"It's an exciting time here," Turner said. "It's a good time and I'm happy to be back."
Turner, 50, returns to Bulldog football after three seasons at Kentucky. This isn't just his second tour with State but his sixth overall job in the Southeastern Conference. He left following the 2009 Bulldog season for Kentucky, having assisted Mullen's own move to both Mississippi State and head coaching. Of course while he did cross the conference, Kentucky was the Bulldogs' permanent Eastern Division opponent.
So he was able to first-hand observe how this program progressed, not least as Mullen's teams have annually beaten the Wildcats. "I wasn't surprised where it was headed," Turner said. "And when I left there was a good group of guys coming in." Or, already on-hand, as was prize Turner player Pernell McPhee. Having worked with him in 2009 and watched him across the field in '10, Turner is happy how McPhee developed into a starter for the Baltimore Ravens.
"Pernell was a little unique, like everybody else he thought he was a basketball player!" Actually McPhee was a pretty fair figure on the hardwood when at State. But having gained fifty pounds between high school and State the defensive end became a All-Conference defender. "He really surprised me after being here that first year with how guys gravitate to him. It was fun coaching him and I consider myself lucky to do so."
At the same time Turner was coaching other Dog defensive linemen from the last signing class he helped with, having recruited stars like first-round draft pick Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd. And he already had laid some groundwork for the future with high schoolers that he would try to recruit to Kentucky. None signed but as it works out Turner will get to coach Quay Evans, Jordan Washington, Curtis Virges, Preston Brown, et.al., at another address.
"There's a few faces I remember, guys I know from recruiting." Turner said as of Friday he had not gotten a chance to meet directly with these or other defensive line Dogs, but in coming days coach and crew will get to know each other. Nor will Turner let 2012 tape or memories set his impressions of personnel.
"Everybody starts with a clean slate," he said. "And be ready to go to work."
Though he's only been back on campus long enough to find the new building (he jokes about needing GPS for the expanded State), Turner has clearly raided the equipment room already for official adidas garb. He'll be wearing it a lot in the weeks to come as Mississippi State hits the frantic phase of recruiting season. Turner inherits the deepest portion of the defensive roster in both numbers and experience so immediate needs are not as pressing as back in 2007-09.
Still signing the best remains as much priority as ever. And unlike the typical January hire this aide has no need to learn his hunting grounds. Those years recruiting Mississippi mean he should hit the trail running. "There's a lot of talent here and we do such a good job at home, meaning in-state kids, that we should be OK. It's going to be whirlwind tour these next three weeks. Everybody seems excited and so am I."
"In the state of Mississippi you have great talent and good football. It's a unique situation where you can stay in-state and recruit, that's a built-in bonus."
Turner is part of a winter change-over in the Bulldog defensive staff. He takes over the unit that was coached for three years by Chris Wilson, who also gave up the coordinator's post. Linebackers coach and co-coordinator Geoff Collins is now full coordinator, and State officially announced Deshea Townsend as cornerbacks coach.
Turner said he did not know Collins personally before this week, but in the profession "a lot of people had nothing but good things to say. (Safeties coach) Tony Hughes is a familiar face. If I didn't think it was a good fit I probably wouldn't have done it. My wife reminded me of this, how much fun I had coaching here with these kids."
Lots of those kids are gone, others remain, but the ‘fun' factor for Bulldog defense seems about to increase. Not that they didn't like Wilson by any means, but this past season's schemes were often as frustrating as the execution. Or lack thereof, particularly against tempo offenses. Turner makes no schematic predictions at this point of course. Just the general theme is enough for him.
"Number one is we want to play great defense. But it's not like we're getting ready to start spring ball and hammering out the package. Hopefully I bring something to the table that is helpful for us. I have a tremendous respect for Chris Wilson and before him Manny Diaz. The thing I think is most important is, whatever we decide it'll be Mississippi State's defense."
If that hasn't changed while Turner was away…how about the boss? Is the 40-year-old Mullen, four full season as a head coach in the books, any different today than in '09?
Turner laughed. "Like any head coach, after a year or two you grow into the position. He's matured as a head coach. He's surrounded himself with good people. Dan has matured, and I'd like to think I've changed as a coach as well and gotten better. Hopefully we're working on the same goals, which is to take this program as high as it can be taken."