"I've Been On A Whirlwind Tour"

Dan Mullen anticipated a busy December. But just how full his early weeks on the Mississippi State job would be, was made clear to all Monday morning as he met with media. Because, while answering the first few queries, the Bulldog football coach was also autographing a box-load of footballs for Bulldog Club use. "We'll see how good I can multi-task!" Mullen quipped.

Of course the Bulldogs's new boss has been more interested and involved these first two weeks on the job with other signatures; that of junior college prospects for spring enrollment, or of aides for his still-in-process assistant staff. And even football coaches must make family time for Christmas. Then there is the modest matter of fulfilling his offensive coordinator's obligations with a Florida Gator team that will play for the national championship on January 8. Still, by the time Mullen returns from Miami and turns his entire professional and personal attention to Mississippi State football, he expects a lot of winter-work to have been accomplished and a good start made on other tasks, both immediate and long-term.

Q: Have you made any more staff decisions? "I think in the next two days you might hear a couple of other things coming up here. But nothing officially announced just yet, maybe even later today you might have something coming up, but in the next few days we'll hear a couple of things."

Q: Have you been interviewing? "We've had a couple of people in here for interviews already. I don't know how many, I've been on a whirlwind tour. Between the recruiting, the interviewing, and every once in a while trying to peek to see what Oklahoma does on defense, it's basically taken up the 20 hours a day that I'm awake right now it seems like!"

Q: Have you accomplished some of the things you intended? "I hope so! We've gotten around the state this week meeting a lot of high school coaches, obviously it's very important for us to have a great relationship with the high school coaches in this state so that they feel comfortable sending their players to come play for us. I got around the state all over the place this past week recruiting and that's going to continue as soon as I get back from the championship game. I'm still working my way, even trying to get through talking to all the players on the team right now. I start at the top and I think I'm mid-way through the M's! But in the next couple of days that's going to be a real big deal now that we're heading into a dead period recruiting, really to get in contact."

Q: What is the response you've had in visits? "The reception has been unbelievable. I've said one of the main reasons I took the job is the high school football in this state, the ability to get players to come play for us. And now getting to meet the high school coaches in this state you realize why the players are so good here, there's a lot of great high school coaches in this state and obviously a lot of great high school football programs. So I'm pretty excited about everything and the reception they've had meeting me."

Q: Do you feel you are caught-up in the recruiting? "Yeah, we're getting there. I feel pretty good about how it's going right now. Recruiting is a 365-day-a-year job, in those years we have those and the years that we don't it's still that many! I don't know if you're ever caught-up in recruiting, you're always working as hard as you can every single day. But I feel pretty good about where we are right now with things."

Q: What has stood out as far as needs for this class? "We're going to have a pretty big recruiting class coming in right here. My biggest impression obviously is the job Coach Croom and his staff did of recruiting quality players. They have a great foundation of things on several levels, but just on a recruiting level of what they have right now. They have a bunch of guys that were already committed here, obviously they worked real hard to get them here, so now I have to pick up where he left off and keep going and get them all on-board."

Q: Are there any particular positions needed? "No. A little bit of everything. I think you'll see every position on the field in this class."

Q: Have you had any time to look at film of current players? "A little bit. A little bit, more on the defensive side of the ball than the offensive side of the ball right now. That I've got to look at. I know we played great defense here in the past so I guess I (looked at defense) probably just to make sure I lifted my spirits and start off on the positive, the high end of things, to look at the personnel. I liked getting to watch a couple of games last year how hard the defense played, it was pretty impressive."

Q: Are you gong to have actual coordinators or guys coaching the passing game or what? "We'll see. A lot of it is going to depend on when we get staff. For me right now I want to get everybody in place. You'll see who is hired, everybody on the staff, and then probably a week later I'll get everybody's assignments and titles all done once we get everybody in place. But I want to make sure we put together a top-notch staff."

Q: What are the details of your job with Florida's bowl game? "They're off until December 27 right now, the players. I think the staff gets back together the 26th. I think I'm heading back there tomorrow, in the afternoon maybe. Get to see my wife for a minute or two, and try to enjoy a Christmas Eve and a Christmas with her. But what I'm going to do is get down there, they have a bunch of stuff already done so I'm just going to get caught-up on where they are and then make any adjustments to the plan they have in place or any input to the plan they have in place, any additions when I get down there so that I'm ready to roll. I think they practice from the 27th to the 30th, and from the 1st until we play the game."

