Mullen: "The Craziest Time Of The Year"

One would think he'd be talked-out already. After all, Dan Mullen had just spent the whole work day meeting his Bulldog players individually...and speaking with his latest hire, the final piece of a reassembled staff...as well as numerous other duties. And, of course, he'd just returned from the AFCA convention with no lack of talking-time there.

Yet late Wednesday afternoon Mississippi State's head coach settled into the Bryan Building conference room and...talked. A lot. To the media corps with their list of questions about Bulldog football. A rather long and rambling list at that, considering it was only 11 days earlier most everyone there had last spoken collectively following the Gator Bowl victory.

Still the man was willing to talk, and the result was this double-extra-large transcript only minimally edited for cohesion and clarity. It began with Mullen looking at getting the 2011 Mississippi State off-season on-track.

"It's good to be back, there's so much going on. Obviously I've been away with the AFCA convention, recruiting last week, it's just such a fast turnaround with getting our guys back on campus. It's great having everybody here, and being excited in a couple of weeks to get this off-season program really rolling. Right now guys are off, just getting their bodies healthy, back in and start off-season next Tuesday with the guys that are here. And today's Wednesday right? Three weeks from today is Signing Day, then we really get it cranked in there with all the coaches back, get off the road recruiting, and really start the foundation of next year's team."

"I'm very excited about our staff, to have Goeff (Collins) on board, a guy that I've known. The first time we met was a film exchange when I coaching at Columbia and he was coaching at Fordham. You couldn't just hit a button back then and hotwire all this video through the air, you actually had to exchange videotapes! We had to drive somewhere in north Manhatten, lower Bronx, meet up to exchange the film! But even though we've never worked together our paths have crossed a lot through the different years. Obviously he comes from a background, I got a lot of my early learning as a graduate assistant under Paul Pasqualoni; he got his under George O'Leary. I think those two come from the very similar old-school, so with the recommendations we've gotten I know we're getting ourselves a quality coach and we're not going to miss a beat. Not only not miss a beat, I expect us to be better on defense next year than we were this year."

Q: Will Chris Wilson be sole coordinator or will it be a shared responsibility again? "Chris will be the coordinator and Geoff will be the co-coordinator. Very similar to what we did last year with those guys working together in the coordinator role and sharing that responsibility. The reason we do is there's got to be one guy with the main title and then one guy to assist with it. I think it also helps in the development of coaches. It really helps us in the development of the staff to get them to the level I want them to be."

Q: What kind of style does Geoff have? "He's going to be an in-your-face, high-energy, very detailed guy. A very detailed guy. When you come from the background I know he's from, you'd better cross every t and dot every i. That's just the old-school background I think he was brought up in the profession under. And obviously he has coordinator experience. And I think the great thing in talking with him is he had coordinator experience early in his career and then got to go see level of football; he came back to coordinator again, went to see it not as a coordinator; then was a coordinator again last year and you saw the improvement he made at FIU with that defense in just one season."

"I think when you get a chance to get into that position and then step back from it again, you get to see maybe things maybe you could do better. So I think the experience that he has had throughout the years has really catapulted him into being one of the hottest coaches in the country."

Q: How much does his record as a recruiter add to his appeal? "It's been great. He's recruited in the Southeastern Conference before, he's been recruiting coordinator at several places. I just hear from everybody what a big-time recruiter he is. I mean, that's one of the first things everybody says when I call them and talk about his background. He's a sharp up and coming coach, high-energy, in your face guy, but he is one heck of a recruiter. He kind of brings to the table what we're looking for. As you meet with a lot of different coaches and as I make the call to a lot of different people it was great."

"As we put everything in order I met with Chris, we talked about it, he was choice number-one. Very similar to how it was last year, I was very fortunate as we go identify what we think is a great fit at Mississippi State we've hit it and got choice number-one each of the last two years."

