"The search was broad in nature. It was a true national search, we had a lot of candidates. But it became very clear as soon as we sat down with Coach Mullen that he would become the next football coach at Mississippi State University."
COACH DAN MULLEN: "It's a great honor to be here today. I want to thank Greg Byrne and his staff, Dr. Roy Ruby, Dr. Mark Keenum, for their belief in the direction, in the ideas I have to bring this program back to prominence in the Southeastern Conference and their trust to give me the opportunity to do that. We're very excited. I'm going to put together a staff that our number-one focus in the short term is going to be on recruiting. I feel there's a lot to sell here at Mississippi State University. I also feel there is a tremendous amount of talent in the high school football players in the state of Mississippi. And we want to make sure they know they have a program, they have a school that is going to take care of them, that's going to make them believe they can come represent their state university and the state of Mississippi here playing football for the Bulldogs."
"It's been interesting for me, the career path to get here. I've had to live a lot of places around the country, and one thing I'm really excited about, that was told to me early on by anybody I talked to is what a great community it is to live here. My wife Megan and I are very excited to start our family and have our family be a part of this community here. I've heard so many great things, not just about the state but the people in this community, the people that are involved in this University, their love. The excitement that I've seen the last 24 hours is unbelievable, and I can't wait to get going. I hope we give tem a football team they can be proud of."
"One think you'll see from our football team, we'll be a spread offensive team. We're going to find a way to take all these great athletes in the state of Mississippi and give them the ball in space, give them opportunities and matchups across the field to do amazing things with that ball. Let them have those one-on-one matchups that we can win and put our kids in the best position to be successful."
"We're going to be an attacking, aggressive defense that's going to come at you from all different directions. We're going to play with a lot energy on the defensive side of the ball, we're going to put together a great defensive staff, that's our top priority. We will play great defense here."
"And most importantly for us, you're going to see a team in all phases of the game of football that is going to play with relentless effort and passion in everything they do. Our offense, our defense, our kicking game; our coaching staff, our strength staff. Anything whether it's off-season conditioning, whether it's going to class, in the weightroom, on the practice field, and especially on Saturdays, you're going to see a team that plays with relentless effort and relentless passion for the game of football."
"I'm honored to be here, I think we're going to have a great future here at Mississippi State."
Q: Do you have any plans to call plays yourself, and have you looked at possible defensive coordinators? "We're getting a list ready and I'm talking to some people about defensive coordinators right now, we're going to work on that in the short term. Offensively, I will be very, very involved in the offense even though my number-one goal is going to be coaching special teams. But I will have a lot of input on the offensive side of the ball, I'll make a lot of suggestions in the play-calling, even though I feel it's best my focus be more on the effort our team plays with and make sure we have great special teams and have somebody else calling the plays for the most part."
Q: What was your first thought this morning? "First thought I had, make sure we go get the most energetic coaches that can get out there on the road recruiting. And making sure we get these junior college players that it's coming up on their signing day here signed with us. And my thoughts are also on those kids down there playing in the all-star game in Mobile are thinking about, talking about right now!"
Q: Educate us on the spread offense. "The spread offense, there's a lot of different styles I guess out there. We're going to adapt ours to the personnel we have here right now, utilizing the players that we have to the best of our ability. If that requires having tight ends and fullbacks, because we have some good ones here, we'll do those things."
"But the philosophy of the spread off is to make the defense defend the entire field sideline-to-sideline, and find a way to create one-on-one matchups to put your athlete on a weaker athlete from the defense. We want to find a way to get one of our top play-makers in a mis-match with somebody on the defense, that's the basic philosophy of the spread offense. That's what we're going to follow. How we do it, that's going to be determined a lot by the players that are here and how we're going to best utilize the players that are on campus right now."
Q: Given the short amount of time you and Byrne talked, can you both talk about how you did your research? "First for me, when I found out this job was open, it was obviously something that was very interesting to me being in the Southeastern Conference. There's no better place playing football than in the South. When I heard about it, one of the first things was to click on the internet and look at recruiting. The job that Caoch Croom and his staff did and that Greg has continued to do since then in recruiting, in getting the top players in the state to come here to their State University, it really excited me. It really excited me. I guess the internet is a great way to do an awful lot of research in a hurry."
