After Dan Mullen took over, Florida had an unusually small number of transfers in the 2018 offseason.
It’s common to have some number of transfers when there is a major coaching change. Mullen’s arrival certainly qualified as such. The Gators were switching from Jim McElwain’s pro-style offense to Mullen’s spread option on offense and from Randy Shannon’s 4-3 to Todd Grantham’s 3-3-5 on defense.
You expect some number of players to leave because either they don’t fit the new system or they aren’t a good personality fit with the new staff. Florida had one of the former when quarterback Jake Allen left. He wasn’t going to fit well in Mullen’s offense, and for that reason he wasn’t likely to beat out Emory Jones and whoever else Mullen signed in the future.
Beyond Allen, though, there were only two other transfers: defensive back McArthur Burnett and offensive lineman Andrew Mike. Both were lightly-used reserves with no clear path to playing time. They were the kinds of players who are liable to transfer out in any offseason; nothing about the coaching changes precipitated their departures.
Mullen had something compelling to sell with his winning at Mississippi State and past track record in Gainesville, and a team hungry for success after a 4-7 year largely bought what he was selling. As a result, those guys were it.
While only three players transferred out during the 2018 offseason, already eight have done so or announced their intentions this year. Interestingly, not much of it is new staff-related. I’d put the eight players in five buckets.
One is disciplinary in the case of Jalon Jones. What he’s accused of is terrible, and unfortunately that sort of thing can happen at any time.
Two seem to be a case of players not panning out. One is Daquon Green, a wide receiver who was buried on the depth chart. Some of that is from actions of the new staff going out and getting transfers in the form of Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes, but the fact he landed at FCS Murray State indicates that he wasn’t coming through on his 4-star rating in high school.
The other is Malik Langham, who is less clear-cut of a case being a Mullen signee from 2018. There may be some homesickness in play, but he redshirted last year and wasn’t close to the regular rotation coming out of spring practice this year. He hasn’t chosen a landing spot, so we’ll see where he ends up, but some of the veterans ahead of him on the interior of the defensive line haven’t exactly looked like future NFL picks or anything. Guys not fulfilling their star ratings is something that can happen at any time as well, and that’s not really related to the new staff.
Another is Antonneous Clayton, who transferred to Georgia Tech to be closer to his mother. She has developed some kind of medical condition, so he wanted to be there for her. That’s unfortunate, and again, it’s something that can happen at any time.
One I’ll call a bad fit in the case of Chris Steele. Reports have him being homesick for the west coast and unhappy with the way the program treated his concerns about rooming with Jones. I don’t have inside information to fill in the blanks beyond the available reporting, so I’ll leave it at that.
That leaves three who can reasonably be linked to the new staff coming in.
Rising redshirt seniors Kylan Johnson and Rayshad Jackson are in basically the same boat. Grantham’s defense only uses two traditional linebackers at a time despite it nominally being a 3-4 scheme. The base 3-3-5 uses a Buck as an edge rushing outside linebacker, and then when they beef up to a 3-4, they more often than not use two Bucks.
That means only four traditional linebackers will get serious playing time: the two starters and the top two reserves to give the starters a blow. David Reese was always going to be a starter this year. James Houston and Ventrell Miller were playing more than Johnson or Jackson by the end of 2018. That covers three of the four spots. Given that Johnson went from starting in 2017 to sparing use in 2018, it’s not surprising that he put his name in the portal before spring practice even began.
Then during spring practice, Amari Burney moved from reserve defensive back to starting linebacker. That essentially pushed Jackson out of a spot. If Florida was still using three traditional linebackers at a time, there would be a top six of regular contributors with room for both Johnson and Jackson. Now that it’s only a top four, they’re out.
T.J. McCoy leaving is a direct result of John Hevesy taking over as offensive line coach. Hevesy prefers big linemen, but McCoy was undersized for a center at 6-1. Despite McCoy having starting experience, Hevesy was willing to take some lumps with the previously little-used Nick Buchanan instead. Buchanan stands 6-3, and reports from spring 2018 had McCoy third team behind Buchanan and the 6-3 former walk on Nick Villano.
If no one else decides to leave, that means only four players ended up transferring due to new staff attrition: Allen, Johnson, Jackson, and McCoy. That’s a remarkably low number.
There are concerns, to be sure. The Steele situation is probably not one we’ll get the whole story for, but it doesn’t reflect well on Mullen and his organization. Langham leaving so soon is disappointing even if he was taking longer to develop, but there may be some homesickness for the Alabama native at play as well. There are also questions to be had about screening of players from a character standpoint given that both Mullen classes have had a player accused of violence against women with Jones and Justin Watkins.
But only four players transferring due to the fact of a new staff taking over is a remarkably small number. Many programs go through more than that before the new coach even starts spring practice.