Bill Martin: Controlling The Media Frenzy

Mississippi State Assistant A.D./Media Relations Bill Martin talks about the media frenzy surrounding the Mississippi State football program and junior quarterback Dak Prescott.

Mississippi State won their first three games. Was the media attention about normal or more than normal during those three games?
"We actually had a decent amount before then because everybody was calling us a sleeper going into the year. There were times when I would pitch stories to the national media and we saw it build as we continued to win."

Then Mississippi State headed to Baton Rouge to face LSU. Did the media attention continue to build during that period?
"We are going into our first SEC game against a team that hasn't lost (on a Saturday night) in that stadium in four year except to number 1 ranked teams. We were undefeated but hadn't played a ranked team yet. On top of that, we had several Louisiana guys who had the spotlight on them due to them coming back to play in their homestate. They are important players on our team, our quarterback, our center and our running back. That was a big story. So, you started seeing it gradually pick up."

Then, Mississippi State won the game. And the media frenzy started in earnest.
"We went into a place where people rarely win. And a place where we hadn't won since 1991, that is a statement. On top of that, it was our performance. We physically dominated in that game. Our quarterback was spectacular. He is a north Louisiana kid. Josh Robinson was from down the road. He rushes for 197 yards. That was the best game against them since Darren McFadden of Arkansas. People thought that this team could be special. And the national media caught on to that."

Next up was a bye week and two weeks off from playing a game.
"There are highs and lows in the media business. When you win, things are great, when you lose, things are not so great. But we came off an epic win for the program and we have a bye. We had two weeks to promote that win. During that entire bye week we had endless national media attention."

Give specifics about that.
"I started getting emails in the fourth quarter of the LSU game. They were saying this is a heck of a story to tell. We saw it as an opportunity to capitalize because this is unprecedented territory for Mississippi State. We wanted to get our brand out. We wanted to show that we are a national team, a national contender.

"We have a head coach who is fantastic with interviews. We have a quarterback who is the leader of the team, is a great speaker and has charisma. He has kind of captivated the nation. And we had two weeks to get his name out there while the team was preparing for a Texas A&M team that was ranked among the top-10 in the country. Everybody handled that very well."

Then, Mississippi State had another dominating performance as a team against Texas A&M.
"Sports Illustrated was here the entire week doing an all-access piece. They were watching us, taking photos. We pitched the story idea to (SI national writer) Pete Thamel. He knows Dan pretty well. We could have this blue collar type story of how Mississippi State does things. We don't have five-star guys, we are a developmental program. And we wanted people to see that story nationally. Pete did a great job of telling that story.

"Sometimes when you do those all-access pieces you might lose the game and not live up to the hype. But we were fortunate. We played so well and there was a great atmosphere. Everything around the game was phenomenal. It couldn't have gone any better."

Did the media frenzy get bigger?
"It did. We had more people contact us. This is an example of that, Rolling Stone Magazine, an entertainment magazine, wrote something about Dak. He has kind of captivated the nation. I think his story is a great one to tell, not just his on-the-field ability, but because of the way he carries himself."

On top of what was happening on the field, the team went from being unranked to being ranked 14th, then 12th, then after the Texas A&M victory to 3rd. And Dak is listed as the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy Award. How do you handle that? Dak is still a student-athlete. He has to go to class, practice and do workouts. Dan is trying to prepare for games. How do you walk that fine line where you give media access but you also allow Dan and Dak to do what they came here to do>
"It is a very fine line. But being around a program that was constantly in the spotlight (LSU) as far as national attention everyday prepared me for it. Originally, when I took this job that was the kind of attention that we wanted. And I am lucky because I have experience some of these things before."

Truth be known, Dak doesn't have to come to press conferences every time that he is requested but he does.
"Dak rarely turns an interview down. He is a great guy, a genuine person. But as the hype builds we have to be more careful with him. There will be some things that we will have to turn down. We don't want him to become overwhelmed. That being said, remember, we are still only six weeks into the season. I've said this before and I'll say it again, Heismans aren't won in October, they are won in November. That is when those magical Heisman moments happen and when they stick with people. Like everybody has said, Coach (Mullen), Scott Stricklin, we have only won two SEC games. The media spotlight could change in the blink of an eye.

"But the media is doing the job for us in the sense that they are publicizing him as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, deservedly so due to what he has accomplished."

After the Auburn game, there aren't any ranked teams ahead until MSU plays Alabama. Will that help slow the media frenzy down a bit and take the pressure off of Dak and Dan?
"As long as you continue winning games in this league you are always going to be in the national spotlight. You are playing in the toughest division in college football. And if you keep winning, the spotlight will never go away. It doesn't matter who you are playing, especially if you are doing great things."

How does the MSU media department promote Dak for the Heisman Trophy Award?
"It is kind of a three-phase deal. One is getting his name out there. And it is out there. Then we want to tell his story. And he has a great story to be told. Phase-two is kind of letting people see who he is, see his character, see that he is a tremendous human being off the field. Should he continue his play and we keep doing great things as a team, we will then have a full-fledge push on what we need to do. But in today's age of social media getting critical facts and figures out there comparing where our quarterback is compared to other people is easier to do."

In addition to a lot of media attention on Dak, there is also a lot of media attention on Dan Mullen. How do you balance that for him media-wise? Actually, he seems to handle the media hype much easier as the games become bigger.
"No question. He has been fantastic working with everybody. He gets it. One thing is he is a great speaker, a great representative of the program. His leadership is phenomenal. And we are having fun with this. He is having fun. The players are having fun. That is what it is all about. That is why you do this. You have to enjoy the ride."

Dan has been through this before, not as a head coach but as an assistant coach at Florida. That has helped him, hasn't it?
"No question. Coach Mullen has dealt with some of the most high-profile players in the history of college football, Tim Tebow, Alex Smith. He knows exactly what he is doing. He has a plan. And people respect him and listen to him. There is no question that that kind of background has helped him tremendously."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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