Like as a bargaining chip of sorts, as the head coach and athletic director John Cohen discuss Mullen’s next contract?
“I might put it right on the table, in the middle!” Mullen quipped.
That trophy makes for one powerful negotiating tool. So does a sheet Mullen can put before his boss listing not years and terms and dollars and common sense. It is the roster of Mississippi State’s new recruiting class for 2017. The 24-Dog group was finalized on national signing day with eleven February additions to the thirteen December signees already on the Mississippi State campus.
Specifics of the class, analysts’ opinions and fan reactions, will be read elsewhere. Even on a day where no major-college coach with any sense gives less than glowing reviews, Mullen’s ninth class clearly ranks with his best. In time it may even be the best, especially if that front-loaded collection of junior college recruits provides instant impact and the highest-profile prepsters climb their depth charts as quickly as Mullen projects.
The larger and longer story is what eight seasons of Mullen’s management has done for Bulldog football. And, what may yet be in store.
“I remember coming here eight years ago,” Mullen said. “The talk was I wanted to build really high expectations. We’ve certainly been able to do that.”
2016 ironically proved it even more so than the unprecedented successes of 2014 and 2015. Ironically because last fall was the greatest on-field struggle of Mullen’s tenure. A rebuilding team seemed to have taken not just a step back but a serious slide down.
Then November brought change…or maybe a return to routine? A blowout win over Texas A&M, a record-setting rout of Ole Miss to take back the Golden Egg, and a combination of outside events sent Mississippi State back bowling for a seventh-straight winter. Where the Bulldogs won, albeit by blocking a field goal in the final minute to go 6-7.
The finish let 2016 show the full spectrum of Bulldog emotions. As Mullen noted, “A six-win seasons is kind of like, OK…” But then how the team got to six was way more than OK.
“We were able to finish those last two games with a smile on everybody’s face, right?” Mullen asked, rather rhetorically of course.
Now signing day means more smiles. And, a chance for coach and athletic director to get back to talking contract. Negotiations began literally on Monday morning after the Egg Bowl victory as Mullen’s agent struck while the, well, the gold was still hot. But with recruiting full-blast around bowl camp, then assistant staff departures after the final win, both parties understandably took care of pressing priorities.
Now the talk turns serious. Mullen has two years remaining on the four-year deal inked after the epic 2014 campaign. The reality of the profession means, it’s time to redo a deal. Cohen knows the score too. While he is a new A.D. he is a veteran SEC coach as well and understands the process from all angles.
This also means, Mullen and Cohen are speaking the same language. “We’ve worked on it. I think we’re pretty close to getting all that stuff done. Which is really exciting,” Mullen said. “I love being here, I love being able to coach here. I love what we’ve been able to do.”
Most years and places this would be heard as coach-speak, especially as Cohen was in the audience at the time. To Mullen, Bulldog business-as-usual is not exactly usual compared to the rest of the country. Not least, he said, when it comes to recruiting.
“It’s a unique situation. I think I’m very fortunate with the administration here, with the fan base here, I feel like sometimes I’m not bound to recruit by the star system.”
That comment would be a bombshell in many a SEC or ‘power five’ league press conference. Yet Mullen means it. His eight seasons so far have certainly borne-out his judgement about who fits Bulldog football and Mississippi State in general.
Mississippi State in-turn agrees with the results and backs up their coach. “There’s a tremendous amount of support of what we’ve been able to do in the past,” Mullen said.
So it’s a unique situation in the coaching world. It’s one of the reasons I love being here. You look at the support we’ve had from the administration, the support we’ve had from the fan base, what we’ve been able to build.”
With signing day done, and spring practices a month away, Mullen is giving current staff a quick break if they wish. He still has to hire a quarterbacks coach; and with new coordinator Todd Grantham figure out how the defensive opening is to be filled and aligned.
Mullen is also looking at further expansion of the administrative staff, which translates as adding more recruiting muscle at MSU. Mullen agreed that the non-field staff—including Pat Austin, Rod Gibson, Brad Peterson, and more—were key in making up any gaps left by position staff departures.
And, of course, there is his own contract to complete, to fiscal and professional satisfaction. That Golden Egg does nicely symbolize negotiating from strength…and not at all coincidentally, Mullen took the trophy along on several closing-stretch recruiting visits as a reminder where Mississippi State again stands in the home state pecking order.
Simply, Dan Mullen is ready to re-up and get back working on a better bowl trip next winter as well as keeping that Egg safely home. It’s what Bulldog football is supposed to be, he said.
“We’ve raised expectations within this program. Not just from our coaches, not just our administration, our student body. You have to go back a long time to find a student at Mississippi State that hasn’t gone to a bowl game.
“That’s what makes it special and why I enjoy being here. Hopefully we get this done so I can be here for a long time to come.”