"When I found out that Greg might be interested in talking to me, Megan and I went home and surfed and did a lot of research about the school, looking at ways and things that I could be successful."
"I knew right from the beginning, right from our first phone conversation I was really excited. But when we met face-to-face I knew that this was going to the leader that was going to lead this University in the right direction in the athletic department, and have the relentless drive that we're going to have to build champions throughout the University and in this athletic department."
BYRNE: "The thing that was unique about this, is obviously the University of Florida was playing in the SEC Championship Game last week. So Coach (Urban) Meyer and (A.D.) Jeremy Foley who I have obviously a lot of respect for had actually asked to be hands-off on anybody on their staff leading up to that game. And they were very serious about it. So obviously we were going to respect one of our counterparts in the SEC and their wishes."
"The way my schedule worked, Sunday I was not available a lot of the day. Monday I was someplace else. We didn't talk until Monday night on the phone for the first time. But before that we were doing a lot of research the week before, leading up to the game, so we had a good idea about who he was, what he was about, and did a lot of background research. And we knew who Megan was from all her years on the Golf Channel, too!"
"So by the time the first conversation started on our side, we knew a lot about Coach Mullen and what he represented and what he was about. He cared about the kids, that was very important to what we're doing. He cared about graduation rates, we talked about all those things. And it was really interesting. We started talking Tuesday night, we met in Atlanta for the first time at 9:00 at night. We had never sat down face-to-face until that time. I think we got done with the first conversation about 1:30 in the morning. And we had a number of people involved in the search, helping us."
"When we got done I said Coach, how many times have you interviewed for head coaching jobs? He said "First one, today." I said, man! I'd say from academics to zone defense, A to Z, lay it out how you're going to run your program. The guy talked like he'd been doing this for years and years and it wasn't scripted, it was right off the top of his head, here's what I'm doing, here's how I'll manage all aspects of the program. That's why we felt very comfortable with it. And then with the research we were doing; we had Scott Stricklin, Mike Nemeth, Duncan McKenzie heavily involved in the process and the legwork they were doing; they were able to get a lot of that information."
"We were 30 minutes into the conversation, even though we ended up talking to about 3:30 Wednesday morning…a half-hour into it I was like, this is our guy. If we can get everything worked out this is our man. We wanted somebody coaching our football program at Mississippi State that is on his way up, because that's the way our program is. Coach Mullen fit the bill in every aspect of what we were looking for our program."
Q: Describe your personality? "I'm certainly an intense person. I do have a fun side. I've loved the game of football since… My mom has pictures of ‘career day' in kindergarten of me with a football jersey and helmet. Actually in those days it was an O.J. Simpson jersey! But it's been a passion of mine, in grade school the first times-table I learned was seven because I'd watch football games on Saturday and if you scored a touchdown I knew how the sevens were counted all the way up."
"So football has been the passion for me my entire life. I'm a very passionate person, I think the game is going to be played with great effort. I think the one thing you will see with our team, I don't care about the scheme. If there was one perfect offense everyone in the country would run the same offense. If there was a perfect defense everybody would run the same defense. Things that make teams different are their passion, effort, and energy they play the game with. That's what I'm going to bring to the table, that's what our team is going to reflect, and they're going to get from me and that's what you're going to see on Saturdays."
Q: How soon did you start contacting prospects and what do you think of the talent in this state? "The one benefit, most of them are in the same place (this week) so they can pass the phone around to each other! That was the number-one priority. As soon as everything was approved for us, before we arrived here yesterday, I was on the phone getting in touch with our commitments and making sure those guys are solid and they want to stay with us."
"The great thing, one of the little nuggets I found, is per-capita there are more players in the NFL than anywhere else, so there is an awful lot of great talent here in the state. So the top priority for us is taking care of these high school coaches, the junior college coaches, so they know they have an open-door policy here with us. They have full access to our program, to our coaches. We will be going around this state, we will get in every high school in this state before we even worry about recruiting anywhere else. To make sure those players know they have a home here and they can represent the state of Mississippi at their State University."
