Mullen Keeping Active Off-Season Pace

Not that he doesn't have enough other tasks to take care of during this December time of year. Still…"I'd rather be practicing," Coach Dan Mullen said, before adding "This time next year we'll be practicing!"

Consider that a promise for 2010 as Mississippi State's coach wraps up the first full year on this job. His debut Bulldog team did not achieve bowl status at 5-7, so Mullen must turn them loose now that semester exams are done and the break is here. He also sent varsity and redshirt Bulldogs alike off on their brief break with strong reminders that when they return in January year-two is to begin right where the first finished.

Meanwhile Mullen himself will get a little down-time of his own, like it or not. He'll make the best of it, though Megan and Cannon may have to think up ways to keep Pop's mind occupied while peers are taking advantage of bowl practices as a head start on '10. And fact is Mullen does have other work to do. The mid-year signing period for eligible junior college transfers began Wednesday with a pair of prospects inking; Mullen said there may be more before January 15's end date. There are also ongoing work with high school prospects and staff meetings to evaluate who and what needs signing in February.

Also, he has just experienced another ‘first' as a head coach. The abrupt departure of Carl Torbush to Kansas leaves the defensive coordinator position open, Mullen's first staff-change. So this isn't entirely down-time in the Bryan Building…which is where the coach met with media Wednesday for a wide-ranging talk.

Coach Dan Mullen: "We're getting ready. We're still waiting to get our grades back, hopefully we finish the semester strong with our guys all going home for the break. We left with a great attitude, obviously winning the last game of the season boosted us into what we're hoping is going to be a great off-season for us. I think the attitude of the team is really excited to get that boost from that last game, they're going to be anxious to get back and start training for us.

"We had two guys sign with us today, we expect both of them to be here in January. We might have more than that coming in but those are the two that signed with us today. So we're excited for getting this thing rolling back now. It's already been a couple of weeks I've been away from the players, I'm going to start getting antsy so I know the coaches will get frustrated when I give them a little time-off over Christmas to spend with their families hopefully. My wife won't let me call them, I'm sure, they'll be getting a little breather!"

Q: Talk about what your two junior college signees bring? "You've got big James (Carmon) coming in, obviously the size on defense. And you get an All-American defensive tackle coming in, a guy that has played in some big games. One thing that when I took over our d-line I felt was pretty undersized for the Southeastern Conference. You look at our inside guys, with the development of Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd and now we have an All-American coming in…and a big one at that. He's one of the biggest human beings that I've seen in my life! He's going to add some solidness to us.

"And we lose three senior tailbacks, we go out and get a guy (Vick Ballard) that was a junior college All-America tailback coming in. We still have a lot of holes to fill at that spot, if you saw how we used our tailbacks over last season, and we want to continue that in the future; there are still some holes to fill there for us. But it's good that we have somebody coming in mid-semester to give us some immediate depth."

Q: If you do sign more mid-year guys what are you looking for? "Running backs, fast ones with good moves that are big and strong. If we can find three or four Anthony Dixons out there we'll take them! No, I think when you look at running back you want guys that are productive, you want guys that are different styles. I'll take a guy that is smaller with great speed and moves, we can take a guy that is big and powerful. We can tweak and utilize both of those styles within the same offensive system."

Q: Would you sign a junior college player who must wait until summer to report? "We might. It would be somebody that we felt we had a big need to come in and fit for us. But obviously you really want to get guys that can come in mid-semester. The difference with them is their development time is limited, they don't have the four years to develop. And spring is a major development time. So the opportunity to come in mid-semester allows them to have that spring development time. Like a Pernell McPhee did and a Chris White did last year, they get to develop in the spring and then make an immediate impact in the fall. Junior college players, we want to come make immediate impacts."

Q: How much difference did winning the last game of the season make? "It certainly helps. I think for us a lot of recruits looked, they saw the improvement of our team from game-one of the season all the way through. Capping it off the way we did, I think they really see that this program is going in the right direction and that it's really a great time to come represent the state of Mississippi and play here at Mississippi State, and great things are ahead of us. That's what I see a lot of these in-state kids are looking at right now."

Q: Along with all the recruiting you have to replace Carl Torbush as defensive coordinator, do you have a timetable? "I haven't set a time for us. I haven't counted-out changing titles or promoting from within. All our guys have been out recruiting. So I'm going to sit down and really evaluate some things and talk to our guys. The key to me, we want someone that is going to really fit our staff. We're not going to change our style of defense. I think everybody thinks I just do offense, I actually spent a good amount of time with the defense too and have a lot of input there. So I'm not going to change what style of defense we're going to play."

Q: Is there any particular type of coordinator you prefer, Carl was a veteran guy? "One of the things Carl did a really good job for me, as a first-year head coach, he came in with a little bit of a head coaching background. I think having a year under my belt now, being in this position I think it's going to open up a much wider range of potential candidates that we would look at as a coach to fill that spot on the defensive side of the ball."

Q: So you can tell the recruits and commitments that nothing has changed, they can still be comfortable with the system? "I haven't seen that much of a kick-back from anybody, any negative part of it all for us. I think these guys see the direction the program is going. And we expect the other three guys on defense to be here, they had a lot of input on our defense last year, so I don't that changing for us in the future."

