"Our freshman year at Ursinus College we both showed up at preseason football camp. I lived in one end of the hallway and he lived down at the other. And there were three or four of us on the hallway and we were all freshmen. We got to know each other and started our friendship that way."
Is your friendship based on similar personalities or because you have different personalities?
"I would say yes to both of those (laugh). I think we have some of the same passions. We were both freshmen quarterbacks. We both were in the same major. The school that we went to was more of a locally oriented school. I was only about 90 miles away from the school, but I was still further away than most people. When guys started talking about playing this team or that team, Dan and I had no idea what they were talking about because that wasn't where we were from. I think that's part of the thing that started our friendship."
You became good friends even though you were competing for the same position on the field, quarterback?
"Oh yeah, but people couldn't understand that at first. To me, being a friend has nothing to do with wanting to whup you out on the field (laugh). We had a nice little separation from competing on the field and being friends off the field. We would play one-on-one basketball, trying to beat the tar out of each other. That was just being competitive and wanting to win, but when you walked off the basketball court you would high five each other, then go eat dinner together."
Until now, you two haven't worked together on the same staff, so how did you maintain your friendship through the years?
"For me personally, there are only a handful of guys who I can call close friends, guys who you would talk to back and forth. And Coach Mullen is one of those guys. And since we graduated from college, Coach Mullen has been one of those guys that I have always kept in touch with. I called him a couple of times a month and he might call me a couple of times a month."
Did you two form an unofficial agreement, something like whomever became head coach first would hire the other one as a member of his staff?
"Our friendship was never about if you got a job you are going to hire me. We are just friends. We never talked about something like that."
So, when it happened it must have been a very nice surprise when he called to see if you might be interested in joining his staff?
"Absolutely. Who wouldn't want to work in the second best football league on the planet with the first one being one where you play on Sunday (the NFL)."
When Dan first got the job was there any kind of communication about a possible job with him?
"I remember when it happened. I walked out of a high school in Dallas after seeing a kid and had about 15 messages on my phone. All were from people who either knew Coach or knew me. So, I knew something had happened with Coach.
"Probably about a week to ten days after that, it was one of those times when I had to talk to him about some stuff that was going on with me. I actually didn't bring up anything about an opportunity to work at Mississippi State. The reason I didn't bring it up is because we are friends. I'm sure he received a million calls. He doesn't need to hear from me. And if he thought I could make a contribution to his staff he would have called me about a job.
"He did bring it up after the conversation ended. He told me that he didn't have a job available. I told him that didn't matter and that that wasn't why I had called."
He did eventually call you, though.
"Yeah, he called me right before signing date and told me some things had changed and he asked me if I would be interested in coming down. I asked him, 'when do you need me there?' He said we had a meeting on Monday morning. So, I went on the road that Friday for Elon and put in an honest day's work. I got back in the office and told the head coach there that I had just accepted a job at Mississippi State. I had told him a few weeks earlier that Dan Mullen had gotten the job at Mississippi State and if there was a job for me there I was leaving for that job. I told him if he ever did call me, whether it was in January, May, July, August, if he called me to see if I wanted to work in the SEC, I was going to go. He asked me at the time what were the chances of that happening. I told him almost none because I had talked to Dan and he told me there wasn't a job."
This is your first job in the south. What's it been like for you to work here, especially considering you aren't exactly from around here (laugh)?
"Shoot, I'm a lot closer to everybody down here than Coach Mullen is. He's a New Hampshire guy and I'm a New Jersey guy. I'm much further south than he is (laugh)."
Actually, you mentioned that you have recruited in Dallas, so you have worked in the south at least recruiting-wise.
"I've recruited Texas and Oklahoma. In the past six years, working for Princeton and the Ivy League where they are looking for a very unique person, about the only places that I haven't been directly responsible for (in recruiting) is the Big Sky country. Mississippi and Louisiana, basically the areas that I'm responsible for now, I've recruited in them. They just haven't been my specific areas."
Having guys like Reed Stringer, Melvin Smith and others on the staff who have recruited in those areas must be of great help to you.
"It's unbelievable. I can ask Reed something and he tells me I have to go to a, b and c. We've had players from here, here and here. Then, you go over and talk to guys like Melvin Smith or Tony Hughes .. the information they can help me with due to me being, for lack of a better word, considered an outsider to this part of the country is tremendous."
Now that you've coached here for a few months, what has it been like for you to coach in the SEC, a conference you consider the best in college football?
"It is kind of surreal sometimes. You sit around and watch a Saturday night game involving the SEC. And I believe three of the last four years an SEC team has played for a national title. Now, instead of watching it, you are standing in the middle of it. You look at who you are playing and wonder where the breather is on the schedule because there isn't one. Due to that, you have to be ready to go everyday.