Q: Will he be on campus for recruiting visits this weekend? "He'll be here in about half-an-hour! Oh, his flight is delayed, I've been meeting with players all day so…"

Q: Losing the starting linebackers, how critical was this hire? "It's a big one, having someone with experience to deal with that linebacker position. Fortunately we rotate a lot of players on defense, especially at the sam linebacker position where we lose Emmanuel Gatling. But both Cameron Lawrence and Chris Hughes played a lot of reps at that position, I kind of viewed it as almost co-starters, they split reps there. At the other two, we lose two of our best defensive players. We have some good young talent here, we need to continue to recruit that position to build for the future because it's a young, young position with not a lot of depth with your two top players leaving. So he's going to have to come in and develop those young guys right away; there's not pre-made guys waiting for him there like last year when we were able to bring Manny (Diaz) in in a great situation."

Q: You've hired another coach from the Sun Belt, are you looking at up-and-coming guys from lower leagues? "Yeah, what it is is there's a certain energy level not just on the field of our staff; I want people that are hungry and coming on their way up in the profession and want to prove themselves."

"And if you look at the staff this year, we're not having coaches fired on our staff, we're having coaches leave: one's a head coach, one's a defensive coordinator at I guess most people would consider a promotion--I think they're trying to imitate us a little!--but I can imagine for a significant pay increase! To me that's the program I want. Our program is not going to change or miss a beat."

"My job as head football coach is not just to develop a great team, but to develop young football coaches. I felt very fortunate, Urban Meyer took the time to help develop me as a young coach. And I worked for Paul Pasqualoni, Bob Davie, Kevin Rodgers who is a great mentor to me. They took the time when I was a young coach to help develop me. I hope that I'm doing the same for a lot of these young coaches that we're bringing in here. I'm hoping to develop our assistant coaches; our coordinators to be head coaches, our assistant coaches to become coordinators, our graduate assistants to become assistant coaches. Our players if they want to get into coaching to become graduate assistants!"

"Everything we do here is about development of our player, to see improvement of young men from year-one to year-two to year-three to year-four hopefully throughout this program, that's what it is about. To see the development of coaches, that is what it's about, and that's what we want to be and the type program we want to be."

Q: What do you do to reassure recruits that nothing is changing? "Oh, they know that. I think this time of year, the next three weeks and especially in this conference is just crazy. There's people coming at these young men from every different direction and I hear more stories than you could ever imagine of people showing up on their doorsteps, what goes on in recruiting, the situations that these young men get faced with. And you just hope over the next couple of weeks you look at the reason they make their decisions, that they made decision for the right reasons. That they're going to a place where they have the opportunity to win a championship, the opportunity to be developed into a champion; not just on the field as a football player but also off the field in life."

"That is what we do in recruiting, that is what our program is all about. A lot of these young me, that is what they see. And sometimes this time of year there is a lot of media attention that gets thrown into recruiting, and a lot of 17-year-olds want their moment in the sun. I think in the expansion of how the media has jumped into recruiting has really almost in some ways negatively affected these young men who now want to get their name in the paper, want to get on TV one more time, or do something that can cloud sometimes things that go on. But most important at the end it's our job as we recruit them is to make sure these young men know what they get. When you come to Mississippi State that you will be developed into a champion on the field in the classroom and in life. That is most important to me that we do."

Q: With this weekend's basketball game on Sunday does it impact anything? "No, that's a separate deal. When it's on Saturday we take the guys over to the basketball game, when it's on Sunday a lot of guys get out of here on Sunday. What time is the game, like noon, 1:00, 2:00? You can't control things. That's a part of the recruiting weekend, to me that's not the focus. The focus is making sure for the players they understand how they're going to be developed here and for their parents the family atmosphere and how their sons are going to be taken care of."

Q: Do you have any players planning on transferring or transferring in? "Joey Trapp transferred in."

Q: But nobody is quitting? "Not yet! I've met with half the team today! I think every year at some point, I don't think it's today…I hope we don't lose anybody, statistically speaking there's a chance by the start of next football season there are some guys on the current football roster that might not be here. I think that's every program in the country, everywhere I've been. And for whatever the reason may be, a family issue, somebody wants to get closer to their home. It might be an academic issue where they put themselves in a position where it's not their option to come back or not. All those situations can occur."

