Mullen Q&A On 2011 Season, Off-Season Plans

Dan Mullen wasn't exaggerating about his busy schedule. Just a couple days removed from wrapping up his third season at Mississippi State with a third victory in the Battle for the Golden Egg, but coach has already made one day-trip and was just about to head out on another Tuesday.

Prior to flying to the Conerly Trophy ceremonies in Jackson, where cornerback Johnthan Banks was representing Mississippi State, Mullen met with media for an initial wrap-up on the 2011 season…and to address speculations about his candidacy for another job. Not that the coach answered such queries directly this year any more than the last time. So instead of quieting rumors, they only increase as State readies for their post-season.

State expects to hear Sunday evening which bowl the 6-6 Bulldogs are chosen for, with a teleconference to follow since Mullen will still be out of town.

Mullen also had a team meeting this afternoon, with players not available for comment afterwards.

Mullen is 20-17 in three seasons with the Bulldogs, with 9-15 conference record. Three of those wins are in State's arch-rivalry as Mullen is the first Mississippi State coach to win three-straight meetings with Ole Miss since 1942. The Bulldogs will be going to a second bowl game in as many seasons for the first time since 1999-2000.

Tuesday's question and answer session follows:

"This is the busiest time of the year, obviously recruiting. This is our first opportunity to get out on the road, there's only seven of us allowed out at a time, so we've got seven guys out there beating a path trying to get some great players to come play for us at Mississippi State."

Q: Have you talked with Cox and Banks about the NFL? "Yeah, we have a team meeting at four, and we'll talk about that stuff. I always encourage all of them to fill out the paperwork if they have the interest. We see where their status is. And sometimes we'll try even to go beyond that, I'll talk to some coaches in the NFL. And then we'll sit down with the family and make educated decisions what is best for these guys' futures."

Q: Do you let them try to figure it out for themselves? "Not at all. We're very proactive. Alex Smith's conversation, 17 teams had picked him to be a top-ten pick so we kind of suggested he leave. Derek Sherrod had that conversation, he said Coach I'm only a junior, I still have another year left; I said no we need to investigate it. He and his family came over and we investigated it and we talked about it. he thought he'd mid- to late-round pick and it was in his best interest to come back. And obviously he became a first round pick so it was the right decision for him to make."

"It's always a good decision to stay in school, is what I believe. Now, is it a good decision to leave as well; that's what we want to make sure. And if it's a good decision to leave, obviously if anybody is going to be a high first-round draft pick that's life-changing money for you and family and generations to come, you should jump on that."

Q: Have you seen reports surface that you're at the top of Penn State's wish list? "Great. I'm sure I'm on everybody's…I mean every time a job comes open doesn't my name come up? You know our policy, we'll talk Mississippi State football. That's all we ever talk about."

Q: What does Penn State mean to you growing up? "I cheered for them, and Notre Dame. But I guess I was raised in a Catholic household. My Dad graduated from there in '66, I think. So probably no different than a kid that was raised in Starkville grew up Mississippi State fan, that's just kinda what they knew. I was also a big Philadelphia, Boston sports fan."

Q: Have you sat down with Scott Stricklin to discuss a contract extension of any sort? "No, if it does we'll discuss at a later date. I know they did a great job, I was very pleased and the school really stepped up last year and took care of me. I know I'm very, very happy with the agreement we came upon last year."

Q: Have you or your agent been contacted by any school? "We don't talk about that, you know our policy. We'll talk about Mississippi State."

Q: What do you tell the team and what have you told them in the past? "I tell them the same thing, I'm happy here and let's worry about being here. I mean, I'm sure my name is going to come up, every single job that comes open last year my name came up with. And it appears that a lot of them this year…I had people texting me saying someone is saying this or that about you. I'm pretty busy so I don't have time to pay too much attention to what goes on."

Q: Do you take it as a compliment to you, or the program? "I think it's great of the program. I would imagine there's either two rumors about you; either rumors that you're going somewhere or rumors you're getting fired! So I'll take the going-somewhere rumor better than the getting-fired rumor!"

Q: Do you worry such things are a distraction in bowl preparation? "Nah, because we went through it last year and it seemed to be OK. That comes with winning, you know? To be honest bowl prep is a long time to prepare for a game. I feel worse for guys like Larry Fedora who are trying to go win a championship this weekend, his name is up for every single job out there. In a shorter term it can become a bigger distraction."

