The first signing classes of the Dan Mullen era bought into what could be at Mississippi State rather than what had been. While the 1990s produced some new found glory for Bulldog fans, including an SEC Western Division championship, the 2000s were difficult for Mississippi State. The decade began with the Snow Bowl victory over Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl, but the Bulldogs would only enjoy one more bowl appearance, a 2007 Liberty Bowl win over Central Florida, before Dan Mullen was hired.
With much of the 2009 signing class committed, Mullen and his staff had to work hard to shore up those pledges and essentially get the hay into the proverbial signing day barn. Those prospects would go on to enjoy some of the greatest years in Bulldog football history. They paved the way for future recruits to choose Mississippi State with a lot more confidence.
Mullen reports that the call to join the Maroon and White is much better received this days now that prospects and their families can see a program in place rather than simply the potential to build one.
"I think guys are now seeing the proof of what we talk about," Mullen said. "They see that we are taking young men and developing them to be champions in life. You see it with the success we are having on the field. Guys can come here and compete for a championship. Guys can see that we can be #1 in the country. They saw that we did that last year as a team.
"As an individual as a player, you can come here and be maximized. Guys can see all of the talent that we are putting into the NFL right now. It doesn't matter if you're a Fletcher Cox four star that everybody wanted or a Benardrick McKinney two star guy that nobody wanted that's gone on to get drafted into the NFL. I think guys see that potential here.
"I think you also have to look at the success our guys are having outside of football like graduating with their degree. We're real proud of that."
In the early days of the Mullen era, the Bulldogs did not have quite as much to sell. Yes, the people and places were great, but being able to have some sustainable success on the field was an important part of the equation. Now Mississippi State football can sell a quality college experience for student athletes on and off of the field.
"Six or seven years ago, I would go into a house and say this is our plan," Mullen said. "I used to say this is our plan and what we plan on doing. Now I go in and say this is our plan and this is how it works and here are the results.
"I think young men and their families can see the success our men are having when they decide to come and be a part of our program."
With back to back school record setting quarterbacks, Mullen has shown that putting winning teams together is something that is sustainable at Mississippi State. Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott have effectively rewritten the Bulldog record books.
Another talented tandem, Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley have shown some flashes in their early play and demonstrated that the cupboard is far from bare. With those talented signal callers playing understudy for the moment, Bulldog fans remain confident that their run of winning seasons and bowl games will continue even after Heisman vote getter Dak Prescott moves on to the NFL.
"I know there are some other coaches that look out there and say 'My goodness, those guys are bigger than Dak'. Dak looks like the tiny guy on the field," Mullen said with a smile. "When you stop and think that Staley probably has a much stronger arm and Nick is probably the best runner of all of the quarterbacks, it's exciting."
Working to add to a program best streak of five straight bowl games, Mullen and his staff have worked hard through talent evaluations and player development to provide a steady stream of talented players to compete year in and year out in the toughest football league in America, the Southeastern Conference.
"I think when you look at what we have built here as a program, we tried to do it the right way," Mullen said. "I didn't come in here several years ago looking for the quick fix. It wasn't just about trying to win immediately or just throw it all into winning one big year.
"My goal back then was to build a program that could win over the long term. I feel like we're doing that and that's the kind of program we're still trying to be."