"The only guy that might not be coming back, but is going to be part of the staff is D.J. Looney, I think he's going to be a student assistant. Just his knees. I don't if that done yet but he and I have met. He has one year left. We haven't done all the paperwork yet. I mean, if he comes back to me and says my knees feel unbelievable, I want to give it one more shot, we're going to go give it one more shot."

Q: Has anyone needed winter surgery to be ready for spring? "No. The reason we did the (fall) surgeries is to get everybody ready for spring. We're hoping to get all the guys that we kind of pulled off the field during the season—Archie Muniz, Curtis Virges, Matt Wells--so they would be ready for spring practice."

Q: Will Marcus Green be ready? "I don't know if it will be contact. If you guys saw, our spring ball is going to be split. To fit spring in with how we want to do it with Super Bulldog Weekend being a week earlier this year we're going to have to split it around spring break. So I'm sure if some of those guys in the first four practices just before spring break are limited, we're hoping to get them back full-go after spring break."

Q: Will Collins on staff do you think you can get a recruiting pipeline into Florida? "We're going to recruit the same way. It's not going to change our recruiting philosophy. He does have those connections, I have a lot of connections in Florida myself from being there for four years. I think we have connections there, we're going to recruit Florida, we have, we still do. We have a young man that came in from Florida early. But it's not going to change our focus, that we're going to pay more attention there than other stuff we're doing."

Q: What are your thoughts on a #15 ranking? "Pretty excited! Next year hopefully we can drop the 5! You know, just erase the five on the other side and we'll take the other number!"

"You know, I couldn't be happier for us in this program. For the work of our seniors, to go out that way as Egg Bowl and Gator Bowl champions, to be a top-15 national ranking, the work that these young men that are still here, is unbelievable. And I'm very proud of what they've accomplished."

Q: Did that exceed your expectations for your second year? "If you would have offered that to me last August I would have taken it. I might have hit the ‘deal' button, I don't know if I would have gone ‘no deal' and kept going! You know, our goal is always to improve as a team, and we did that last year. And I think we maybe exceeded a lot of peoples' expectations and if you ask our players maybe exceeded some of the things they thought they could have achieved this year. And I think that is very important."

"It's always tough because I don't look at our schedule and say OK, we're going to lose that game; I look at our schedule and think how can we win the next one. Right now I'm trying to figure out how can we beat Memphis. That's what is on your mind. At the end you look back on it, and I was extremely satisfied with the season."

Q: Has Quentin Saulsberry gotten any feedback from the NFL? "Yeah, I didn't get the actual paperwork. Rockey (Felker) had it, he said it would not be in the first three rounds. I met with Quentin today and he's not planning on going anywhere. As he met with me about it where he is today and hopefully look at some things he needs to improve on for his future."

Q: While you go after rising young coaches such as Geoff, how rewarding is it to promote a young guy within the staff? "It is. Angelo (Mirando) has been with me, he impressed me from day one when he showed up office at Florida as a summer internship with John Clark just before his senior year in college. I remember here's this guy walking around, finally he walked in the room and I said who are you? He said I'm Angelo Mirando, I'm the summer intern, is there anything I can help you with? I said not right this second; he said OK, can I watch some film with you? I said sure, showing some different things on film. Every day he'd come back and say is there something I can help you with? Everything I gave him to do he did an unbelievable job with, was just kind of a go-getter. He graduated college early, showed up and we gave him interview for a job and said what about this young guy to be a quality control graduate assistant. I said everything I gave him to do he did a great job with, so it sounds like my kind of guy, he was always looking to do more. And he's been with me ever since."

"And you get to see that in development. It was a tough process. He took over the receiver position and I think our receivers, even being short-handed, played their best game of the year in that bowl game when he was coaching them. That to me is better than anything anybody can impress me with drawing on a board in an interview. He did it and they improved and played their best game of the year while he was coaching them. So it made it pretty easy after that point."

Q: Will he be passing game coordinator? "No, just receivers."

