"Well, I am until I get on the field. I'm kind of a Jekyll/Hyde in that respect. I hope off-the-field people think of me as a good person. And I think the players think of me as a good person with a great deal of respect. But they know - win, lose or draw, doing good or doing bad - I am probably going to be yelling or screaming. That's just my personality and always has been. Now, I'll never cuss them or ever abuse them, but I'll talk to them loud and they understand that.
"I try to tell my players - and I'm not sure if they understand - if I'm getting on them I'm really getting on me because if they aren't doing something the way I want it done, then I obviously haven't done a good job of teaching. Therefore, I get frustrated that I have not taught it well enough for them to go out and execute.
"When I was a teacher in high school, I was the type teacher that wanted to teach so well that I wanted everybody to make an A in that course. If they couldn't do that, then in certain ways I felt like I was a failure because I hadn't reached them like I should. I've never understood a teacher taking pride in flunking 50% of his class. If they do that, then they are telling me that they aren't doing a good job of teaching and getting across what they need to to help that person be successful in life.
"I also have a strong faith (in God) and I don't shy away from that. I try to keep it in order the best I can. First thing is faith, second thing is family, third thing is friends, fourth thing is football. And I try to keep them in that order.
"Now, don't get me wrong - I want to win all the ballgames and I want to be competitive. But, it's not a true life and death situation. A life and death situation is when there is a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan who is going out everyday not sure he is going to come back. I have a close friend of mine who was a coach, Ron Case, who said they can fuss at you, cuss at you but they can't kill you. So, as long as they can't do that, then you have another day.
"That's one of the things I like about athletics and football - you may not play as well as you needed to on Saturday but as long as you have another game, another week you have a chance to get better. It's the most miserable feeling after a game when you lose because it's just so empty. And there's not any better pleasure after you win and you have played well because you feel like you did a job well done, not only for the players but for the coaches."
What is success to you when it comes to your players?
"I tell my players and I tell my son I have been 18, 19 and 20 (years old), but you've never been 57. So, take those 30-something years of experience that I have had and let me speak my piece. And, hopefully, you will gain some wisdom from what I say because whatever I do say is me trying to help you get better, not only as a football player but as a person.
"I'm a firm believer in this - when they leave here and they played for me I want them to be, No. 1, the best student that they can be. The second thing is we want them to be the best football player that they can be. Everybody is not going to be an All-American or be an NFL guy, but everybody can be the best that they can be if they will buy into what Matt Balis, our strength coach, Coach (Dan) Mullen, our head coach, and their position coach is saying. The other two things is, socially, I want them to be good role model, and, hopefully, I will be an impact on them spiritually. I'm not going to throw it at them, but they, hopefully, will know where I'm coming from.
"If they are the best that they can be when they leave here - academically, athletically, socially and spiritually - then I can look back at myself and say that I did a good job.
"But the most important thing is when one of those guys calls me and tells me he didn't understand why I did what I did but he does now and that he wants to say thank you. Those are the kind of phone calls or letters that mean the most to me."
You sound like you really care about your players, not just as players but as people. Is that the reason you got into coaching?
"Originally, when I found out that I didn't have a strong enough arm to throw it down to second base and they cut me (from the pro team), I knew I still wanted to be in athletics. So, (coaching) was the next thing. And I don't know of anything else that I can do besides coach and be involved in athletics. And the main thing early on with me was, hopefully, being an impact on young people's lives as well as other coaches' lives and the lives of people in the community.
"It would really hurt me if someone said I was a bad person. Now, if they said I'm a bad coach, they are, basically, saying that because you didn't win enough ballgames or you didn't play well enough on defense."
You've been coaching for over 30 years. Do you like where college football is today?
"I like some things about it but there are other things that cause me to be happy that I'm on the other end of the spectrum. There's really not much time in the day for your wife and children when you've worked 12 to 13 hours.
"But the things I really enjoy are still there. I enjoy the relationship I have with my little group of linebackers, the chance to kid around with them, see them, have fun with them, but they also understand when we get on the field it's work. I think that relationship keeps you young. If I was in administration or about to retire, it wouldn't be the same. That's one of the reasons I still play baseball."
You still play baseball at 57?
"Oh yeah, I still play baseball."
Baseball, not softball?
"Baseball, the little bitty ball."
Where does a 57-year-old play baseball?
