LeBron, Muschamp firing steered Miami Dolphins’ Jerome Baker away from UF, to Ohio State

Jerome Baker of the Ohio State Buckeyes pushes Mike Williams of the Clemson Tigers out of bounds in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

DAVIE — Jerome Baker is going to continue his football career in Florida after all.

It’s just a few years later than planned.

Baker was an Ohio standout who originally committed to play for the Florida Gators, going so far as to don a Gators visor to announce his choice.

So how did he end up at Ohio State?

[RELATED: Some things to know about Jerome Baker]

If you’re a Gators fan, blame LeBron James and the firing of Will Muschamp.

They helped persuade Baker to change his plans and embark on a career path that Friday night took another turn. The Dolphins drafted him in the third round to help solve their linebacking needs.

Just after Baker committed to the Gators, James announced he was leaving the Miami Heat to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. The headline on SportsIllustrated.com, “I’m coming home,” resonated with Baker. So did James’ desire to enjoy success at home.

Baker even joked aloud to Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, “Why didn’t LeBron call me? We could have talked about it.”

When Baker learned that Muschamp was out in Gainesville, it not only gave Baker something to think about, it gave Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer — yeah, the ex-Gators coach — something to talk to Baker about. When recruiting around Ohio, Meyer likes to point out there’s nothing like winning in your home state.

“LeBron, when he played in Miami, he won a world championship, but it’s a different feeling when you’re playing in front of your home,” Baker told the Plain Dealer in 2016. “That’s my approach of it. You’re playing in front of your home. It’s a different feeling.”

Baker teamed with Raekwon McMillan, the Dolphins’ second-round pick last year, on the Buckeyes’ linebacking corps. Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier joked the organization participated in “insider trading” by getting a scouting report on Baker from McMillan.

It may never have been possible had Florida stuck with Muschamp. Baker believes he probably would have fulfilled his original commitment had he not been fired.

“Potentially, yeah, I believe so. I’ll say yeah,” Baker said. “I really just wanted to be comfortable going in, and knowing they weren’t going to be there and not knowing who is going be there, it was kind of scary.

“The biggest thing is they got fired, so I felt a little uneasy. I didn’t want to go into somewhere I didn’t know the whole coaching staff. But I’m a family guy, so staying in Columbus, two hours away, worked out fine for me.”

Maybe LeBron knew it all along. Years ago, Baker received a flyer from Ohio State featuring a picture of James. It was an Ohio thing, of course. The quote from James on the flyer:

“If I had one year of college, I would have ended up here.”

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