Q: How do you help Angelo coach guys that he's not much older than? "Well, our receiver position is still really young. In their eyes he's an old man! If we had four seniors and all that stuff it might be that way, but they're still young, he's an old man to them! He's just been around it. I mean look at the guys he's worked with, from Tim Tebow at Florida to our quarterbacks the first year here, he worked with our receivers all year this year. And we made him actually the slot receiver coach, he was (Chad) Bumphis' and Brandon Heavens coach all year at that spot."

"So like the development of a coach, he's done it already. And when I talk to those guys and they say Coach, he's been on me since he started working with the receivers. So nothing has changed today from last week."

Q: Have you ever had a receiver group without a senior? "We didn't have a junior receiver, never mind a senior receiver! To think in terms of this, we went into that bowl game with five receivers dressed, five; and we play three every snap. So it was a scary situation. That depth, that's why recruiting is so critical for us at tat spot. Because we don't have enough right now to make it through. We got fortunate to make it through that bowl game but we're still building the receiver position up to where we need it to be. I knew coming here after looking at where it was before I arrived, the receiver position was going to be a three-to-four year process to get the numbers where it needed to be."

Q: Going into spring how will you handle the quarterback position? "Wide open! Like every position to me. I know that might sound like coach-talk, but I'll be honest. I was in this position a couple of years ago, people asked me how is the spring work out, you've got Tim Tebow, Cameron Newton, and Johnny Brantley. I said it's wide-open; but Tim Tebow's just won the Heisman Trophy, I said I could care less what he just won, it's what he's gonna do this spring to me. Everybody gave me this smirk around the room, and probably a similar room than I'm sitting now!"

"But to me it's wide-open, I want to see improvement. I thought Tyler Russell did a tremendous job of improving last year. He came into the season as a guy that we wanted to try to get ready, wanted to try to get reps, wanted to feel we were in a position we could put him on the field to go play. And I thought by the end of the season I was great, I was ready to go, I mean he could have played in that bowl game and he was ready to start the bowl game by the end of the year. So I think it's going to be an interesting battle. And Dylan Favre is…Dylan Favre! You know?! You guys will get to see one day what I'm talking about, when he gets to play his first game and you're allowed to get a piece of him right there! But he's such a competitor, such a fiery competitor it's going to be a neat, fun, wide-open battle. When you do have that much competition, that's when you see the improvement. I think Relf's improvement throughout this year had as much to do with Tyler Russell's improvement throughout the year as much as Chris Relf's. When he saw I better get going because this guy is getting pretty right here and I've got my hands full."

Q: What about Dak Prescott coming in for spring? "I think he can do the same thing. And the great thing about him getting here early is he's going to have the opportunity to compete. Here he is coming into a situation, where Dylan was coming into fall camp where things go so much faster; where in spring ball we practice one day, we're off a day so you have some chance to digest learning instead of everything being thrown on you at one time. So it is an advantage for him to compete for the job as well."

Q: Will he have trouble competing coming off a knee injury? "No, he's going to be fine."

Q: What did you see from Prescott in high school? "The demeanor, the ‘it' factor. I guess I've never paid much attention to… A lot of people didn't recruit Alex Smith. I offered Brian Johnson at Utah, he'd been committed to us five months before Louisiana Tech started recruiting him, then Illinois, then all these schools started coming in. What you have to do is trust your evaluation process with these young men, and we've had a lot of success doing that."

"But just his demeanor, how he carried himself. He came into camps last summer, came to the first camp and did a good job and we told him that. He said Coach I don't want to do a good job, I want to do a great job; so he came back to the second camp and dominated. I was just pleased with all of that, with his demeanor. Les (Koenning) went to watch him play this year and said how he carries himself off the field, talked to other coaches that he played against. And he just had that ‘it' on the field, he's a winner on the field. That to me is the most important thing."

"Right now if I took our four quarterbacks and lined them up, you'd say Coach, what are you looking for in a quarterback? Because they're this, they're this, they're short, they're tall, some are fast, some are slower, what are you looking for! And the fact is we're looking for winners. It is that ‘it' factor, that demeanor, that ability to lead and be a champion is the most important thing at that position."