"In Alabama I played for the Tuscaloosa Tornadoes. That was a 34 and above league. If I can't find a team over here I am probably going to drive over there and play this year. In Knoxville, the last three years, I have been playing in the 18 and above league. I still enjoy playing. My body still feels good. I catch and play first. It's still fun to get a double off one of those 20 year olds and make him cry because he can't strike you out."
You said you played baseball in college. When did football take over your career?
"I played both sports and had a chance to play pro baseball. But after a year I had to make a decision to go back and resign or go to Baylor as a graduate assistant. I talked to a good friend of mine who told me due to my arm strength and my age - I was 24 - the highest I would achieve was probably Double A.
"I started my career at Southeastern as the head baseball coach. That's why Boo Ferriss and I are so close. Southeastern and Delta (State) used to have some barn burners. But my career just took off football-wise. I had an opportunity to go work with Billy Brewer to Louisiana Tech. That was the end of the baseball part of it."
Were there things you learned in baseball that helped you in your football coaching career?
"I would say some organizational skills. But it all goes back to that it's teaching. If you are a good teacher, you are going to be a good coach, no matter what sport it is. If you are not a good teacher, then you are probably not going to be a good coach.
"A lot of small college athletes have become great coaches probably because they weren't quite as talented in certain areas. Therefore, they figured out what they had to do to make it work. Just because you are a great athlete doesn't mean you are going to be a great coach. Sometimes, the guys who have had to work harder to get there become the better teacher or better coach because they better understand how to explain themselves. Dan (Mullen) is a perfect example of that."
Describe your style of defense.
"We are going to be aggressive. I've had the opportunity to be around some great programs and great players. I do think we have enough multiplicity within our scheme - regardless of what kind of talent that we have - to put our players in the best position to be successful. I think that is one thing that Dan and (MSU offensive coordinator) Les (Koenning) have done on offense.
"I'm a firm believer that if you will play hard, play with relentless effort, strain to get to the ball - which is a great statement that I picked up from Dan (Mullen) - I feel like you will always have a chance to be successful.
"Right now, we are trying to figure out the things that we do the best to give ourselves the best chance to be successful next year, not the year after, but next year. As we recruit for specific needs and specific wants, then we can probably expand the package."
I talked to a high school coach that came to the Mississippi State coaches clinic who said that a lot of your defense is based on illusion. In other words you may have a linebacker come to the line of scrimmage who will give the illusion that he may be about to blitz but he doesn't. Is he correct in saying that?
"Yeah, we are going to try to look as complicated as we can in an attempt to cause the offense to feel stress and pressure before the ball is ever snapped, but we are still going to be very simple in what we do. If you are sitting in a base front and a base coverage and the quarterback feels comfortable that he can come up to the line of scrimmage and check and balance, then you are giving them a better comfort than they need to have. We aren't going to do that. We want that quarterback and offensive line to feel stress as soon as they walk up to the line."
You enjoy talking about baseball. How you been to any of the Mississippi State baseball games?
"Oh yeah, I have fell in love with it. I have heard about that outfield for close to 30 years. I had no clue what it was like. I love it. I absolutely love it. I go out there and eat with (MSU equipment manager) Phil Silva and let them abuse me a little bit and have fun with them. But I really enjoy getting up there in the back and just enjoy watching because I really do like baseball. Give me a nacho, a diet coke and a bag of boiled peanuts and I'm the kind who can watch batting practice and a doubleheader for four hours. I'm in hog heaven."
Wait until about two or three years from now. What you will see at Dudy Noble Field won't even compare to what you are seeing now when it comes to a baseball environment.
"I know John (Cohen) will get that thing going like we will football, but it's still a great environment. I can't imagine a better environment in college baseball than what we now have. It's a happening out there. I told my wife, who hasn't seen it, she's got to get down here to see this."
Switching back to football. What are some thoughts about your defense after seeing them in the spring?
"First of all, I think we have good kids. There is no doubt that they have been recruiting good kids. We have very few social problems. Everybody does, but we have very, very few. We have great kids who understand manners, who understand how to be coached. They had a good start with (MSU strength coach) Matt Balis. He works the dickens out of them. And they respect him because they know he's not asking them to do anything that he wouldn't do.
"But defensively, we have enough good players, some young players, that will allow us to be successful. The main thing is we need everybody to stay healthy. If we stay healthy and everybody continues to improve to the first game, then I think we will be fine.
"I really like our depth at linebacker. They are a really good group that wants to do well, that is willing to work and take my coaching.
"I like the secondary. Coaches Melvin Smith and Tony Hughes have done a great job back there. We are fairly young there, but we are young and athletic. The thing we have to do back there is be consistent.