Q: Have you decided if you'll coach through the national title game, and do you have any specifics on who you will bring here? "It's still a fluid situation right now. The biggest thing to me, I'm very committed to the players. I have a young man, the most tremendous young man I've ever met, who is on his way up to New York City this weekend, in Tim Tebow. As his coach we have a tremendous relationship, he's one of my best friends in the world. So the last thing I want to do is hurt any opportunity he has for success in his life, as well as the rest of the players for the University of Florida. Anything I can do to assist them, I'm going to try to help."
"But the number-one priority right now is to make sure this program is up and running. That we get a staff put together for the most part. We don't need it completed, but put together so we can get guys on the road recruiting. And once we get things stabilized we'll worry about going back and the national championship game."
Q: What do you know about the players here now? "I know there are some players. I got to meet a couple outside before I came in. I'm really excited to get involved with these players. I know they've played some great defense here, so that's the foundation, we want to play great defense, we want to build this program around a great defense. When we get the staff organized when we get back here we're going to spend time evaluating the talent that's here, seeing what these players do well, and making sure our offense fits those abilities."
"And you know what? We probably won't even know what we're going to be doing until the end of spring, once we've really got a chance to see. I can tell you the philosophy, the base parts, but a lot of it is going to depend on what our guys can do and we're going to see that. In the off-season conditioning program they're going to be tested probably like they've never been tested before. And when we get out there on the practice field they're going to play with a little different effort and energy level than they've ever seen before. We're going to see what they can do and go from there."
Q: Being the third-youngest coach in Division I… "C'mon, I thought I was fourth! Steve Sarkesian is younger than I am! As a younger coach the one thing you always have to learn is, you're always learning. You're either getting better or you're getting worse. So every single day I wake up I have to find a way to make myself a better coach. Hopefully being a young guy I can get an awful lot better, I have a lot of years to make myself better here as a coach if I can find a way every day."
"I've had the opportunity to coach under some unbelievable people and see different programs. Obviously being under Urban as a great head coach for the last several years. Learning under Bob Davie at Notre Dame, and Paul Pasquelone at Syracuse who is a tremendous football coach. You get to take those things, take notes and pay attention to things everybody does well and doesn't do well."
" My goal has always been to be a head football coach. So I've kept my notes and things I liked in each program, and when I have the opportunity and my own program that's what I'm going to do. Being young, though, is it an advantage? I think I have a great relationship with players. I don't think I'm as far removed—even though my wife tells me you're a lot further removed than you think you are from those young guys!--but that ability to relate to players, relate to the issues that are going on in today's society, relate to the things that these players have to deal with. Society is a lot different than it was fifteen or twenty years ago. So these players have an awful lot of different things than they were dealing with fifteen or twenty years ago on a daily basis. I think my age is a big benefit for me to be able to understand and really relate to these kids."
Q: When did you start thinking of being a head coach? "Probably when I was about 17 and realized I wasn't going to be a NFL player. At that point, that's when I wanted to coach. I knew early on. Football has been my life from a very, very early age. When I realized people didn't want a six-foot, 180-pound quarterback with a weak arm but made up for it with a real lack of speed, I decided I'd better be able to get into the coaching profession soon to be able to use my mind. I've been very fortunate, I've been given a lot of opportunities along the way. And one thing I've always believed in, if someone gives you an opportunity you take full advantage of it, another opportunity is going to present itself to you. I've lived by that through the years and been very fortunate that people give me opportunities, I feel I've always taken full advantage of it, and it's led me to another opportunity."
Q: Greg, how much are you paying and what are the terms. And how many people did you interview and did you offer the job to anyone else? "It's a four year contract, $1.2 million per year. And we have a letter of understanding signed, obviously we need to get all the legal counsel involved in putting together the formal contract. But we agreed to the terms of the deal."
"We spoke face-to-face with eight candidates. And did a lot of research on many, many more than that. Coach Mullen was absolutely the first person we offered the job to."
