Steve Robertson -

Mullen Staffs Face Annual Changes, While the Winning Continues

It just would not be a normal Mississippi State winter if Dan Mullen was not busy re-arranging or re-stocking his assistant coaching staff. A comfortable sort of normality, even.

News that coordinator Manny Diaz is leaving Mississippi State to take the same position at his native-town program of Miami means Mullen is again looking for someone to run the Bulldog defense in 2016. He also has begun seeking a safeties coach to replace Tony Hughes, who in December accepted the head coach position at Jackson State. As of Sunday those were the only field-coaching vacancies to fill for the coming campaign.

Mississippi State has taken care of one opening already. After serving as acting strength coach during Belk Bowl camp, assistant Nick Savage will be promoted. He replaces Rick Court, who last month accepted the head strength coach job at Maryland.

Coaching change is nothing new in Mullen’s tenure. Following six of his seven seasons, the head coach has needed to replace at least one assistant. The exception really wasn’t, because off-field NCAA issues forced a quick summer change in 2012. Even that was taken in-stride by State and even resulted in an upgrade.

But…annual adjustments are not necessarily a sign of instability. Or even that there have been wholesale turnovers.

In fact, when all the comings-and-goings, for that matter the returnings-and-re-departings, are tallied…a surprising result shows. From 2009-2015 there have been a total of 17, count ‘em, 17 assistants working for Mullen.

That is not even two complete staffs’ worth of turnover over nearly three ‘generations’ of Bulldog rosters. And there are three aides still on staff who arrived with their boss back in spring 2008.

The perception of staff instability must arise from the annual nature of some sort of change. There is less to this than seems on surface, though. The largest single turnover came after 2012 when three assistants needed replacing.

For that matter the changeovers are not nearly so biased to one side of the staff room as perceived, either. Of the ten new, or in the case of Diaz and defensive line coach David Turner re-newed, faces on staffs the breakdown has been six changes on defense, four on offense.

Where there has been a definite trend though are two particular positions. Diaz, who held the post twice, was the fourth defensive coordinator at State in five tenures through seven seasons. Three of those coordinators coached linebackers as well.

And there have been four wide receivers coaches in seven seasons.

Listing Mississippi State’s assistant staff for these years, by positions and with promotions along the way:

2009 – Les Koenning offensive coordinator/quarterbacks; Carl Torbush defensive coordinator/linebackers; John Hevesy offensive line; Greg Knox running backs; Tony Hughes safeties; Scott Sallach tight ends; David Turner defensive line; Mark Hudspeth wide receivers; Melvin Smith cornerbacks.


2010 – Manny Diaz defensive coordinator/linebackers; Chris Wilson defensive line/assistant coordinator. Replaced Torbush, Turner.


2011 – Chris Wilson promoted to defensive coordinator/line; Geoff Collins co-defensive coordinator/linebackers; Angelo Mirando wide receivers. Replaced Diaz, Hudspeth.


2012 – Tim Brewster wide receivers. Replaced Mirando.


2013 – Geoff Collins promoted to defensive coordinator/linebackers; Billy Gonzales wide receivers; David Turner defensive line; Deshea Townsend cornerbacks. Replaced Wilson, Brewster, Smith.


2014 – Brian Johnson quarterbacks; Hevesy promoted to co-offensive coordinator, Gonzales promoted to co-offensive coordinator; Knox adds special teams coordinator. Replaced Koenning.


2015 – Manny Diaz defensive coordinator/linebackers. Replaced Collins.


So far two of these State staffers has left to become a head coach. Mark Hudspeth accepted the top job at Louisiana-Lafayette for 2011 and has been in Cajun country since. And of course Hughes, an original 2009 staffer, found his opportunity in the SWAC after three decades as an assistant coach.

There have been three instances where Mullen aides were hired away by SEC programs. Two are no longer in the league. Chris Wilson went to Georgia in 2013 and stayed two years before moving to Southern California. Melvin Smith jumped to Auburn the same year and did not survive staff changes there after 2014. He landed at Lafayette with Hudspeth’s staff.

So. Look through the list, add it all up, and the conclusion seems clear. It’s another winter in Bulldog Country, time for another round of football staff shuffles.

But while coaching change has been the norm, it hasn’t hurt the other program constant. Bulldog football continues to win games and go bowling.

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