Mullen wraps up the second full official-visit weekend, and the first full recruiting campaign at State, on Sunday as a crop of guests head home after three days on the campus. (Dawgs' Bite recruiting writers will be updating the list and reporting on individual visits as they make permissible contact these next couple of days.) Per NCAA policies State could not provide a number, much less names, from this second major visit weekend.
But it was a long, and good-looking, line of visitors that followed Mullen into Humphrey Coliseum today during the first media timeout of State's basketball game. Their arrival was well-orchestrated, of course, allowing the over 10,000 mostly-MSU fans to cheer the game's special guests…and the handful of visiting-team fans to see a lot of guys in street clothes who will soon enough be donning Maroon and White game garb.
As Mullen reached the corner of the court where the visitors would be directed to their reserved seats, he lifted both arms signaling to the student section and band to increase the volume. Which they did. Such assistance is completely legal and very much sought by a head coach less than two months into his new job.
"Our student body and fans are just incredible," he said later, during halftime while the prospects were left to the attention of their player-hosts. "If I was a recruit I'd love to come here and play for these students and these fans!"
Based on public, if non-binding, commitments made by many quality prospects, as well as the six junior college players signed in December and two more early high school grads already on campus (they must wait until Wednesday to sign the papers), Mullen has convinced a high-class class to come play for Mississippi State folk. Mullen, hired on December 11, freely credits the groundwork done by his predecessor Sylvester Croom for putting a lot of the pieces in places.
At the same time the new coach and his staff, over half of which is also new to MSU, have taken no chances in sealing these emotional deals with almost non-stop recruiting labors of their own. And then there was the matter of coaxing other unannounced talents into visits, commitments, and hopefully signings. Which is why Mullen will be just as intense between now and Wednesday as he was that December afternoon he made is own first prospect visit.
"We're working," he says. "We're working. It's not something you can rest on, you need to recruit every single day, year-round. So I know these next couple of days here are critical in this process and we've got to finish real strong."
Especially considering that some outlets which evaluate recruiting regard the group Mississippi State anticipates inking among the top-twenty classes in the country. That's a strong statement in and of itself. But until names are on letters-of-intent and grants-in-aid, these commitments are Bulldogs in attitude only. Good, but not binding.
Which is why despite his consistent smile to media and fans, Mullen claims he isn't a content coach. Not yet.
"We have to keep working harder and harder and harder. So hopefully we'll finish up here strong the next couple of days and we'll see. Maybe I'll be happy Wednesday afternoon."
The secret to State's happiness is found in upgrading the talent level of this football team. Mullen hasn't been shy about pursuing personnel of the caliber needed to make Mississippi State first a competitor, then a contender. Despite the struggles of last season the Bulldogs might not be as far away as the 2008 record and stats showed. Yet the roster of veterans and redshirts clearly needs help almost across the proverbial board; particularly in longer terms, as a new coach with an entirely new approach to offensive football imprints his own ideas on the program. Thus, the all-importance of recruiting; not just this first class but every collection Mullen can convince to sign on.
And not just the players-to-be themselves, but the people who raised them, taught them, and/or coached them. Mullen has hit as many Mississippi high schools as possible these last six weeks, allowing for the time he spent helping Florida earn their second B.C.S. Championship in three years. He is recruiting not only the young men but their coaches…and more so their families.
"I want them to know that their son is going to be taken care of here and they are going to be a part of the family just as if they were my own son. And I think when they come here and see the type of school that we have, the atmosphere, what a great college town Starkville is, and then the fans, they know that this is a great place."
Of course in making the transition from coordinator to head coach Mullen just left a great place, where success can be taken for granted. It's clear though he relishes the opportunity to build his own team, in his own manner. And that a lot of high school standouts, most all of them from championship or at least winning teams, like what this coach offers. It's not quite the same as recruiting in Gainesville, Mullen agrees.
For that matter adding just the one short word ‘head' to his coaching title has been a mighty long step, which already shows in his recruiting outlook. Mullen says the process of developing relationships isn't so different from aide to boss. "But right now I'm ultimately responsible," Mullen says.
"These kids, when they commit to Mississippi State University and to myself, I'm responsible to them and their families making sure they graduate and making sure their sons are treated well and become better men while they stay here. That's now my responsibility. So when I sit down and make that promise to the parents, they know it's coming from the head man."
By Wednesday afternoon a full class of new personnel will officially have a new head man. And then? Why, work on recruiting the class of 2010 will be underway, of course. Though the priority will also become getting ready for Mullen's first spring camp at State. Practices begin March 23, as camp has been moved back two weeks from the previous staff's schedule to both allow the new staff to take care of recruiting as well as organize itself. Mullen has said he will announce the specific assignments of his assistants shortly after Signing Day. This staff will have an accelerated camp by MSU standards, with no spring break interrupting the work, and the 15 practice dates will be conducted in just a 26-day span.
And when camp concludes, Mullen has a challenge issued to Bulldog fans. With the players about to go through what the coach proclaims will be an exceptionally intense spring, he wants at least 40,000 in the DWS stands for the April 18 spring game. A game, furthermore, that every MSU aide says will be entertaining to both the fans…and a large group of prime high school juniors invited to observe.
So those who claim to care about Bulldog football should expect continued challenges by the coach to show up for the spring game. That is part of what Mullen intends to tell folk who come to hear him on two Signing Day events, when he speaks on campus at 2:30 and in the Agriculture & Forestry Museum in Jackson that evening. After all, it's not just the publicly committed prospects Mullen will continue to recruit .
He will keep courting the fan base, too.
"We want to make sure we can get this fan base excited about Mississippi State football again. And they're going to have an opportunity to show it on April 18."