Q: Dan, have you had a chance to talk to Tim Tebow about his future? "Just threw text messages last night. I've been kind of swamped, I'm looking for a chance to speak to him today. Tim and his family, I have a feeling had a conversation. Our relationship has been very, very strong. It's always hard to leave players behind, but I've had to do that at the past and I've always had great relationships."
"I had a young man I recruited at the University of Utah sat in my office, came to see my wife in tears, named Brian Johnson. I recruited him, he played for me as a freshman, and I had to tell him I was leaving. That's always really hard to do. But Brian and I still talk every two weeks, he's done a tremendous job leading his team to a B.C.S. game this year. That player relationship is always critical. Tim and I will be close forever, when he has a family of his own that's a relationship we'll have forever. I know he's going to succeed, whatever Tim does in life he's a success and that's never going to change for him. And I was just happy that hopefully I was a little part of the success he has."
Q: Greg talked of how impressed he was with the plan you laid out. Is that something you've had in mind for years? "It is. Everywhere you go. I have a thick file at home of different things I've seen at different programs, that I said when I become a head coach this is something I wrote I will do. And as many things probably as things I definitely won't do. So that plan has been put in place for quite a while. Now that I'm here, I finally get a opportunity to implement it. And I'm really excited."
Q: You thoughts about the SEC Western Division? "To me in the SEC wherever you are it's going to be a challenge. The thing that makes this leave different, the talent you're playing week-in and week-out is like nowhere else in the country. There are no off-games in this league, anybody can beat anybody on a given weekend and you'd better bring your A-game every single week. On the West side right now, obviously we're going to go pursue the team that won the West this year. And that's going to be our goal, to get after them. There's a lot of talent on this side, but it can be even and we can get caught up in a hurry to the rest of the teams on the West side of the league."
Q: Greg, were there any minority candidates among those eight? "Yes there were. We did a lot of research on all possible candidates; coordinator level, head coaches, minorities. We just wanted to make sure we found the best fit. And as I talked to Dr. Ruby and Dr. Keenum through the process we all felt comfortable Coach Mullen was the right one for Mississippi State."
Q: Coach, who were your coaching role models? "You know, it's interesting. It's amazing the effect coaches have on your life. I'm still in close contact with guys I played for in high school, they actually still try to come to games each year. They had a tremendous influence on my life. When I went to college and played for a guy named Steve Gilbert, he made a big impact on my life in coaching. And everybody that I've coached for, I've taken little things from everyone. Learning the X-and-Os and the schematic part of the game from someone like Paul Pasquelone, who might be one of the top Xs-and-Os person in the country early on. On the defensive side of the ball I learned an awful lot working under Bob Davie. I'd say the person that really got me in the right direction in my career is a guy named Kevin Rogers, who is now quarterback coach at the Minnesota Fikings, he was the coordinator at Syarcuse and Notre Dame. And as a graduate assistant I worked directly with him and he taught me a tremendous amount about the game of football.
"And from that point on that's when I was at Notre Dame with Urban. We left there, went to Bowling Green, and it's just an amazing ride that we had, I think maybe changed college football a little bit with the different offensive things we were doing throughout the years. But growing right from day-one of putting that offense together and seeing how to build up different programs. Every program I've been involved in is very different, and that's the great thing, it's a tremendous experience. A rebuilding job I was involved with at Bowling Green is very different than a rebuilding job at Utah, which is very different than the rebuilding job I was involved in at Florida. So seeing how those different thing work, how to apply things to each schol and to the players at that school, has given me a pretty good experience of what to expect and what we need to accomplish in turning things around and getting us back on top in the SEC West."
Q: Greg, the idea that ‘points equals dollars', everybody wants a coach that will bring a lot of points? "Well, you need to score points to win. And obviously recruiting is critical in that. Your Xs-and-Os are very important, the ‘Jimmys and Joes' as the old saying goes are even more important. So we wanted somebody we felt could handle the Xs-and-Os side of it as well as anybody could out there, as well as somebody that had a passion for recruiting and had the energy level to really just dominate recruiting in the state of Mississippi in all aspects. And obviously you're not going to get every single kid, there are other choices out there we understand. But there's certainly there's going to be a great effort to get everyone we want to have at Mississippi State. That was important through the search process to keep in mind and we feel Coach Mullen is the one that allows us that best opportunity to do so moving forward."
