Any way you slice it up, Thursday was a loss for Dan Mullen.
Initial reports surfaced that his top-rated 2019 signee, Chris Steele, had entered the transfer portal. We soon found out the reason that Steele was exploring his options after just a few months on Florida’s campus.
The Gainesville Sun reported that Steele entered the transfer portal because he was denied a request by the coaching staff to switch roommates. Steele’s roommate was 4-star quarterback Jalon Jones, who just entered the transfer portal after 2 women accused him of sexually assaulting them in the dorm room that the former teammates shared. Jones has not been charged with a crime.
The request was made before Jones left the school. That, as we found out, did not sit well with Steele and his parents.
Quickly, the internet remembered some now infamous words that Mullen said that was believed by fans to be a dig at Georgia in the wake of Justin Fields transferring to Ohio State.
“I’d think we did a poor job recruiting if guys were coming in and then immediately walking out the door because it was something different than what they thought it would be … ” Mullen said earlier in the offseason.
So naturally, you piece that comment together with that sequence of events, and yeah, Mullen’s words look like they came back to bite him. But while that comment is obviously depreciating like a new car off the lot, I don’t think it’s being applied in the exact right sense. Mullen’s words were about players getting told falsehoods in the recruiting process about what their experience would be like — playing time, immediate stardom, etc. — and then leaving upon learning of their new reality.
This isn’t that. And it is. Let me explain.
Jones is not leaving Florida because of playing time. He’s leaving because he was accused of two serious crimes before he played a college game.
Steele is not leaving Florida because of playing time, either. He’s reportedly leaving — or at least seriously considering it — because he felt he made a simple request to avoid an uncomfortable situation that the coaching staff wouldn’t grant him.
That, in a different way, is a player leaving because “it was something different than they thought it would be.” When he was recruited by Florida, I bet Mullen’s staff told Steele’s parents that they’d take care of him if he agreed to come from California all the way to Florida. I bet Mullen’s staff also told him that they’d put him in the best position to succeed.
You know what’s not putting someone in the best position to succeed? Not letting them seek some new surroundings when their roommate is accused of a serious crime. That’s at the root of why this is such a bad look for Mullen.
This is the type of thing that can hurt a coach big time in the recruiting world. The negative recruiting takes care of itself. This is a big national story in the slowest time of year on the college football calendar. Mullen just watched a top 50 recruit enroll early only to leave campus for a situation that should have been handled internally with a simple meeting.
Yeah, that’s a horrible look in the recruiting world, especially in this era of player empowerment. I can see the negative recruiting now.
“Man, you want to go to Florida? They won’t even let their top recruits change dorm rooms when they’re living with guys accused of sexual assault.”
The margin for error is so slim in that department at a place like Florida. With all the criticism that Mullen took for most of his first full cycle, this is a brutal offseason headline that should have never seen the light of day (it’s brutal even if Steele elects to stay, which is possible with Jones gone). Mullen is swinging with the big boys, and the big boys know how to send a hanging curveball to the upper deck. Needless to say, Mullen just hung a curveball.
The guy who had never had a 4-star recruit from the state of Florida play for him — he signed 1 during his time at Mississippi State, but it was eventual-Minor League Baseball player Cord Sandberg — isn’t exactly bullet proof.
In a weird way, I’d argue it wouldn’t be as bad of a look for Mullen if Steele’s transfer portal decision was because “it was something different than he thought it would be” in relation to playing time. It wouldn’t be a great look, and Mullen would probably take some heat for it, but it would be perceived as, “well, your words can come back to bite you if you’re not careful enough.”
This Steele situation will come back to bite Mullen. The hay is in the barn, and fans have run with their opinions of how Mullen’s staff botched this situation. No released statement or scheduling announcement is going to move this to the bottom of the news cycle (the cynic in me wonders about the timing of that Colorado series announcement, but I digress).
Mullen didn’t just take an “L” on Thursday. It was an ugly “L.”
Unfortunately for him, that seems to be becoming an all-too-familiar trend this offseason.