Mullen Nearing Defensive Coordinator Call

The boss is back in town, and back to business. Soon enough Bulldog fans should see the results as Coach Dan Mullen puts his chosen pieces in right places for a 2015 coaching staff.

The piece which has most Mississippi State attention of course is defensive coordinator. The abrupt departure of Geoff Collins only three days into campus camp slightly soured the Bulldogs’ overall experience at the Orange Bowl. How much it did or did not contribute to defeat is pure speculation.

What is clearer is that a Bulldog defense with no lack of individual talent and experience gave up over 500 offensive yards. For that matter the Egg Bowl loss produced similar stats against the former coordinator, and that certainly was no exotic offensive style to use as excuse. Some sort of revamping was likely to result anyway this off-season.

Mullen, who remained in South Florida for a short family vacation following the Orange Bowl, returned to his office Saturday afternoon. Conveniently, just ahead of the storm that hit campus with lots of lightning. Or is it coincidentally, what with all the rumor-sparks flying about who will be running the Bulldog defense in 2015?<.p>

Several names have surfaced, some within literal seconds of learning Collins had taken a job at Florida. Ironically one of those has been Florida’s own DC, D.J. Durkin, who apparently prefers a post at Michigan rather than what would have been a cross-conference swap. Also joining the new Gator staff is Randy Shannon who State reportedly had considered.

A fast Friday rumor that former Dog d-line coach and current LSU aide Brick Haley was looking at a return was downplayed immediately by our Steve Robertson. There is some smoke here though. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has bolted to Texas A&M, and Tiger staffers are suddenly having to look to their own options in case the new coordinator doesn’t mesh with them and vice-versa.

And nothing has kept the speculation sizzling like talk Ed Orgeron, formerly of Southern California and Mississippi and parts in-between, was pursuing the Mississippi State post. Despite, or actually more likely because of, his three years at the arch-rival, Bulldog fans have seized this idea with glee. For all the fun aimed at Orgeron when in Oxford, his energetic style and more to the point is all-out recruiting methods are attractive to fans…particularly with Signing Day 2015 now looming.

Though, it needs reminding, Mullen and current staff have obtained enough quality commitments already to sign potentially the best-ranked class of his tenure at State. How some of these commits are impacted by MSU staff shifts, or hirings and firings elsewhere, is the question of the month.

For this week the question is picking, courting, and hiring a Bulldog coordinator. In conjunction, of course, with settling the return and thus salary of current staff. Mullen should have quality consultations with present defensive aides Tony Hughes, David Turner, and Deshea Townsend. Obviously if all remain that would determine the position the new coordinator has to coach, which would be linebackers.

Which brings up what is emerging as the most consistent name in the speculative list. Might Manny Diaz return to Mississippi State?

This possibility has produced decidedly mixed responses from the fan base. Mostly, from how he left the program after just one season as 2010 coordinator. Some have even down-played the defense he produced that season…but that is incorrect. And, demands some in-depth looking and thinking.

First though, try remembering how much buzz his hiring generated. Mullen was coming off his first season and already needed a new coordinator when Carl Torbush stepped aside. Interestingly though, during the regular season Mullen saw somebody he wanted even before knowing for sure there would be an opening.

When State played at, and won at, Middle Tennessee the Bulldog offensive staff came away impressed with how the Raider defense operated under then-fourth-year coordinator Diaz. Plus Mullen knew a more aggressive defensive approach would be needed in year-two and Diaz seemed to fit that bill. So he lured the rising coach from Murfreesboro to Mississippi State. The results were dramatic to say the least as the Dog defense made immediate and major improvements across-the-board in 2010.

Now it must be acknowledged, Diaz walked into a near-ideal situation. He inherited the makings of an excellent defensive roster which would produce a half-dozen future professional players. Look at this lineup for the Gator Bowl, with a front-foursome of ends Pernell McPhee and Sean Ferguson and tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd.

At Diaz’ own position of linebackers the starting trio was middle-man Chris White and outside ‘backers K.J. Wright and Emmanuel Gatling. And, already making his presence felt, sophomore Cameron Lawrence. The secondary opened in Jacksonville with Charles Mitchell and Nickoe Whitley the safeties; Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield the corners, after Banks shifted mid-season from safety.

So absolutely yes, Diaz took over a roster ready to blossom. But how many knew so in January 2010? And for the larger point, with all that talent there had to be somebody both put them in the proper positions and give schemes to suit their developing talents. Diaz did so, and so well that no sooner had the Bulldogs left with a champion’s trophy an offer arrived at Diaz’ door.

A great big one too, to take over the Texas defense as part of Mack Brown’s staff. The possibility and mammoth paycheck were too good for any reasonable staffer to turn down. Besides that, he would get to coach Texas talent for a hall of fame coach who would surely be retiring soon. With a great showing on the staff, who knows if…?

Obviously things did not turn out as expected in Austin. Diaz was released during 2013 when the Longhorn defense was being shredded, landing on his coaching-feet at Louisiana Tech this past season. He could not have known how the Texas situation had decayed until inside it.

Naturally fans are looking at the results in Austin and wondering. They might want to wonder about one interesting other perception. Diaz arrived when the Big 12 was turning into a high-flying, all-out offensive league where if a team isn’t running true tempo they get left behind. Fast. Experts can argue but based on how Diaz ran things in Starkville, his coaching style would seem to mesh more effectively with the offenses Mississippi State typically scouts in the SEC.

Yes, this league has also upped the offensive ante in most places and tempo has certainly increased. But at-heart most of the SEC prefers power and punch at the line of scrimmage over the course of seasons. Is it reasonable to believe a style such as Diaz favors would suit this league better?

There is also one other interesting way to see things this January. There is unquestionably the makings of a quality SEC defense already at-hand for 2015. Despite obvious graduation losses as well as the expected early departure of linebacker Benardrick McKinney, there is plenty personnel with talent and experience returning. Plus they are to be joined by some redshirts who showed-off in bowl camp; as well as signed junior college players and more commitments who will only improve both talent and depth everywhere.

Why, it makes a Dog think about January 2010, doesn’t it? If bringing in the right coach to develop a potential-laden defense worked then, why would it not work again?

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