"I think David (Turner) has his hands full more than anybody because he has a lot of younger kids. But the thing that I like is I was a little bit worried after about 6 or 7 days (of spring practice) because I didn't see some things that we wanted to see, but the last 6 or 7 days they really came along and were starting to turn the corner.
"That is one of the things you need to write about - we have a great camaraderie and continuity among the coaches on the defensive staff. Melvin and I have worked together several times and I've also known Tony, who is a great guy, for a number of years. And I've known David Turner for years and years. So, I think it's a really special group of coaches who are not only excellent football coaches but great people coaches."
Would you say your linebacking group is the strength of the defense?
"It's got a chance to be. I would say that it has a chance because it's got the most experienced depth. Karlin Brown has played. Terrell Johnson has played. K.J. (Wright) has played in a game. Jamar Chaney, who is a great leader for us, has played. Bo Walters has played. You have two young guys by the name of Mike Hunt and Jamie Jones, both of whom I think are really good players. Chris White has done great. He has a chance to be a really good player. It's hard to imagine that he has only been here for about three months.
"We started the spring based on what they had done in the offseason program, what they had done academically, what they had done socially. That was how they ended up being starters at the beginning of the spring."
Chris White is outside while Jamar Chaney is inside. Did you think about switching them around with Chris on the inside and Jamar on the outside?
"The thing we want to do is to have as many of those guys to play all three (linebacker) positions as they can. That way we manufacture depth. It would be a shame that the fourth best linebacker can only play the SAM position. Then all of sudden your fifth or sixth best player has to play because the other one doesn't know what to do. There are going to be times we will be in a nickel front or a dime front and if you can't play a different position, then all of a sudden your position comes out. Right now, I think we have four or five of them who can play both outside positions."
What caused you to put Chris White at outside linebacker?
"During the offseason he was probably the most productive linebacker as far as winning drills, having the fastest shuttle times and those kind of things. But he can play inside. And sometimes he is inside. Sometimes if one (linebacker) is in the box, then two will be inside backers. And it could be any of the three."
This is the first time you have worked with Dan Mullen. What has it been like working for him?
"Two or three things have really impressed me about him. Number 1 is how he got to where he is right now. He wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth. When I say that I mean he didn't play in a big-time division-1 program and he wasn't an All-SEC player who just happened to be at the time place at the right time. He was a guy who worked his tail off at every level to get to where he is. And if you look at his success ratio it has been phenomenal. He went from Syracuse to Notre Dame to Bowling Green to Utah to Florida. His last seven or eight years have been about as good as I have seen. I doubt that anybody in America has had any better seven or eight year span than what Dan has been able to coach with.
"And if there was one thing I would tell all assistant coaches who become head coaches, it would be to not give up coaching. You got to where you are because you are a good position coach and a good coordinator. Don't just all of a sudden step back and not do that anymore. And I think Dan has done a good job of that. He is basically running the special teams. He is right in the middle of it all. If somebody is not doing well on offense or on defense he is on them or me. I like that. Our players see his intensity and want to. And they see it in a positive direction. And that has been a big, big plus."
Did he ever tell you why he chose you to be his defensive coordinator?
"No, he never did. And I really haven't had an opportunity to sit down with him and find out why. One of these days I will.
"I do know when I came to interview it was probably the first true football interview that I have ever been through. Of course, I haven't coached with that many guys. I coached with Billy Brewer for 14 years. I coached with Mack Brown for 10 years. I coached with Dennis Franchione for 5. And I was Coach Sparks at Carson-Newman. And that's basically it. So, when you talk about my career I haven't worked with many guys.
"Dan didn't know me and I didn't know him. When I came down here (for the interview) I would guess we were on that (chalk) board X'ing and O'ing and doing what ifs for four to five hours. It was a very in-depth interview and it was good for me. It allowed me to show him how I would defend a man who I consider to be one of the best offensive minds in college football. Then, we got to know each other as people, which was important.
"Another big plus was the number of people I knew who were already here. I've known Rockey (Felker) forever. I've known Melvin (Smith), David (Turner) and Les (Koenning) for a long time.
"I also have a lot of great respect for Mississippi State. I was at Ole Miss and we played them. I was at North Carolina when we played them in the Peach Bowl. I was at Louisiana Tech when we played them.
Another thing that impressed me was when I drove on campus and saw how nice the campus was. And I'm a small town guy, so I'm very happy here."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.