"It will be the first opportunity to be with the team, that'll go on for a while," said Mullen. "The rest of the weekend will be set up with individual meetings, just so I get a chance to meet them one-on-one. That basically will fill the time."
Not that time has been much of a Mullen luxury since he accepted Greg Byrne's offer to take charge of Bulldog football in the early hours of December 10. Save for a brief Christmas break with wife Megan in Gainesville, Mullen has been running—as well as riding and flying—essentially non-stop in both fulfilling his post-season obligations with the Gators, and getting a grip on Mississippi State's off-season situation. He spent almost ten days on the MSU job after his formal presentation, hiring new staff members and making his first round of recruiting visits during the December ‘active' period.
Since New Years his focus has been, mostly, back on Florida and the upcoming B.C.S. Championship game with Oklahoma in Miami. Busy? "Hah!" he responded. "It's been pretty crazy." But in the best way possible, he means. Because what could be better than helping prepare one team to play for a second national championship this decade, while also beginning work on his very own program in the same conference?
Though, he admits, "I've probably missed out on a lot of the fun the coaches are having here." That's largely because he's really been back on both jobs this week with MSU recruiting in need of January attention. Dan and Megan have attended only two of the formal bowl functions, he reports. His working days in Miami have gone from 6:30 to 6:30, or later, and once turned loose from Florida business "then it's Mississippi State. Then I go to bed! But the rest of my free time I've focused on getting things done for Mississippi State."
Primarily, of course, recruiting. Since he took over Mullen has filled staffing needs with four on-field assistant coaches as well as a strength coach. The staff isn't completed and speculation is he will bring at least one Gator aide with him to Starkville, though Mullen would not confirm this today. "That'll be decided after the game. Friday we'll start talking, discussing if anyone comes with me from Florida."
Meanwhile though the aides already announced, as well as members of Coach Sylvester Croom's staff that are retained, have been on the Bulldog job courting and maintaining current commitments, with new assistant Frank Wilson serving as the recruiting coordinator. "Right now everybody's focus is on recruiting," Mullen said. "Frank is kind of running the show right now. That's where the staff is going for us." Mississippi State's signing class of 2008-09 is already off to a strong start, with seven junior college players already inked at mid-year (check Dawgs' Bite recruiting reports for the full list) and a couple of high schoolers enrolling for the spring semester which began today. Those two cannot sign grants until the regular February Signing Day.
Mullen has given frequent credit to the job Croom and staff did in securing commitments from prep and juco prospects before the December transition, as well as getting other recruits to at least lean Mississippi State's way.
"With those guys everything was real positive," Mullen said of his contacts last month. "Some were committed before I got here, some we were able to hold on to, and some we had to get committed." This doesn't mean Mullen's first full signing class is a done deal of course, as there are the January official visits to schedule and the actual inkings to complete. And there are still scholarships slots to be filled, so Mullen is clear about what remains to be done before February 4.
"Go get the best, fastest, most athletic players in the country!" he said. "That's going to be our focus 100% of the time every single year in recruiting. And we're going to start in the state of Mississippi, hopefully we can fill those needs with the great players in this state. We may have to go out of state for one or two."
Meanwhile Mullen was able to spare Mississippi media a precious quarter-hour today. Not that he's unfamiliar with constant attention from the press corps. "I married into the media," he reminds, "that's gone pretty good! It's the hardest interview I ever had to do!" There's not a lot left for him to tell non-related reporters now, as just about all the game preparation and planning that can be done has been finalized for Thursday's B.C.S. showdown. And shootout, if public expectations come to pass, and run, and score. Though he coordinates one of those offenses, Mullen isn't so sure this will be a big-scoring ball game.
"Everyone thinks it will be an offensive shootout, back and forth. You don't get to a championship game without a salty defense. I think it will be more a defensive game than anybody expects." This tone is in keeping with Mullen's first public comments about his own plans for Bulldog football, too, as every time he stressed the need for a sound defense first. Presumably he will bring the salt State needs in this aspect to become a championship defense, too. At the same time State's recruiting focus has been on offensive talents, too, since this is the area MSU needs most improvement in.
Yet it's up to the new boss to set the priorities, and Thursday night when Mullen leaves the Gator locker room for the last time he is all-Bulldog-business. After, that is, a quick bit of family time. "And I've got a lot of family coming in for the game!" he said. But by Friday morning, Dan and Megan Mullen formally, finally become the first family of Bulldog football, with a whole bunch of boys awaiting their afternoon meeting with the head of this household.