Q: What message do you want the fans to hear? "The thing I've always said, that I'm very happy here, the school has done a great job supporting us and believing in what we're trying to do. And we need to continue. We have a long way to go, we just need to continue to do that. We need to go sell out our bowl tickets right now, we need to travel to whatever bowl game selects us, we need to get ready to continue to sell out the stadium, increase the waiting liss so we can increase the stadium seating that everybody wants to do. And push on to the future as we try to compete in the toughest Division in college football."

Q: Do you like the back-and-forth you've had with Fedora? "I didn't even know there was an back-and-forth! I've been on the road all day and somebody had a camera in my face and said ‘what is your comment about Larry Fedora's comment?'! I like Larry a lot, I've got a lot of respect for Larry, I think he's an excellent football coach. He's a competitor just like me so I'm sure he's got competitive juices flowing."

Q: What is your case for John Banks to win the Conerly Award? "He's had a good year. We had kind of a team effort this year, I don't know if he's a better candidate for it than Fletcher Cox or Vick Ballard, a 1,000 yard rusher in the SEC, that's a pretty special deal. It's kind of tough on this year's team to pick one guy. And all those individual awards can turn into team awards.'

"Last year Chris White won, we had a lot of deserving guys last year. I guess you can vote statistically on this stuff. I just wish they'd wait until the end of the season, we nominate people mid-season. Let the whole season play out next year so you can nominate someone right at the end so you can see who might actually be the best. Because we're a team. I guess Anthony (Dixon) really statistically jumped out my first year here. But Chris could have been one of four guys on our team to win it last year. This year there are probably several deserving candidates so it's kind of hard to pick one guy mid-season."

Q: When you meet with the team will you talk about Penn State rumors? "No, what I talk about is make sure your grades are the right way so that they get all their bowl gifts! That's discussion number-one!"

"Number-two is to give them an outline schedule of when they're going to get to go home, when we expect them to report at the bowl site. And when their lifting schedule is going to be during finals, and when our next team meeting will be to start practice."

Q: Have you talked to Urban Meyer about staying away from your coaches, after he said he's going to assemble the best staff in the country? "I'm sure he plans to! He had a good one before, I know that! I don't mean that with just us, look at all the success of all the guys. We had a great staff when we were at Florida, the reason you can tell that you can see the success everybody is having now in their careers."

"We've texted back and forth and I told him congratulations. They're not on our schedule, and don't come up on our schedule, so maybe it will be a neat deal, collaborate on some things off-season, we never got to do that before. Maybe I'll go watch practice up there and get something out of it!"

Q: You understand why these speculations come up? "Well, like I said, everyone speculates on everything in this world. I like to deal in realities. If I spend my time worried about every speculation I'll get nothing accomplished."

Q: What is your bowl speculation? "I don't speculate on that. What I did was take the three or four bowls that we could someway, possibly end up with and put a schedule together. And three of them are within the same day so that schedule is going to be exactly the same for us. And if the Gator Bowl is in our future then it would have to be a tweak, but if its one of the other three we'll report to the bowl site on the 26th and make sure our guys get to spend Christmas with their families."

Q: Do you know when you will start practicing again? "The next Friday. And I'll open up practice to all you guys, we'll have a schedule of which ones will be open early on. Our schedule will be very similar to last year, we'll get a lot of young guys some reps."

Q: How do you handle assistants leaving when on the road? "We communicate, they know it's part of the profession. I always tell them they're not going to discuss it with anybody but me and where they might go. I don't like reading about it, everybody trying to speculate what is going to happen to all of them. But it is part of the job and hey, if there's other opportunities out there that you really want to pursue just let me know so that we're all on the same page. And we've had some guys get some good promotions from our staff which I view that as a compliment to the type of job we're doing developing coaches for the future."

Q: In bowl preparation how do you balance preparing for an opponent with getting freshmen reps for next year? "Its something we came up with the scheduling. When we start game week, that's when we'll usually close practice like we would in the regular season, but we'll also do one before Christmas break. When we do our bowl schedule it always works backwards. I think our guys are scheduled to go home December 20th, that's a Thursday…"

Q: You're not going to do the ‘this day is this day?! "Oh yeah! I think the 20th is a Tuesday, so Tuesday is like a Thursday, Sunday is a Wednesday, Saturday is a Monday, and before that is leading up to our preparation. I think we'll do the Friday night scrimmage in the stadium again that we did last year, at the end of what we call the pre-bowl prep. Which is back to fundamentals, installing the offense, a lot of young guys reps."

"And after that we get into game week. Go home, then when we get to the bowl site repeat the game week. And go play the game."

