Florida coach Jim McElwain is probably most directly a member of the John L. Smith coaching tree, given his several years under Smith at Louisville and Michigan State. But he's undeniably a member of the Nick Saban coaching tree after his four years at Alabama, and he's got great insight into what Saban does.
So it makes sense that Bleacher Report's feature on Saban's recruiting, penned by Alabama scribe Lars Anderson, relies on McElwain for insight. Here's what he said to Anderson:
"We didn't even want to know about a guy's physical ability until we had gone more than a few layers deep into his life to find all the answers about him and see if he had the character to fit at Alabama," said Jim McElwain, the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator from 2008 to '11 who is now the head coach at Florida. "We wanted to know if he had the drive to succeed and the character to handle all that we were going to demand of him.
"It's hard at Alabama. It's not for everybody. You can't be an ego guy at Alabama. Nick won't tolerate it, no matter how much talent you have. But that's why he goes so many layers deep into a player's life before really getting serious about recruiting him."
"Recruiting with Coach Saban never stops...because it's the lifeblood of the program," McElwain said. "Nick doesn't care if a kid has 100 offers or zero offers; he just wants to know if he can fit in the Alabama program. And if Nick offers a kid, his (recruiting) stars will jump up. But no one at Alabama is concerned about stars or what so-called recruiting experts are saying about players. That's just background noise.
"The evaluation process Coach Saban has is incredibly exhaustive," McElwain continued. "There are position-specific sets of critical factors that we looked for in a high school player. If the player had many of those critical factors, we felt that physically, he'd have a chance to succeed at that position at Alabama. It's as much a scientific approach as is possible to what is ultimately a subjective matter. I don't think anyone in the nation can evaluate talent better than Coach Saban."
A lot of that is just coachspeak, I think: McElwain is singing the praises of Saban that anyone would, and his quotes aren't that different from other ones offered by other Saban coaches throughout the (pretty good) piece. Taken holistically, though, it's a portrait of Saban as a meticulous yet instinctual recruiter — and it's clear that McElwain gleaned a few things from that guy he thinks of highly.
Florida won't go head-to-head from level ground with Alabama for any recruit other than CeCe Jefferson this cycle — and it's debatable whether that's even head-to-head, given that Mississippi is regarded as the front-runner to land the longtime Florida lean in some circles, and the Gators are his hometown and sentimental favorite. (Alabama commitment Adonis Thomas is still very much on Florida's radar, but McElwain's starting behind the eight ball with him: He flipped from Florida to Alabama last year in the midst of the Gators' 7-5 season.)
Down the road, though, McElwain and Saban will assuredly clash over prospects. And Gators fans will have to hope that the student has learned enough from the master — and has enough ingenuity of his own — to win signatures.