Florida Football: What does impact of losing Chris Steele mean for future?

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) /

Florida football’s top recruit from its 2019 recruiting class has transferred to Oregon. Chris Steele’s departure has deeply negative future consequences.

Chris Steele will now play college football at the University of Oregon.

"“I now know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have everything I’ve ever wanted. I have learned the secret of being content. In any and every situation, I can do all things through GOD who gives me strength…Ready to get to Eugene and ball!”"

This one hurts, Gator Nation.

As the crown jewel of Dan Mullen’s first full recruiting class, Steele represented progress and hope for the future of the rapidly rebuilding program. Steele, a top-50 recruit and the highest-rated incoming freshman, embodied the new, hopeful aura surrounding the Florida football program and a major benchmark in the development of Dan Mullen the recruiter and coach.

Now, Steele’s rapid departure serves as a potent reminder of how quickly one mistake or circumstance can shift the conversation surrounding a program – even one as intensely positive as the momentum in Gainesville.

Entangled in the sad saga of Chris Steele as a Florida Gator is the equally disappointing outcome of Jalon Jones’ time with the program – an outcome that saw another top recruit from the 2019 class exit campus in an untimely manner.

Though each situation is related, by all accounts, the reasons for their departures are completely different.

Jones – a four-star freshman quarterback – left the Florida football program after being accused of sexual battery. Steele left Gainesville not because of any wrong action he had committed, but because he became part of Jones’ story despite his efforts to distance himself from the trouble.

Steele and Jones were assigned as roommates when they arrived on campus, but it didn’t take long for Steele to realize he wanted to change roommates. It’s been reported that as early as January, Steele asked to be reassigned to a new room because he felt uncomfortable with his situation with Jones. Instead of immediately granting his request, the staff decided to wait until summer to move Steele to a new room.

Unfortunately for Steele and the staff, summer would not be early enough. According to reports about the Jones’ incident which happened in April, Steele and another freshman defensive back, Jaydon Hill, walked in on the incident which precipitated Steele’s desire to get out of dodge.

His departure hurts the Gators immediately.

As an early-enrollee, Steele had already flashed as an immediate contributor bound to receive plenty of playing time in the upcoming season on a unit that lacked depth last season. His teammate Trevon Grimes was beginning to take notice: “I got to give it up to Chris Steele. He comes out here, he competes with me everyday, he calls me out. Just today he had a pretty nice hit on me, he knocked the ball out. He’s going to be great, and props to him.”

Losing Steele obviously hurts, but it’s not totally debilitating. With a healthy Marco Wilson on the horizon and the reliable C.J. Henderson in tow, the Gators already have one of the top cornerback tandems in the country. Beyond the top two spots on the roster is where the depth chart gets hairy, though.

Trey Dean was expected to make the move to nickel after filling in for Wilson last season and could move back to corner for a few snaps when needed. John Huggins, a standout in spring, would then take over at nickel. Highly rated Kaiir Elam will also arrive on campus in the fall and could compete for time, though he may have to learn on the fly similar to what Trey Dean had to endure during the previous season. All to say, the Gators can survive without Steele, but will continue to struggle with depth, especially if the injury bug bites.

Next season may be even more difficult. With both C.J. Henderson and Marco Wilson expected to make the leap to the NFL next year, Elam and Steele were next in line to anchor the secondary for years to come. Florida is instead again behind the eight ball at the corner position with no obvious replacements for Steele.

Depth chart concerns – current and future – pale in comparison to the other possible future consequences, however.

Mullen and his staff sunk hours of valuable recruiting time in California in an effort to re-establish Florida as a national brand. No doubt, nabbing Steele represented the creation of a beachhead on the talented shores of the west coast evidenced by the fact that he was Florida’s first signee from California since 2010.

Unfortunately, the fallout of such a public divorce means that the Gators have most likely lost much of the ground gained during the last recruiting cycle. But the Gator program may not be the only entity to lose credibility in this situation: Dan Mullen’s credibility is bound to take a few lumps because of this situation.

Few details have come to light about Steele’s request to change rooms. After conducting an internal investigation, Florida was unable to confirm who the request was made to, what the content of the request was or that the request even happened. Because of the lack of concrete evidence, some have postulated that the situation surrounding Jones provided the perfect excuse for a homesick Steele to relocate closer to home. It has also been thought that Steele’s parents wanted him to play at a school on the West Coast.

At this point, it’s all speculation. But it is safe to say that the status quo narrative damages Mullen’s reputation.

After a year of beating the “Gator Standard” drum, the coaching staff seemingly played active defense against a player who was proactively trying to live up to the high standard. Considering the multiple other off-the-field issues this spring, the Gators have only proved that they have plenty of room to grow in the area of team discipline.

Next. Florida Football: 5 post-spring bold predictions for 2019 season. dark

Whether or not this recent rash of bad behavior reflects directly on his leadership, Mullen needs to stave the bleeding before he loses the respect of his players or more of his players.