GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio has been exposed to a variety of leadership styles.
Between his father’s NFL coaching career — six stops in 20 years — and his own collegiate path that includes three schools and four head coaches, Del Rio has seen a little bit of everything. Some good, some bad and enough to know what he wants, maybe even what he needs, to help him succeed.
“I don’t want somebody to pat me on the back,” said Del Rio, whose father, Jack, coaches the Oakland Raiders .
Good thing, too, since he’s playing for Florida coach Jim McElwain, who is often more critical than complimentary of his quarterbacks.
“He gets after me pretty good,” Del Rio said. “You can ask guys during practice; he’ll get after me. I expect it, though. I came here to play for him. I knew what kind of coach he was and is. I never really want to play for a coach that’s like ‘Ah, it’s OK, get the next one,’ you know?
“You understand that as a player, but you want to be held to the standard the coaches set.”
The 23rd-ranked Gators (2-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference), who host North Texas (1-1) on Saturday, fell well short of McElwain’s expectations last season. The offense ranked 112th in the country, and QB play was a big reason for the struggles.
Will Grier and Treon Harris threw for nearly 2,900 yards, with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2015. Grier showed glimpses of talent, but once he was suspended for violating the NCAA’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and Harris took over down the stretch, Florida’s offensive efficiency dipped dramatically.
Even when Grier and Harris played well, McElwain sounded less than impressed.
He’s taken the same approach with Del Rio, who has completed 63 percent of his passes for 576 yards, with six touchdowns and an interception.
“I try to coach them all hard because I want them to, you know, I want them to be successful,” McElwain said. “And especially at that position, but really all of them, you know. I don’t think I’ve done anything different from what I’ve ever done.”
So maybe Del Rio ought to get used to it. After all, if he’s going to be criticized after throwing for 320 yards and four touchdowns in the team’s SEC opener against Kentucky, then it’s probably going to happen weekly.
Del Rio finished with Florida’s most passing yards in an SEC game since Chris Leak threw for 322 against Arkansas in 2004.
But it was the throws Del Rio missed that stood out to McElwain. He pointed to two in particular: Del Rio overthrew Antonio Callaway on a skinny post in the second quarter during a drive that ended with a missed field goal; and Del Rio was well short and wide of Freddie Swain on a corner route late in the third quarter. Del Rio bounced back from the second one, tossing his final TD pass three plays later.
Two days after the 45-7 victory against the Wildcats, McElwain was “still bothered” by the pass to Swain and said the one to Callaway was “just ridiculous that he missed that throw.”
“That bothers me,” McElwain said. “But he’ll see that and hopefully learn from it. … He just did what he was supposed to do. He did his job. And yet, if he does his job better, which he can, he’ll hit those throws. And really, it irritates me.”
Del Rio welcomes the critiques, win or lose, big game or lackluster performance.
“They’re going to tell you the way it is,” Del Rio said. “They expect you to make every play. Like I said, I expect to make play. I definitely left some plays out there. I agree with him. Mechanically, especially, I think I can be more sound. So I appreciate it.”
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