By Corey Long – @CoreyLong
Follow @walterfootball for updates.
Dan Mullen’s first season at the Florida Gators head coach was a stirring success. After several years of uncertainty with the failed tenures of Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain, Mullen looked like he was ready to bring some stability to Gainesville.
On the field, the Gators had a bit of a friendly schedule – six wins against teams .500 or worst – but managed a 10-win season and sent a big message for the future with a blowout win against Michigan in the Peach Bowl to end the season.
Mullen and his staff were able to carry the momentum from a successful season into the recruiting circles, in which he landed a top-10 class, and one that many felt would put the Gators back in contention for the upper tier of the SEC where Alabama and Georgia reside.
However, as of today that class is down two players, both of whom have entered the transfer portal for reasons related to each other and reasons that have temporarily stopped Mullen’s momentum going into the summer.
Quarterback Jalon Jones entered the transfer portal after one semester on campus. It took a few days to figure out why Jones left so suddenly, but eventually it was discovered that he was being investigated for two sexual battery accusations that happened within an hour of each other on April 6. Jones played in Florida’s “Orange and Blue” Spring Game a week later and then filed paperwork to transfer.
Jones’ roommates Chris Steele and Jaydon Hill were both mentioned in the police report as one of the accusers listed both as being present during the incident.
Steele had previously talked to Florida coaches about his concerns with Jones and asked to switched to a different room. That didn’t happen, and when the accusations about Jones were made public, Steele entered the transfer portal soon after . Since then, a ton of varying reports have come down. Some say Steele, a blue-chip prospect from Bellflower, California, was homesick and looking to get out. Mullen traveled to California to visit with Steele and his parents, but it appears unlikely the cornerback will return. As of Sunday evening, several Florida Gator players were being less than subtle in their thoughts on Steele suggesting that the breakup is permanent.
First and foremost, it’s a significant loss for Florida in terms of two top talents coming into the program. The resources and time spent recruiting Steele and Jones can’t be made up. Without Steele and Jones in the class, the Gators’ top-10 class is much more like a fringe top-15 class. But that’s only part of the issue.
Mullen has to take a lot of blame for this one. Jones, who he recruited at Mississippi State and Florida, is a talented prospect, but one who came with his share of issues from high school. Nothing was super serious, but there was enough to where he was a prospect who should have been handled a little more carefully upon enrolling at the school.
Second, if a player has a concern about his roommate out of fear that he’ll get in legal trouble, that needs to be taken extremely seriously. We don’t know if Mullen took steps to quell concerns, but clearly it wasn’t enough for Steele or his parents. That’s a bad look because every coach’s recruiting pitch to a recruit’s parent is that they will take care of their son. In this situation, Steele brought a legitimate concern to his coaches and they didn’t handle it to his satisfaction.
Florida also lost two commitments in the class of 2021 this weekend when defensive line prospect Bryce Langston and cornerback prospect Lamar Wilcoxson backed off of their verbal commitments. It’s unknown if they are related to the Steele situation, but the timing couldn’t have been worse for Mullen.
Mullen is a veteran to the coaching game and has dealt with adversity before. I have no doubts he’ll get through this storm pretty easily, but these sorts of disciplinary issues have to be concerning, especially when they have also affected the coaching staff . Before the summer recruiting period kicks off, Mullen is going to have to re-assure everyone that he’s in charge and he’s not going to stand for players or coaches ruining what he is trying to build.
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