Mullen arrived in Starkville less than a dozen hours after accepting athletic director Greg Byrne's offer to take charge of the Mississippi State program. He steps up to head coach in the Southeastern Conference after four seasons as offensive coordinator for the University of Florida. A season that isn't completed either, as the Gators will play January 8 in the B.C.S. Championship game against Oklahoma.
Just four days following Florida's 31-20 victory in the SEC title game, Mullen now has a conference club of his own. "I was thrilled," he said at an impromptu media meeting at Bryan Field. "I'm so excited to be here, it's an unbelievable opportunity. I think we have an opportunity to have an unbelievable program. We're going to get on the road recruiting right away, get those players in here from the state. We're going to try to control this state in recruiting as best we can right now and get it cranked-up and put a great team on the field next year."
Word got around quickly Wednesday about Mullen's hiring, which will be officialized Thursday morning at a formal campus presentation at the Templeton Center. And not just in Starkville or Gainesville, but everywhere Bulldog fans had been monitoring the search which began immediately following Coach Sylvester Croom's announced resignation on November 29. So fast, that Dawgs' Bite recruiting reporter Steve Robertson was receiving calls from high school seniors committed to Mississippi State about the news.
The flight from Gainesville was delayed almost two hours, but the early-arriving fans stuck it out through the light drizzle and were joined by others before the corp-jet landed. As they waited, Chad Thomas of MSU marketing passed out free tee-shirts proclaiming ‘Dan Is The Man.' He was barely able to save a couple of shirts for the arriving afternoon's star characters, who deplaned at 4:17. Regina Byrne preceded her husband, who waved to the crowd. Moments later Megan Mullen stepped off, followed by the coach who turned in the direction of all those cowbells and cheers.
After Byrne presented his newest coach with the last unclaimed tee-shirt, which they displayed for cameras, Mullen started walking towards the crowd then broke into a jog. He slapped hands with as many that were stuck through the fence and waved to everyone else, while Megan stayed at a safer distance and took some photos of her own.
There was no plan for talking to media, but Mullen came their direction and answered some questions. Such as, the timing of his decision. "Early this morning," he said, then laughed when asked just how early. "You know, I didn't sleep a whole lot last night. I went to bed, didn't even think about it, and woke up with a big smile on my face excited, ready to go. I couldn't wait to get out here and I can't wait to get started."
How soon he gets started will be clarified, as Mullen's offense has work to do in preparing for the B.C.S. game and Florida's chance at a second national championship in three years. Mullen said his involvement, specifically his participation in the January 8 game, will be worked out with Gator head coach Urban Meyer and Byrne. This year's national title contest would be his eighth bowl trip in 14 years of college coaching.
What Mullen has no intention of delaying is recruiting his first Mississippi State signing class.
The balance of Croom's assistant staff has remained on the MSU job the last 11 days, contacting prospects as normally as possible under the circumstances. Byrne himself received certification to contact recruits as well and kept the committed prospects informed about the search process. This was critical because signings, of fall junior college graduates, begins one week from today; while high schoolers must wait for the first Wednesday in February, though some are known to intend enrolling for the spring semester.
The chance to recruit his own players and team factored into Mullen's decision to make the move from nationally-recognized assistant and coordinator to head coach. He credited the MSU administration first for selling him on the job, then added "The direction the program is going in. And the talent in the state of Mississippi is unbelievable, the football talent in the state of Mississippi. So I'm excited to get those players in our program and we're going to put a great product out there on the field."
That will be seen in 2009. For this December evening in 2008, though, Mullen is undefeated and Bulldog fans at the scene unquestioning in their approval. Their new football coach reciprocated the feelings. ""This is great, I couldn't ask for anything more, the passion of the fans here. We want to make sure these fans have something to be proud of when we get out there on the field next year."
And by Thursday morning Dan Mullen should have more than a tee-shirt as a souvenir of his trip to Mississippi State. As befits a new Bulldog coach, he'll have his own cowbell…the sounds of which he found enjoyable this afternoon.
"I love it! I love it! We're going to make sure everybody's got one and they're ringing ‘em as loud as possible every single game!"
The 2008 Gators easily ranked among the nation's most proficient offensive teams for the regular season. And even for the categories in which they were not top-twenty nationally, the stats still spoke to the unit's prowess. For example, while Florida was ‘only' 61st in NCAA passing yardage, they were 5th-best in passing efficiency.
Or, while Florida was #3 nationally in scoring at 45.2 points per game, they did it quite quickly with a time-of-possession ranked just 73rd for the Bowl Division (nee D-I). And when Florida scored, it was usually for six points with 79 touchdowns in 13 games against just 11 field goals.
The Gators had the 11th-best rushing attack in the country this season; 18th in total offense, 13th in converting third downs and 12th on fourth downs; ninth-best in ‘red zone' offense; and number-two in the land in turnover ratio. Florida lost just eight fumbles all year and had only three passes picked.
Mullen's 2007 attack was just about as productive, at 42.5 points-per game to rank 3rd nationally and lead the SEC with 457 yards each week. Of course much of the credit went to quarterback Tim Tebow who swept the Heisman, Maxwell, and O'Brien awards, and is a leading candidate to repeat this season.
But it was with Chris Leak usually at the controls that Mullen's offense hung 41 points on Ohio State to take the B.C.S Championship and 2006 national title. That year senior Leak threw for 23 touchdowns, and rookie Tebow ran for eight. Seven Gators averaged at least five yards per-carry that season while wideout Percy Harvin was SEC Freshman of the Year and SEC Championship Game MVP. Offensive Gators in Mullen's tenure have also been finalists for awards ranging from the Biletnikoff (receivers) to Rimington (centers).
The Mullen touch was just as sure in his previous stint at Utah, where he turned quarterback Alex Smith from a classic pocket-passer into a run/option triggerman in a ‘spread' system. In 2003 Smith averaged 245 yards per game, and in 2004 he became a Heisman finalist with the second most-accurate passing rate in the country. Smith was also Sporting News and Sports Illustrated Player of the Year for the '04 season, and led Utah to a Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh. The Utes were the first non-B.C.S. league program to play in a B.C.S. bowl, having ranked third nationally in both scoring and total offense.
Mullen's first major college post was at Bowling Green, where the Falcons piled up prodigious numbers. In two seasons their offenses passed for over 5,100 yards and 48 touchdowns, and while rushing accounted for less than 1,500 yards there were still 33 ground-touchdowns scored. As a result BG ranked third nationally in scoring, as did Falcon quarterback Josh Harris who threw for over 2,400 yards and ran for another 737.
Mullen prepared for his profession with graduate stints at Syracuse, where he was part of the 1999 Big East championship team staff, and at Notre Dame. He had worked full-time at Wagner and Columbia after graduating in 1994 from Ursininus College in Pennsylvania, where he had started two seasons at tight end and was first-team All-Conference as a senior.
Mullen is a native of Manchester, N.H., and holds a bachelors in exercise and sport science. He earned his masters from Wagner College in education.
FLORIDA 2005-2008 Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Bowls: 2006 Outback, 2007 BCS Championship, 2008 Capital One, 2009 BCS Championship
UTAH 2003-04 Quarterbacks Bowls: 2003 Liberty, 2005 Fiesta
BOWLING GREEN 2001-02 Quarterbacks
NOTRE DAME 1999-2000 Graduate Assistant Offense Bowls: 2001 Fiesta
SYRACUSE 1998 Graduate Assistant Offense Bowls: 1999 Orange
COLUMBIA 1996-97 Wide Receivers
WAGNER 1994-95 Wide Receivers