Except, the Mississippi State coach ended up talking more about things other than his current Bulldog team. The questions, mostly from media that don’t cover MSU directly during the year, regarded recruitment of potential Bulldogs…and how Mullen’s program has turned lightly-rated recruits into National Football League draft selections this year.
Addressing the latter, first. Mullen ain’t at all shy showing both personal and professional pride for the five drafted Dogs. Or those seven signed as free agents, too, which as of today has a round-dozen Bulldogs headed to summer training camps. More might join the list with NFL or Canadian League deals in coming weeks.
Not that anyone should have to ask about it, but…it was asked anyway to get the quotes. Which allowed Mullen some justified bragging rights about how Mississippi State will utilize this and previous drafts in recruiting. Right now.
And right here. “It certainly helps an awful lot when you’re going through the recruiting when young guys around the state of Mississippi are looking at schools,” Mullen pointed out.
“They can say I can go to Mississippi State. Not only do I have an opportunity to get my degree—as 20 of 21 seniors have graduated already—and I have the opportunity to come and play for a team that’s been the #1-team in the country and to play for championships.”
Prospective Bulldogs can certainly say that after the record-smashing results of 2014. Mullen’s sixth Mississippi State squad achieved true history by stepping to the top spot in the AP and Coaches national polls. Not only did they reach #1 for the first time since polling began, but the Dogs stayed there five full weeks. Along the way they earned a distinction no other college club will ever claim: they were the first team to be listed first in the first College Football Playoff rankings.
If State did not finish there, they did make more marks by winning ten regular-season games (also a program first) and participating in the inaugural CFP bowl system and playing in the Orange Bowl. Maybe the concluding 10-3 record was not everything Dogs could have achieved.
What it did was leave lofty goals for succeeding squads to play for. Yes, Mullen is presenting such possibilities to prospects this summer. Meanwhile he has a heck of a draft class to show as another ultimate objective for young men who come to call Scott Field their home.
“The ability to get developed, to go on to the NFL,” Mullen said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a 4-star or 5-star, or in our program you’re a 2- or 3-star. You have an opportunity to go on to the NFL. The guys in our state see that.” Guys out of state, too.
It’s hard now to say what a couple of those saw four years ago when they received offers from Mullen. It’s easy now to know that Georgian Preston Smith and Louisianan Josh Robinson made the right choice signing on with State. Asked about this pair, who respectively were drafted in the second and sixth rounds, Mullen talked about seeing the physical gifts.
Smith was long and a little lean for a defensive lineman to merit lots of stars from prep scouts. State thought that with lots of work and simple maturing there was potential to develop. Four falls later Smith was sacking quarterbacks off the end, dropping to pick off thrown passes, and even blocking kicks on the special squad.
It’s a fair measure of how far Smith has come that a NFL franchise, Washington, figures this Dog now has the skills and smarts to develop not just as a professional. They want to take him from State’s 4-3 base and make him an outside linebacker-type in a 3-4 sort of scheme. He did it in college already, why not in the big leagues?
Running back Robinson is a more interesting case on and off the field. In this, his ‘development’ was an even greater success story. Mullen was asked about what he saw in a rough-background kid, about taking a chance on someone who as a high schooler had to live in his car under the stadium.
This was another case of looking beyond speed and strength and skills and judging the intangibles. Maybe Robinson and his coach had some roadbumps last season, reflecting the passionate personalities. Yet here Robinson is taking his game to Indianapolis a season early, as ready as he’ll ever be to test himself in the unforgiving professional world.
“You’re part of a guy that a lot of people would write-off in life,” said Mullen. “That’s why we coach.”
How he coaches, that begins with recruiting as always. Mullen’s investment in procuring players showed for all the league and in a few cases national media to hear today when asked about how he finds the Smiths and Robinsons. Not to mention the Benardrick McKinneys, a quarterback-turned-linebacker now headed to the NFL. Or the larger number of Dogs who follow more standard college career paths at their positions.
Much of it comes out of direct observation during campus camps…which is something coming up soon at Mississippi State. And which will have our Steve Robertson busy when most of the press corps is taking summer breaks. Mullen can’t over-state how key these events are in maintaining and upgrading his program.
“One of the things is in summer camps we have to do a great job recruiting,” Mullen said. “A great job talking to the high school coach. And really dive into what kind of mindset and character they have.”
If some of the media mob take such statements lightly, then they miss a key to State recruiting. Yes, this staff seeks outside opinions on prospects as far as rankings and star-ratings and such. This is useful information.
It is not decisive. Or not to Mullen.
“A lot of people get caught up in the stars and the hype. We really dive into the backgrounds, and want to recruit high character and work ethic that will come represent the program very well.” Coach speak? Not at all. Having recruited all around the country and worked with players signed at six 1-A programs, Mullen will tell anyone willing to listen talent is necessary; it is not enough in isolation.
Because there are plenty of well-regarded recruits from 2011 and ’12 and on who were neither drafted nor signed as free agents this spring. They didn’t work or work enough to develop, and perhaps some went to programs not devoted to long-term development. It takes commitment from both sides, after all.
Now, put a young man willing to work in a program willing to take the right time in developing him? “It’s a good chance that guys who sign get to reach his potential,” Mullen said of Mississippi State’s approach. “And it’s a good chance he’s going to be able to develop and do that.”
Also related to recruiting talk, Mullen was asked if Mississippi State makes full use of video materials in contacting prospects. After all, the day of just mailing a press guide and maybe a schedule poster or something is long, long gone. Media guides aren’t likely to be around long themselves a print publications, for that matter, transforming to flash drives which will make press corps bags a lot lighter.
Now, getting more modern materials to a potential player? Or using all NCAA-legal social media links? Absolutely, said Mullen.
“You want to use every bit of technology available to you going into recruiting. You’re trying to use all the hype stuff, whatever you can do, if it’s different apps. You want to use that during recruiting. Video is just a great source. In today’s world that’s what kids use, what they’re used to seeing. The opportunity for kids to see that is really important.”
Briefly speaking about the current team, “We had a great spring,” said Mullen. “I’m excited about this upcoming season. We’ve got a bunch of veteran players back, but a bunch of new faces. Obviously we can’t wait to get them all on campus. This is the sad time of the year, when they’re all at home.”
Maybe the Bulldogs themselves would put a different spin on their take-a-break situation than ‘sad’. But they’ll be coming back soon enough for the first summer semester.
“Get them back on campus and get us moving forward to a new season.”
As to that new season… If Dan Mullen needed any other good news to pass along to Bulldog folk, he received another top talking point for his Road Dawg tour appearances this week. Mississippi State announced that season football ticket sales had topped 46,000 and were well into record-setting regions.
Per athletic director Scott Stricklin, also participating in this week’s Tour stops, there are about 52,000 seats to sell for 2015. The new capacity comes not from any additions since the renovated and expanded Davis Wade Stadium re-opened last August. Allotments for visiting teams have been reduced, by mutual agreement with SEC peers, and freed around 2,000 more tickets for Bulldog fans to buy as a season ducat now.