"It was something we came up with the first national championship year. Because it was like 52 days or something before you played the game. We were looking at the practice schedule, it was something we came up with to not be monotonous; have different weeks. When we leave to go home which would be December 20 right now depending on which bowl we go to, I want our guys finishing like it's a Thursday practice. That we're wrapping up ready to go play the game right then. Then when we come to the bowl site we do another bowl-week prep so they feel confident going into the game."

Q: So you almost play two bowl games? "We prep for two bowl games."

Q: Would you be against playing Southern Miss in the Liberty Bowl? "Obviously not, I scheduled them. When do they come on? 2014? That was a game I was involved in scheduling. I think it's a good rivalry in the State, I'm excited about scheduling them in 2014 and '15."

Q: The redshirted freshmen, who has a chance to move into the rotation? "I'll be better able to answer that question really probably in two to three weeks. They're going to go up from scout team reps to getting live reps within the system. It's a big opportunity for them to step up over the next couple of weeks. I think a lot of them get into redshirt mode, so right now they'll click right back out of it because they know they're getting real, live reps."

Q: Have you talked to Tobias Smith about coming back? "Absolutely. He's working hard, too. Obviously his injury was pretty severe, so the earliest we'd expect them back is training camp."

Q: What are your conversations with Michael Carr about coming back? "We're going to see, he has some things to work out personally. When those get worked out he knows he's welcome back here, and he's part of the family and we want what's best for him."

Q: Has anyone else discussed leaving the team? "Not yet. This is the time of the year when weird things, all that stuff tends to happen. But no one has come to talk to me yet. No one has set an appointment yet!"

Q: This was the time last year James Carmon moved, are there moves planned for this bowl camp? "I don't know if I'll have anybody change sides of the ball as we did last year, but we're going to move some guys around on their same side of the ball a little bit. Nickoe Whitley obviously being out, we have two seniors so we might try to experiment with some guys at that position to see if we have any good fits."

Q: Would you think of moving Banks to safety? "He would probably stay corner just because he can be a dominant corner. You don't want to take someone who is dominant at one position and move them; let them be dominant and let somebody else fill in the other spot."

Q: Can you reiterate the importance of winning a bowl game? "It certainly helps. You always want to win the last game of the season, we won one bowl game this past weekend, because of that we get another one. We're going to play end of December, first of January, you're looking at nine months before we step on the field again. That's nine months of winning or nine months of losing as the last taste you have walking off the field. So it's important to win the bowl game."

"But I also do think it's a great opportunity for our fans one more time to go watch this team play, go to a great location. The great thing about being in the Southeastern Conference is the quality bowl games that we have. And, as you aid, the extra practices which are critical for a lot of young guys, and how we do our bowl prep that those guys have the opportunity to get some reps."

Q: You said you consider the season a success, what is the next step? "The same. Continually battle. The tricky part for us right now within the program is our goal always is to win the SEC West. When you go into the last week of the season and all the top three teams are from the SEC West you've taken a pretty significant step. It looks like two of the teams are going to play for the national championship from the SEC, they're 1 and 2 in the country."

"We're trying to take the next step, but continually making bowl games is obviously going to get you down that path to be able to take the next step. If you're not continually making a bowl game you're never going to take that next step to go be a championship contender. So that's something you have to do every single year to put yourself in position to have that great year."

Q: How do you think Meyer's offense will work in the Big Ten? "I think the question is who he hires and the direction he goes in. There's not one perfect offense out there, I think one thing Urban knows is make sure he's running an offense that adapts well to the players that he has."

Q: Will it work there? "Sure. It seems to work everywhere. A lot depends on his players. I was watching some Florida film just to check some different thing we'd done, I think we have seven first-rounders on the field at one time on offense. That's called a pretty good offense! Maybe not seven, maybe just draft picks."

"You wonder what's it going to take here, we'd better go get us the top players in Mississippi, those were all the top players in the state of Florida who came to play at Florida, so it's amazing how that happens!"

Q: Do you talk to recruits now about back-to-back bowl games? "Yeah, we do. When you look, when we were hired here there was some rebuilding to be done. That process now, there is a foundation of going to bowl games. I don't think you're ever going to see a team that goes from not very good for consecutive years on to a national championship, which is synonamous right now with a SEC West championship. So you have to take the first steps to that foundation to build yourself up. So we're starting to get there. We're telling kids we're looking for guys that can come in and help us take that next step to get up to that national title contender spot."

Q: You said your name comes up for every job, what about Ole Miss? "I'm shocked you guys haven't put that one out there yet! You want the blogs to get going, put that one out, it will get everybody fired up!"

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