Doug Nussmeier is a fiery coach who once fought an opposing team’s mascot as an All-American quarterback in the early 1990s.
Florida’s offensive coordinator played five seasons in the NFL, won a national title calling plays for Alabama in 2012 and is a well-respected quarterbacks coach.
But like a lot former gunslingers, Nussemeier still objects to taking hits, so the 45-year-old assistant balked at the idea his reputation was damaged during a dismal season at Michigan just a year ago.
“I don’t know I got knocked down,” said Nussmeier, who oversaw the nation’s 115th-ranked attack and the third-worst offense in the Wolverines’ storied history. “Shoot, I had a great time at Michigan. The season didn’t go the way we wanted to, but that’s football.”
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Nussmeier will coach against his former employer in Friday’s Citrus Bowl, as the former Idaho Vandals quarterback became Florida’s fifth offensive coordinator in six seasons late last December.
Florida first-year coach Jim McElwain quickly scooped up Nussmeier after Michigan fired coach Brady Hoke following a 5-7 season. McElwain and Nussmeier share a long-standing relationship dating back to their days in the Big Sky Conference, so McElwain wasn’t deterred by the coordinator’s struggles in his lone season in Ann Arbor.
“Look at what he has done,” McElwain said. “He followed up what I did at Alabama and took it to the next level. He was in a tough situation [at Michigan] and tried to resurrect it. What I really like about him is he took the challenge.”
Nussmeier faced another daunting task at Florida this season, but the results have largely been the same.
After the Gators ranked in the bottom 20 nationally three times under Will Muschamp, Nussmeier has engineered the nation’s 109th total offense in 2015.
Quarterback Will Grier’s suspension hinderd any sort of early season progress, as backup quarterback Treon Harris struggled in a pro-style scheme while an inexperienced offensive line took its lumps. Since a Halloween victory over Georgia, Florida topped 300 yards just once.
“We’re very young,” said Nussmeier, who signed a three-year deal with UF worth $1.55 million but still earns over $70,000 a month from his previous contract with Michigan. “The thing that we found over the last half of the season is we’ve got a lot of growth. We need to grow. … Every day is new. The biggest thing is we’ve got to improve every day and [there’s] days we have and days we haven’t.”
McElwain has continuously praised Nussmeier’s work this season, especially considering the unit’s well-documented deficiencies.
“He’s done an outstanding job,” McElwain said. “Obviously, everybody knows kind of where we were at going into it. We’ve done some really good things. There’s things we’re going to get a lot better at. And yet, those parts are coming.”
As for Friday’s matchup against Michigan, Nussmeier isn’t feeling any added motivation facing his former employer.
He spoke of his fond memories for the players and the program and said he still talks regularly with defensive line coach Greg Mattison, the Wolverines’ bowl game defensive coordinator and an assistant at UF for three seasons under Urban Meyer.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Greg,” Nussmeier said. “He’s an outstanding football coach. Obviously, he’ll have a little familiarity with me and I will with him.”
While Nussmeier is tasked with devising a game plan to score on Michigan’s salty defense (ranked No. 4 nationally), Mattison is openly excited about the opportunity to match wits with a former colleague and close friend.
“Doug Nussmeier is a really good offensive coordinator. You never know what he’s going to run,” he said. “Coach Nussmeier is a definitely a close friend. I have tremendous respect for him. He’s a great person, and he’s a great coach. And I’ve always thought the world of him. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been successful. He’s done a great job this year.”