Q: Looking ahead, a lot of quarterbacks are leaving or are expected to leave the SEC, I know you say it's wide-open but would you say Chris has the chance to open a lot of eyes? "To be the guy? It will be interesting; Chris Relf is the experienced quarterback coming back. It will be the first time for us in a while! No, I think Chris does. I think the great thing is Chris' development, the competition that he's faced with, he'd better improve off what he finished the season off. But you know what, I like that in Chris that he never shied away from that, and he knew he'd better improve during the season and he did. And I think everybody saw a marked improvement from spring ball to last year to game one this year all the way to the bowl game. To see that improvement, that development, that's what we need to see in players. And that competition helps that."

Q: Will Saulsberry begin spring at center? "Yeah. John (Hevesy) and I, our initial plan is we're going to move James Carmon over to offense, we experimented with it and we met with James today and felt in spring that's be an opportunity for him to get on the field. We've got to do a good job recruiting on the defensive side of the ball to fill the gap side of the ball the gap he's going to leave. One of the initial thoughts is to move Quentin to center, but you have Sam Watts, Dillon Day competing for that center job. So we know Quentin can play guard, so if one of those guys is better than one of the other guys starting at guard and…we feel whatever is the best way to get our best five on the field is critical."

Q: What did you see in Carmon to make the move? "He's athletic for a tackle. And he came to us about his future. I mean James is a really smart guy, he looks at I've got one more year left of college and I look at the next level of football in the NFL and there's a lot more guys like me playing left tackle than there are playing defensive tackle. One of his goals is to play in the NFL and I agreed with him. I love the depth, you give us one of the deepest, most experienced D-lines; we lose Pernell McPhee and out of the top eight that's seven coming back, we're going to have to fill that spot now."

"But I agreed with him, and I want to make sure we give him the best opportunity to succeed for his future as well."

Q: Are you still working on staff salaries? "We'll get all that figured out here as we go, hopefully we're done with moves at this point. I'm not going anywhere! I can tell you that from me, personally! But this time of year you can never say what opportunities and things that go on. This is the craziest time of the year in football."

Q: Will your staff go to other staffs and trade notes? "Yeah, nothing concrete. And coming back from the convention, you talk to a lot of people in different programs."

"You know, I think one benefit I have, I can pick up the phone and call Urban Meyer now and say hey, we don't have to play you any more, no chance of playing in the SEC Championship Game even this year! So maybe I'll have him fly out here a couple of days to do an evaluation of our program or something. It's been tough when someone that you look at as a mentor and helps you in coaching; and the first two years you become a head coach you can't call on that person to ask any advice because he's pretty competitive, too! Who knows what path he'd have tried to steer me down!"

Q: You could have him commentating on your games next year! "I never thought of it that way! But I was a G.A. for Coach Davie, he was a tremendous coach and great defensive coordinator and to sit and watch film with him was a special deal. And he comments on us too once in a while! So I'm sure if Urban gets the opportunity is going to do a great job."

Q: Would you put a bug in his ear to talk up State? "I don't know, we'll see. He might start ripping me on TV, too, saying why did he call that, that's terrible!"

Q: So, people are hiring your coaches and chasing your recruits, you must be doing something right? "Yeah, I guess people respect what we do around here! You know, this is the crazy time. This is the crazy time. Because not only are you getting back with your guys, getting them jump-started back in the off-season program; you are up to your neck in recruiting in the final stretch which is the craziest time. I think a lot of head coaches moves happen in the first week of December. A lot of assistant coaches moves happen after the first week of January. And that makes it pretty crazy right now. So interviewing, getting the staff in place, making sure we're getting the recruiting done the way we want to get it done, and getting the right guys, the right fits for us is a huge deal."

"Our program is not for everybody, I know that, because of the work that it takes and the expectations and demands we make on our players to become champions. If it was easy to be a champion I guess everybody would be a champion, right? Everybody would be champions in life and that's not always the case, so it's a lot of hard work."


Gene's Page Top Stories