GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- New Florida coach Dan Mullen has one priority that exceeds all others: Fix the offense. To fix the offense, he needs a quarterback. To get a quarterback, he supercharged all his recruiting efforts during a crunched window between his arrival and the early signing date and went out to find the best possible fit.
Florida already had a commitment from four-star Matt Corral, but that did not stop Mullen from reaching out to other high-profile quarterback recruits. He gauged the interest of Justin Fields, who remained solid to Georgia. He also rekindled a relationship with four-star Emory Jones, who was committed to Ohio State.
Then he went to visit Corral in California, hoping to secure a renewed pledge. But Corral seemed to waver in his commitment to the new staff, so Mullen shifted the entire focus to Jones, with whom he and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson already had a relationship.
Mullen and Johnson recruited Jones when they were at Mississippi State, and gave him his first scholarship offer. Jones willingly listened to both, and soon began texting Mullen. About 10 days ago, Mullen said Jones sent him this:
“When all is said and done, I'm your man, I'm going to help you win championships at Florida,” Mullen recounted Wednesday.
Jones did not give a firm commitment at that point, but Mullen felt good about where they would land. Corral ended up flipping his commitment to Ole Miss, leaving Jones as the No. 1 priority for the Gators to sign on Wednesday.
So when Jones announced he would be coming to Florida, Mullen and the staff cheered.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) December 20, 2017
Not only did Jones fit the top need on the board, Florida proved it had the muscle to win recruiting battles against teams like Ohio State. What’s more, Florida also was able to hold off a late push from Florida State, extremely important in a state where the Seminoles have dominated for so long.
“Those are the expectations here,” Mullen said. “That's maybe the first, but certainly is not going to be the last, and I'm sure there's going to be a lot of them because we want to go and recruit the best players. For us and our coaching staff, we're going to be in a lot of those recruiting battles in the future of getting the best players in America.”
In years past, Florida lost out on these major signing-day announcements. So for Mullen to reel in Jones represents a reset of sorts, one that is crucial to getting the Gators back into elite territory. Georgia might have dominated the headlines on Wednesday, but Mullen and Florida did exactly what they needed to do to secure their top priority despite having less than a month to do it.
Jones, ranked No. 20 in the ESPN 300, plans to enroll early and will be in Florida for spring practice. Jones told SEC Country he chose Florida because, “I feel like Coach Mullen and Coach Johnson do a great job of developing quarterbacks and developing them as a man. It’s just a blessing to have the opportunity to go to the University of Florida.”
His ability as a dual-threat seems to make him a perfect fit for what Mullen likes to do with his quarterbacks. Mullen praised his physicality as a runner, while also saying Jones “has a cannon for an arm.”
As significant as his commitment seems, there is much work to be done. Mullen tried to tamp down early expectations for his incoming freshman quarterback, noting that the first step was to get to work in the offseason conditioning program.
“That’s hard to say you're going to come in to be a true freshman and be the guy in the Southeastern Conference,” Mullen said. “The opportunity for him graduating early, and going through spring practice, will give him a chance. But I'll be honest with you: There are a couple quarterbacks on campus that are going to have something to say about that because they're going to have a competitive edge to them as well. But I think that that mindset, the competitiveness at the position, is certainly going to elevate the play of all of the quarterbacks.”
That would be the biggest win of all for Mullen and the Gators.