Q: So your work with Florida is from tomorrow through the game? "Yeah. I'm going to come back quickly just to make sure some things are in place, because we're going to be on the road recruitin'…recruiting? Hey, which one is right? Recruitin' down here? OK! You jump around the country, you have to pick it up at different places! That's going to be a major deal, but I will be back to make sure all that stuff is in place for that on-the-road week that I'm down in Miami with the game.

"But the focus to me is a lot of things. I've been trying to balance everything right here. I've got the opportunity to watch Oklahoma's defense here. I have a loaded-up laptop with all the cut-ups, every defensive clip, everything from Florida that was shipped up here to me. So before I fall asleep at night, instead of reading a good book, I can flip on Oklahoma defense!"

Q: So what do you think of Oklahoma's defense? "Obviously they're a very attacking style of defense, one of the great defensive coaches in college football with their head coach as well as their defensive coordinator. They've been known for defense for years and they are a solid group back-to-front. You don't get where they are without playing great defense. Coming into this national championship game all the attention is on the two offenses; don't ever forget the great quote defense wins you championships. I think both defenses have been very much overshadowed maybe in the importance and how good both of them actually are that they're not getting the credit they deserve."

Q: How do you handle the divided attention, can you compartmentalize things? "Oh, yeah. The nice thing is, if I was still just at Florida I'd have a bunch of free time to hang out and go do a bunch of things with my wife. Because the plan is going to be set, you know what you're going to do, you're at the tail-end of the season and everybody is in a good comfort level, the offense is, the coaches are. So you'd be doing just as much in your recruiting time, this is the time of the year you have to do all that stuff. So I think the extra thing for me right now is making sure things are in line here from a head coach perspective, hiring the staff, making sure the direction we want to go in this program, all of that stuff is kind of organized. But our players are not here on campus right now. Right now we can't recruit on the road. So it's easy to get everything set in order of how to do things.

"I talked to Bo Pellini this week about how he handled it last year, he gave me some good advice. And just said hey, all you've got to do is take care of your program here first and the evening when you're done you take care of your current program, you have plenty of time to sit and watch it at home and get the gameplan organized. When you do get down there where you're going to coach, make sure you enjoy coaching in that championship game."

Q: What kind of things do you go over with the current players? "Number one, just where they've been with things. The first thing obviously is our grade point average. We had the second-highest grade point average in school history last semester, followed up by the highest one the semester before that. So that's a tremendous compliment to what Coach Croom did here. But talking about where they are academically, talking about the direction we're going to go in and making sure they're mentally focused for what is going to happen when they get back on campus. Which is going to be the hardest off-season in college football."

Q: Your junior college signees come with good credentials. ""We're still waiting to get all of them in, I guess. But right now we're pretty excited with Maurice Langston, obviously a tremendous return specialist, probably the top athlete in the Mississippi junior colleges this year. For us he's going to come in as a corner, that's where he is going to start off at. But he's also going to bring a dynamic player to the special teams. So I'm really excited about him and the quality of kid he is, he comes from a great family."

"Heath Hutchins is a great punter, in my time spent with him one thing I like is he's an athlete and has some football to him, too, and I think that's important, especially in kickers, to have that personality. So we're really excited to have him on board."

"Sean Brauchle, I haven't got to meet in person yet but obviously a big-time leg and I know that's a concern for us now to make sure we have a consistent kicker that comes in. A guy with a big-time leg that has kicked in college football games, it's great to have him coming in."

"Chris White, I'm real excited about Chris White. He's a big, physical, linebacker. I think the toughness aspect of it, his demeanor in meeting him and getting to spend time with him, he's going to bring a bunch. Not just on the field, I think he's going to bring a bunch of demeanor to the program. That's what he and I talked about, that toughness and his work ethic, what he's done. I'm really excited about him as well."

"Leon Berry, I've spent more time with him than anyone else, he was here this weekend. Take Leon with the depth we have at the receiver position right now, just for the type of offense that we're going to run, it was important for us coming in late to get a guy of his quality to play for us. And as an older guy, an experienced guy, but more importantly that he's coming in in January to play for us and he's going to have spring ball to prepare and the off-season to train. We sat down and looked at the depth, and we probably needed to get a junior college receiver, a little bit older guy ready to come in and play immediately. Now to get one that's able to come in in January for us and is going to have this spring to learn the offense and get bigger, faster, stronger; and a great player with a lot of speed on top of it, that was a pretty good deal."