Q: Greg, this was also the first search you've led for a head football coach, can you describe the last 11 days? "I need to certainly thank Micht Barnhart at Kentucky, we did our first head coaching search when I was 26 years old when we were at the University of Oregon Stat and Mike Riley had gone to the Chargers. He had gone 5-6 and that was a big deal at Oregon State at the time. Then we hired Dennis Erickson, I got to be involved in that and the research you do and the evaluation you do."
"That was where I learned very quickly don't play this thing through the media. Because games get played and all that. So we were going to be quiet. I can honestly tell you we did keep an update a little bit on what was out there and what the ‘word' was. And we were very fortunate we were able to keep it quiet. As I said, Coach Mullen is the first person we offered the job to and that was very satisfying to be zeroed-in on the person you wanted. And to be able to feel you were in a position as a University to have the person you want to lead your program ready to come to you University. So we were very fortunate there."
"But obviously it's an exhaustive process. We're ready to help get his staff here and help him however we can. At some point we're ready to probably at least take a half-day off somewhere before getting geared-up back up again. I think everybody that was involved with it was probably burning the midnight oil a little bit."
Q: Coach, what can you achieve in the first two or three years here and what are the long-term goals? "Right away, I just want a team that plays with relentless effort. That's all we're looking in the first couple of years here. I think if we play with relentless effort the results should take care of themselves and we're going to build it on that right now."
"Our goal here is to get to Atlanta. Every season. When our kids come back, day-one in the off-season conditioning program that goal is to find a way for us to get to Atlanta. And that goal will never change while I'm head coach here. To get to Atlanta."
Q: When you spoke yesterday with recruits, what was their response? ""Fortunately I guess a lot of them are down at the (all star) game together. So I think the buzz had already hit and they knew what was going on. So it was a very positive feedback and it would seem to me a lot of excitement. So I hope I can find away to keep that excitement going with all these different kids. I think the word spread fast, and it's kind of a good situation for us to have all those kids together—all the top kids in Mississippi together--in one place right now. That spread the word around their team, their practice, on the busses back to the hotel, I got to speak to a couple of guys on the bus. I'm just excited to get to meet each of these kids individually so they can see and their families can see how their sons are going to be taken care of and what direction their future is going to hold."
Q: Greg can you talk about the role the Neinas firm played? "We used Chuck Neinas who is former commissioner of the Big Eight and former director of the College Football Association. And has a Rolodex like none other. He talks to coaches throughout the year and has an understanding of where their interests are, where they might be willing to live, where they might not be willing to live. He understands their backgrounds, where their strengths are and where their weaknesses are. So right at the beginning we talked to Chuck and said hey, this is what we're looking for and gave him the same definition of what we were looking for in our coach that we gave our fan base. We said here's a list of names we think, and give us your input on these names; and at the same time too give us any other names we may not be thinking about. So it was a collaborative effort, he was very helpful to understand things about where certain people were. It's a very useful tool in your search to be able to keep confidential, so again things aren't played publicly. At the same time give you a solid resource that gives you a firm understanding of what's out there in the country. We can as part of our responsibility have a good understanding of that, but at the same time we're not talking to every single coach who could be potential candidates. We were very fortunate to have him involved."
(Editor's note: Byrne later confirmed that Mullen was in the list he submitted to the Nienas firm)
Q: Coach, where do you think this program is and how important is your offensive background? "Where the program is, I think this program has played great defense over the last couple of years. And that's a great foundation for us. I want to see our defense to continue to take steps forward in the right direction. But if we can play that style of defense we will be a very, very solid special-teams team. And as we mix that offense in, that might be the key component. We can't lose anything we have on the defense, we need to keep improving. We need to play great special teams. But hopefully we can mix up, get a little bit more of that offense in there, put a couple more points on the board, and that might push us over the edge as it goes in the SEC West."
