Mullen has Bulldogs pointed in the right direction

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

When asked about why he hired Dan Mullen, Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne talked about how Mullen’s interview last December floored him.

Fast forward a year and Saturday’s 41-27 win over archrival Ole Miss proved that his assesment was on point.

Mississippi State hit a grand slam when it hired offensive coordinator Dan Mullen away from Florida. If the the Bulldogs (5-7) hadn’t endured one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, Mullen would be taking the Bullies bowling.

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He also would probably be a legitimate SEC Coach of the Year candidate.

Steve Wilson is the sports editor of the Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at

While Auburn’s Gene Chizik likely will get the award after taking Auburn to a 7-5 record thanks to Gus Malzahn’s whiz-bang offense with more wrinkles than a Shar Pei, Mullen deserves serious consideration anyway.

He’s taken his lumps, sure. The fake punt against Florida was a turning point in a tight game when Tim Tebow, Mullen’s former protege, had his worst game of the season.

There was a 31-3 beatdown by second-ranked Alabama. The disappointing 30-26 loss to LSU when quarterback Tyson Lee’s poor read on a goal line option play was stuffed on fourth down to start a stretch of three consecutive weeks of games against Top 25 opponents. Turnovers doomed State against Georgia Tech and the Bullies could only put a scare into Houston.

But considering that Mullen could install only a fraction of his system and didn’t have much to work with at either wide receiver or at quarterback, the Bulldogs’ achievements were definitely laudable.

Lee was not the kind of quarterback who could run Mullen’s system and neither was Chris Relf, whose improved play in the later half running the football gave the Bulldogs a formidable 1-2 punch on the ground with running back Anthony Dixon. Dixon’s Conerly Trophy campaign as the SEC’s leading rusher proved that even a less-than-shifty, north-south power back can be successful in Mullen’s offense.

Whereas State under Sylvester Croom had trouble recruiting the kind of gamebreaking skill position players like wideout Chad Bumphis due to his conservative run-first, run-second, run-third and punt offense, Mullen’s offense attracts big-time recruits. And for quarterbacks, not too many head coaches can say that they were the position coach for a Heisman Trophy winner or ran the offense on two national championship teams.

After Saturday’s Egg Bowl, Mullen addressed the crowd on the giant screen and fired a shot across Colonel Reb’s nose. He was answering Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt’s veiled shot at State in which Nutt said, “This is one program in the state that’s getting very strong.”

“There’s certainly one program in this state that’s definitely on the rise, going in the right direction, and that’s right here in Starkville,” Mullen said after the contest to applause and more cowbells.

With Mullen at the helm, that is definitely the case. The question is that once he is successful, which he will be, can the Bulldogs keep him? Only time will tell.