Q: Will you have any more mid-semester signees? "I'm not allowed to talk about the high school guys until they enroll, right? I think there's a couple of high school guys coming in. Maybe by the end of the day we may see some kind of announcement."

Q: You said you would take over special teams yourself, what have you seen in that aspect? "Well those guys we signed, that's huge. Talking with the coaches in there, I say if we're going to look at a skill player, at a linebacker, at a safety, if he can't play on special teams for us I don't know how he's going to play on offense or defense for us. That's a big deal for me to make sure we have a bunch of guys that are going to be great special teams players. That's going to be an attitude that's presented to this team. They're going to learn, especially with my involvement running the special teams. You know, a lot of kids are signing to come play receiver, they're signing to come play linebacker. In high school it's not the important (thing). But what these guys are going to learn is that is as critical a part of the game as the offense or the defense. And I think once they learn that then their desire to be on the special teams is going to be a lot different."

Q: Have you made a decision on strength coach? ""I'm hoping in the next couple of days we're going to have a decision on what's going on with the strength coach. I can tell you now we have added another member to our staff, Les Koenning will be joining us on the offensive side of the ball. Specific details of everything will be worked out later. But Les most recently was at South Alabama but before that was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M and Alabama. He was here on Rockey's staff in the late 80s. So he's obviously bringing a wealth of experience. He grew up in it, I know his dad is in the Texas high school football Hall of Fame as a coach. So he's a guy that has been in football his entire life and he's going to bring a tremendous wealth of experience to the offensive side of the ball."

Q: Are the coaches still here going to be with you in the future? "It's still too early to tell exactly what role everybody that's still here is going to still be in for us. I think those are guys who kept on and been doing a great job recruiting, so I'd say we're still in the evaluation process with all of those guys at this point."

Q: What are your impressions of them so far? "They've been real solid. I mean they've got me around the state. The most impressive thing, just to throw Melvin Smith out there, I haven't walked into a high school that it doesn't seem everybody knows Melvin. So obviously to me he's doing an unbelievable job recruiting. So that's the evaluation I've really got to make, when I get to sit down and watch a little bit more film on the players and how their players performed last year, that's step two in the evaluation process. Obviously Melvin has done an unbelievable job recruiting in the state a long time and it shows when he's taken me out on the road with him."

Q: How many high schools do you think you've visited? "I tell you what, it seemed Friday Melvin had me in about ten! I think everybody in the high schools is waiting to go on Christmas vacation and he's not letting them! But a whole bunch. The coaches have done a real good job getting me everywhere I need to get around the state."

Q: Has anything surprised you so far? "You know what's really surprised me? The reception. The quality of the football players, not just the talent but the quality of people that these players are in this state, the family values these kids have around the state. Not that is should be a surprise, but it's been great. The kids that I'm visiting with are great people. Everything here has far blown away my expectations. Unfortunately I'd never been to Starkville before I got off the plane with Greg Byrne, that's the first time I've ever set foot here. I did hear people telling me how Mississippi is all about the beautiful sunshine! It's sunny today but certainly doesn't feel like it out there!"

"Obviously the facilities of the school, how beautiful the campus is, the reception in town, how great a town this is just driving around. Everything to me has been unbelievable. I can tell you this, every day I wake up I'm happier than the day before that I'm head football coach here."

Q: What has been the first questions recruits ask you? "I guess I throw a lot out at them before anything they throw at me. But just what direction the program is going to be going in for them. I know the relationships they're going to have with myself as well as my coaching staff. Because there are a lot of kids that had developed very strong relationships with Coach Croom, and understand the values and things he stood for. So most importantly they want to know that that is going to be carried on here. The way I look at it, there are a lot of coaches that take over programs that aren't walking into the situation that I am, where we have high character kids that have back-to-back highest semesters in school history. I haven't been called down to the athletic director's office yet to say hey, you have to make a decision on these six kids that have been arrested or gotten in trouble of any of that stuff. So Coach Croom while he was here obviously instilled tremendous values in these kids. Put together players that are of very high character and worked very hard in the classroom. To me that's the great thing, to answer your question directly, that these high school kids are making sure that is going to be carried on. And that's what I want to do, I want to build on the foundation Coach Croom has started here."

Q: Have you had a chance to talk to Coach Croom yet? "Yes, I did. I called him to compliment him on the great situation that he left me in coming here. We did have a chance to visit, and I'm looking forward when I do get a couple of minutes to breath to spend some time with him and just go through a lot of the things, where he felt everything was here and the direction and advice he would have for me of how we can lead things into the future."


Gene's Page Top Stories