At the start of spring practice Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators were flying high. Mullen had just led his football team to a 10-win season and a Peach Bowl win over Michigan. The Gators 2021 recruiting class was hauling in commitments and ranked among the best in the country.
Then spring ended but the headlines kept coming.
First Jalon Jones announced his transfer, which was quickly followed by allegations of sexual assault by two individuals. A staff member, Otis Yelverton, was arrested for stalking and had to be placed on administrative leave. Following that there was a slew of decommitments from both the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes. Cornerback Brian Edwards was arrested for battery on his girlfriend of two-plus years. Then freshman cornerback Chris Steele entered his name in the transfer portal and eventually moved on to Oregon.
The Jones incident is the most pressing issue, not for Florida with Jones deciding he would transfer away from the school, but the most serious incident. Jones was accused of, but has not at the time of publication, been charged with two accounts of sexual assault with both incidents allegedly happening within an hour of each other. The incident took place well before the Gators’ spring game and reports about what could have happened came across Mullen’s desk prior to the game, which Jones played in.
Mullen was asked directly on Wednesday night in Tampa why Jones played in Florida’s spring game if Mullen knew what the freshman was being accused of.
“I think reports were coming out to us at that point,” Mullen said when asked directly why Jones played in the Gators’ spring game if they knew what he was being accused of. “Within that situation, as reports get to you, we try to turn them over and follow the university protocol that we have and the campus protocol that we have, which we did. When we got the details of the situation we immediately, with him, suspended him from team activities until we could get all the information that we needed.”
Wednesday Mullen stated that Otis Yelverton was still on administrative leave as his legal process plays out and Edwards is still enrolled at Florida, taking classes, but he is not participating in team activities.
That leaves the Chris Steele situation.
Reports initially surfaced that shortly after arriving at Florida Steele expressed concerns about living with Jalon Jones. Steele expressed those concerns to Mullen and the staff and stated that he wanted to change his living situation. That request was not immediately met and was part of the reason why Steele left Florida.
After the spring semester ended Steele met with Mullen in Gainesville and told him of his intentions to transfer before Steele went home to California. Mullen and his wife Megan flew from Gainesville to California to meet with the family.
“I think with Chris and his situation we discussed with him and his family a lot of things that went into the decision he was going to make, to go to school back out on the west coast. To me, there are a bunch of things that went into that situation. I don’t want to go into all of them because they were really a private situation between us and his family.”
Mullen was asked directly if his intent on going to California was to try and convince Steele to stick it out at Florida.
“No. Megan and I went to California to sit there and help him with what he was going through and support him with what he was going through,” Mullen answered. “I think there was a lot that went into it with him and his family. We wanted them to know we were there to support him. There to support him if he wanted to come back to Florida. We were there to support him in how to move on in the future.”
The Gator brand that Mullen has talked so much about and is working at building took a hit the last few weeks. That hit is in perception —the perception from some in his own fan base and the perception among those around college football. It’s not insurmountable in the least but something that needs to be repaired.
“There’s perception and then there’s reality as well,” Mullen said. “Obviously perceptions always important but there’s a lot of reality behind the positive direction that we’re headed in the program as a whole despite the disappointment of some of the decisions that a couple individuals have made.”
Gator Country write Dan Thompson was on hand for Mullen’s stop at the Tampa Gator Club and provided the quotes used in this report.