"But it's something that I am excited about and that I am looking forward to. It's the best league in the country where the players don't get paid to play."
What makes the SEC a better conference than any other conference that you have coached in?
"To me, it's the speed of the guys, the depth of teams in this league. There's just more size, more speed, more athleticism. It's not that there aren't good players in the ACC, in the Pac-10, in the Big 12. There are good players everywhere, but in my opinion there are just more of them in this league. Look at how many guys get drafted." (8 of 32 1st rounders in the 2009 NFL draft were SEC players)
Describe yourself as a coach?
"I would say that I am a very vocal coach because my voice carries so well. Part of that goes back to being involved in special teams in the past. And coaching receivers and quarterbacks, you aren't always standing next to the guy that you are coaching. I had an old coach who said that you aren't yelling, you are projecting (laugh). So, sometimes you have to project to make sure everybody can hear you.
"I also think I am a very demanding individual. I want you to be the best. I am going to keep pushing, prodding, poking until the day you leave here because you are never going to reach my expectations. You will be successful, but I am always going to elevate my expectations. That's part of being an athlete.
"One of the greatest players to play the game was Jerry Rice. Why was he great? It wasn't because he had the most skills of anybody. He was very gifted, but he wasn't the most gifted person to ever put on a football uniform. But everyday he worked at getting a little better. To me, that was what made him great. People who are the most successful are the ones who strive for that success everyday.
"I want my guys to be the best that they can be. Maybe that is becoming an All-SEC player, maybe that is being an All-American, maybe that is getting paid a lot of money on Sunday, maybe it means that they play special teams or or a one-year starter, maybe it means they never get off the scout team. I just want them to be the best that they can be. If they are, then they are going to be successful. It may not be the way society views success - he was an All-American, he caught 100 passes, he got drafted in a certain round. Those things aren't the only degrees of success. Those kids who strive to get better everyday, they are going to be successful no matter what the numbers say about their career.
"Whatever they do in life, they are going to be successful because they understand that you have to work at it ... it's not going to just fall into their laps."
What did you see from each of your guys during spring practice?
"As much as I have heard about Marcus Green, I just don't know much about him. Everybody has told me wonderful things about him and what he is capable of, but coming off surgery and him only being able to do a few things during spring practice I don't know much about him. And he played with the wideouts as a slot receiver for the spring. So, that's kind of a loaded question because I don't have an answer about Marcus Green.
"Brandon Henderson has a world of ability but he got nicked up in the spring, too. So, I didn't get to see him make the progress that I thought he was capable of. We saw flashes of what he is capable of doing."
What were those flashes that you saw?
"I think he has the ability to be a great route runner. He has good hands. He's the type of guy who can get some mis-matches on with people. Before he got hurt, he showed the potential to do a lot of things to help you be successful in this offense. I think he has the ability to be a slot receiver, to be flexed out to get those mis-matches. And he is a good sized man."
Kendrick Cook and Thomas Webb are your other tight ends.
"Kendrick definitely got better as the spring went on. He has a great desire to do what you want. He is one of those guys who is kind of like a sponge - give me the information, tell me what I need to do to be successful. The people who came to the spring game saw him catch 4 or 5 catches. He's a little different than Brandon. Brandon is more of an H-Back who needs a little more work at being inside. But Kendrick is probably the opposite. His strengths are inside.
"Thomas is the guy, if you put them all in a line and were asked to pick the tight end, that you would point to. He's more the hand-on-the-ground type tight end. He's wasn't as comfortable in space, but I think he has the ability to that do. He made progress as the spring went on, although it took a little longer than I thought it would."
It's probably good to have so many tight ends with different strengths.
"I see it as good because the (tight end) in Coach Mullen's and Coach Koenning's offense is really like a three-prong attack. You have to have the ability to be flexed out, you have to have the ability to move around to be an H-Back and fullback, you have to have the ability to have your hand on the ground and be the traditional tight end. So, it's very possible, due to the multiple skills that you need to play that position, that two, three or four guys will play in the game, depending on how their skill sets fit the gameplan."
When did your tight ends finally start to grasp the spread offense?
"I think it was the second scrimmage when we started to have success on offense. I think that kind of opened their eyes. They started to think, 'if we do the things Coach Mullen tells us to do, look at what we are capable of doing.' That was when I think they started to get it.
"I know they were great on defense here the past couple of years. So, that might be one of the first times in a while where the offense actually took it to those guys. That's probably not fair for me to say. But when I saw them play in the Liberty Bowl and in the Egg Bowl from a couple of years ago, they were good on defense."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.