Q: Have you thought of keeping any of the current staff? "I've met with just a couple of the staff members that are here, I still have a lot more I want to meet with. Once I've met with everybody I'll make the determination of who we may keep and who we want. I'm sure there will be people on this staff we do keep, but that has not been fully determined who we will keep and who is not going to stay with us."
Q: What does it mean to be the first candidate Greg offered the job to? "It's great. It was a big honor. After we met to about 1:30 in the morning and split-up, took a half-hour break, I went back to my room and felt this is going well. And the thought that was going through mind is here's some guys that believe in me, they believe in what I'm saying. That's a tremendous compliment to receive. And when I got time after we finished meeting at 3:30 in the morning I talked to my wife, woke her up! I said what a compliment that somebody believes in you, believes in what you can do, believes that they want you to lead their football program. That was an unbelievable feeling for me."
MULLEN ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: "I look at (recruiting) as behind and I'm going to be on a dead-sprint for the next ten days getting ourselves caught-up, making sure all these recruits are comfortable with me and the direction our program is going to go in the future."
"I think when these players get a chance, the personal relationships we're going to have with these players we're going to be a solid football family."
"Our beliefs, our philosophies are going to be installed starting right now, today. We need to go out and recruit some players that are going to be able to do a lot of the things we want to do. But I have to make sure the players that are here we're using them to the best of their abilities."
"Tomorrow we're going to go out and hit a couple of more recruits, especially with the junior college signing day quickly upon us. Then I really want to work on getting some staff things in place on Saturday, over the weekend, so we can hit the ground running next week and get a bunch of our staff out there recruiting around the place."
"When we were at Utah, obviously out west there are a lot of junior colleges. It is a little unique to certain places and I feel it's a tremendous strength for us here that we have all these right here in the state for us. We will recruit the junior colleges here in the state. Last year I recruited what I think was the number one junior college wide receiver in the country at Florida. So I've been around it and seen it and it's something we're going to embrace."
"We're going to have an extremely aggressive approach and we're going to make sure these players and their families understand their kids are going to become our kids. My wife just adopted 85 young men! It's going to be a very family atmosphere, we want the kids in this state and their parents to understand they have a family here representing their State University."
(about Megan's comment on her due-date being ‘three weeks after signing day') "Yeah, as a coach you have to plan that stuff right now! If she wants me there, there's a very short window to make sure I'm present when its born! Before signing day that would be up the air a little bit, but after signing day we should be safe!"
Will you stick to the existing spring schedule? "I want to look at the calendar and get that organized. What I'm excited for, our spring practices are going to be open to the public and the fans come out and watch, I want to make sure we put on show and have a great spring game for the fans of this state."
"Any time you look at a coaching position you really want to look at where your talent base is; how far do I have to go to get great layers to come play for me. The talent base in this state is something I looked at and said this is a very, very intriguing deal."
"The first time I heard about it (the MSU opening) I was walking by Jeremy (Foley) after the Championship Game and he said hey, Mississippi State may would like to talk to you. I said OK, that sounds great, then I ran in the locker room and was giving people hugs! I don't think that sunk in until Sunday where Megan and I said hey, let's get on the computer and if they ever do want to talk to me let's make sure I know a little bit about the school and the recruits and if they do have the ability to get those players to come play for them."
Playing Florida next fall: "That's going to be a neat deal. I tell you what, it's going to be a hard-hitting game, I know that much! But obviously Coach Meyer has built a tremendous program and they have a lot of great players. That will be one game I'm certainly going to look forward to."
Get a head-start on the Egg Bowl rivalry this past season with UF loss to Ole Miss? "All I know, that team up-north has to come down here and there's going to be a lot of ringing going on in this stadium! I'm looking forward to next Thanksgiving."
So you're not worried about a letter from Mike Slive on cowbells? "Well, I understand they're not allowed in there! So tell the fans don't bring their cowbells…but we'll be ringing!"