UF football notebook: Mullen on to completing coaching staff

Dan Mullen, the new head coach of Florida football, talks with the media during a press conference about the recruits signed in the early Signing Day, in a the south end zone team meeting room of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Now that the early signing period is basically over for the Gators, Dan Mullen will spend the next two weeks filling out his coaching staff and assigning responsibility for each assistant.

At this point, the only certainties are that Todd Grantham is the defensive coordinator and Brian Johnson is the quarterbacks coach.

“You know, it’s a work in progress that I’ve loved to have the staff in place by the time we get on the road recruiting again in January,” Mullen said. “But it’s going to be a fluid situation still for the next two weeks until we get everything in place, both on and off the field.”

Grantham, Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy were on Mullen’s staff at Mississippi State. Grantham was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, Gonzales was co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach and Hevesy was co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Charlton Warren, the latest addition to the staff, was the secondary coach at Tennessee this past season.

Davis, Heggie rehabbing

True freshman running back Malik Davis and starting offensive guard Brett Heggie are both recovering from knee surgery. There is no timetable for their return, Mullen said.

“Malik had a surgery. They said it went really well,” Mullen said. “Heggie had surgery. We’ll know more when they get back. This is always a tricky time. I know Malik is still here doing some rehab because this is a time where they’re off, they have a break, so they’ve got to make sure they’re maintaining, doing what they’re going to do for the next couple of weeks until they get back.

“We’ll have a better idea mid-January, once they’re into the heart of their rehab where they’re at.”

Big win for Mullen

Mullen won a huge recruiting battle over Ohio State, Alabama and FSU for four-star quarterback Emory Jones. He said there will be more epic battles like that down the road. That’s a certainty.

“(Winning) those (battles) are the expectations here,” Mullen said. “That’s maybe the first (big battle), 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 in America to come play for us. So the guys that we’re going after, they’re going to have a lot of different opportunities to go to great schools all around America.

“We’re going to be in a lot of those recruiting battles in the future trying to get the best players in America.”

Mullen said it did not feel all that strange stealing Jones from Urban Meyer, the coach he used to work under at UF when Mullen was the offensive coordinator. Jones had been a longtime commitment to Ohio State.

“It’s not weird because I think in a lot of ways we’re probably looking for similar traits in quarterbacks,” Mullen said. “Not just the athleticism or the style of play but traits as far as the intangibles that they have.

“Everybody says, ‘Boy, this guy can really throw and this guy can really run.’ Everybody is going to be kind of looking at that guy then. But it’s digging deeper than that and finding the intangibles, and I think Urban and I probably have very similar philosophies in the intangibles we’re looking for in our quarterbacks.”

Dinner with the Jones’

In UF’s recent in-home visit with Jones, Jones’ mother cooked dinner for Mullen, Johnson and Hevesy. While the Florida coaches ate, coaches from another school waited outside for their turn to woo Jones.

“I made sure we ate all the food so there was nothing left for them to sit down and eat before they got in there,” Mullen said. “We had some wings and other stuff. Fortunately, it was me and Brian Johnson and John Hevesy, so I’m like, yeah, keep eating the chicken. Mom got us some wings and some fried chicken. I’m like, there’s another school outside, let’s make sure there’s no food left for them to sit down and eat.”

First Gator in

The faxes started flowing into the football coaches’ office early Wednesday morning. The first came from running back Dameon Pierce, a four-star prospect from Bainbridge, Ga.

“I texted him. I said, ‘You’re always going to have a special place in my heart because you are the first signee for me as the head coach at the University of Florida, so that’s not something I’m ever going to forget,’ ” Mullen said. “That’s the first person that officially bought in to what we’re doing and got his papers in.”

More to come

Mullen and his staff will get a little break for a few weeks before recruiting heats up again in early January. The Gators have some needs to fill with the 12 scholarships still available to give.

“Certainly, corner is going to be a big need for us,” he said. “Defensive line, outside linebacker, offensive line and wide receiver are going to be really the emphasis moving forward.

“Those are the main needs. We’ll be recruiting everybody. But I think (with the early signees) you check the box at quarterback, you check the box at placekicker. With Eddy (Pineiro) entering the draft, to get Evan McPherson, who’s probably the best high school kicker in America to come in and know that there’s a good chance you might be starting day one. To check those boxes I think certainly adds some security moving forward for the program.”

Eight early enrollees

The Gators signed eight players who are early enrollees. They will start classes in January and participate in spring practice, led by Jones, who is expected to compete for the starting role at quarterback.

The other early enrollees are Pierce, offensive lineman Noah Banks, offensive lineman Chris Bleich, athlete Amari Burney, running back Iverson Clement, defensive back Trey Dean and defensive back Randy Russell.

“Just the general philosophy of enrolling early I think gives you a jump start in your college career,” Mullen said. “They also get to go through an off-season conditioning program and get to go through spring ball. I do think it helps them with the foundation of building for their future, and certainly with the opportunity to get on the field early in their career.”

The versatile Reese

David Reese, a four-star linebacker from Vero Beach, is listed as a defensive back on UF’s signing day release. It’s not a typo. Reese is a prospect who could play numerous positions, Mullen said.

“I’m going to have the first team meeting,” Mullen said. “I’m going to say, ‘Break up into your position groups, where are you going to go?’ He said, ‘Wherever you tell me to go, coach.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to tell you to do anything, I’m just going to tell you to go to your position meeting. Where are you going to go?’ He’s like, ‘I might even go to D-line because I really want to hit the quarterback.’

“Physically there’s a lot of things he can do. I do see him being somebody that can fit, whether it is as a nickel, whether it’s as a linebacker, playing potentially the money backer for us, even in a passing situations playing an outside backer coming off the edge. I think he has the ability to do a lot of different things for us.”

Jefferson official

Along with the 12 high school signees and a JUCO transfer, Florida also announced the transfer of former Ole Miss receiver Van Jefferson is now official. He will have two years of eligibility remaining. He will seek a waiver from the SEC that would allow him to play in the 2018 season.

In two years with the Rebels, Jefferson caught 91 passes for 999 yards and four touchdowns.

“To get a guy with his experience, his talent, is pretty special,” Mullen said on Gator Vision. “Statistically speaking, he’ll be our top returning receiver next year within the league.

“Great young man. Game breaker, has size, has speed, has athletic ability. Really excited to have him.”

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