really cares? And if you do, then why?
The most likely answer is something along the lines of, “Grier was a budding star at a position Florida hasn’t had much success with since Tim Tebow left, and now we don’t have him.” And OK, I totally understand that. But this sentiment is better utilized as the answer to an entirely different question.
During the Muschamp years, Florida went through quarterbacks like Tennessee goes through coaches. None were particularly effective, regardless of who the offensive coordinator was or what tweaks to the offense were made. Enter McElwain, who coached Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron to national championships and Garrett Grayson into becoming a third round pick. The first quarterback he worked with (once he finally decided to stick with him) guided Florida to a 6-0 start with everything in front of them. Did Grier play perfectly? No, but McElwain was able to minimize his weaknesses and utilize his strengths, turning him into a legitimate SEC caliber quarterback.
The bottom line is this. The job McElwain did developing Grier correlated with the impressive track record of developing quarterbacks Gator fans were giddy about when he came to Florida. To lose the first quarterback McElwain got to work with, especially when he’d taken steps toward greatness, hurts more than most Gator fans probably want to admit. But losing Grier is far from the end of the world.
OK, yes, it’s going to be frustrating next year to watch Feleipe Franks, Austin Appleby or Luke Del Rio go through the growing pains every new quarterback goes through when Grier could have already gone through them last year and then be lighting teams up this year. I get that. But if McElwain could turn Greg McElroy into a national champion and SEC Championship Game MVP, he can certainly wring some production out of Franks, Appleby or Del Rio. And with playmakers such as Antonio Callaway, DeAndre Goolsby, Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite around them, I’m confident that they can not only be developed into stars down the road, but be able to have success and win games immediately.
So while it may be easy to look back at the short time we had with Will Grier and think about what could have been, it’s best not to. Should’ve/would’ve/could’ve does no good. Instead, it’s important that we use the short time we had with him as our sample size for what Florida football looks like under McElwain with an actual quarterback. And we have to remind ourselves that while Grier certainly fit the label of “a good quarterback,” there are many others like him with similar ceilings and who won’t take PEDs.
The job now falls on Jim McElwain to get them, as he did with Franks, and coach them, as he did with Grier. And if he continues to do both the way we all know he can, Florida football should be set for years to come.