Q: When is the last date the staff is out recruiting? "Saturday is the last day of recruiting for us. We have some guys going out until Saturday, we'll come back and meet on Monday and Tuesday as a staff to kind of wrap things up before we let everybody go get a little break and be with their families for Christmas."

Q: Did Carl give any particular reason for taking the job? "It's so busy this time of year, he's going there and has a lot going on; I was on the road recruiting the day it all kind of shook down so I was in-and-out of things. So we didn't get a whole lot of time to talk about it. Carl always handled everything extremely professionally the whole time he was here and did this the same way. They talked, he and his family prayed upon it and thought it was a good decision. So I didn't get into more than that with him at this time."

Q: Is it flattering after one season to have people trying to hire away your coaches? "Yeah, I guess we must be doing something right around here! But that's going to happen in the football profession. There are guys I recruited at Florida, I didn't get to coach them through their whole careers and they're still going to be fine, you know, their head coach is still there coaching them! That's what a lot of these guys look at, is the head coach stable, is the head coach looking to make moves, is he trying to get out, is he trying to interview for other jobs? I'm extremely happy here. I'm not big at playing stuff out in media, either. I have no interest in leaving, my family is very happy here. So I think guys that we recruit look and say we can build something special with the in-state talent, if we can recruit the top players in the state of Mississippi. I look at that all-star game last week and we're what, seven points behind them, eight? We can make up those eight points by next year by the time we get to Tuscaloosa. So we'll take our team and they can pick their team and we'll go play again next year."

Q: How did you feel the coaching staff chemistry developed in the first year? "Good. I think there is always a learning curve for the assistants adjusting to me and my style as a head coach. So I think year-two is always much easier than year-one because everybody knows what to expect. In year-one guys like a John Hevesy, Matt Balis that have been around me a long time, they know what is coming before it happens. The other guys sometimes everything is new for them, whether it be our off-season condition, the family involvement with our players and having their wives and children involved in everything, the intensity of our workouts, the intensity or practice, those type of things there's a lot of getting used to. I think now that we have a year under our belt everybody is going to be a lot more comfortable and it go much smoother into the off-season."

Q: What weight would you like to see Carmon play? "He's going to get with Matt Balis, it's hard to say right now. We have to see how he handles different weights, we've met with him and Matt and the best guesstimate right now is in the 345 range. Now that could be up, could be lower, we're going to see as we go through this off-season conditioning. We want him as big as he can, as much as he can handle we're going to want him to play with."

"He reminds me a lot of a Christian Ducre, a guy that can do a lot of different things for us, can catch the ball, run the ball, is very intelligent player, you can move him around at different spots and do a lot of different things. Christian was very, very valuable to our team last year even though maybe statistically it doesn't jump out and say OK look what he did. He had a major part in a lot of aspects of our team, and I see Vick doing similar things."

Q: Have any players come to discuss transferring? "Surprisingly, no. I say that because—not that we want guys to leave—but usually there are one or two guys, sometimes older guys that look and say Coach this is not for me.

"Ever guy is bright-eyed, ready to go, can't wait to get back, can't wait to start in January. The only guy that is really leaving the program is Brandon Cooper, who graduated this December and had a great job offer in Houston. In today's economy he came to me and said Coach it's hard to turn down a great job offer in-hand and come back for the one more season! So we let him walk with the seniors."

Q: How many players do you expect to sign in February? "Well, we can sign 25. We hope to sign 25 in this class, we may over-sign one or two and place them in the junior colleges in the state. We haven't got the final number down allotted.

"We'll look at filling positional needs first; once we feel we've filled most of the positional needs then we're going into best available player. That could judge where we go within the signing class."

Q: How have you developed the off-season schedule without a bowl game, around recruiting ? "Yeah, I'd rather be practicing. This time next year we'll be practicing! But it's different, I think it will hit you more over the Christmas break than now. I mean this time of year we're still recruiting non-stop and for most schools even when in bowls right now everybody is balancing practices and recruiting, they haven't gone full-swing into bowl practice. That usually starts this weekend into next week, is when we have in the past got full-swing into bowl practices.

"It's good, I'll see how I start to get antsy about a week or two!"

Q: Are there any players who you are looking at changing positions in the off-season? "A guy like Dennis Thames we might look at playing on the other side of the ball, in the secondary. He came to us last year and I thought he'd be a great defensive player, and he wanted to go to offense. He came this off-season and said I want to get back to defense, so we're going to put him over there. That's about it for right now I think of guys moving positions that are here right now. And there will be some interesting things like what we do with, like LaDarius Perkins, where do we play him. He's obviously a very talented athlete, we're going to find a home for him in kind of a ‘slash' position maybe."

Q: With Tyson Lee graduating, can you look ahead to spring practice at quarterback? "It will be wide-open. The thing that will make it different this year is I'm going to expect a lot greater things out of our quarterbacks because they're not learning the system. They're developing now. Year-one there is a lot to teach, they have to just grasp everything. It's like learning a new language now, you need to learn the simple verbs before you can go start writing creative sentences. What we're going to expect out of our quarterbacks is going to be a lot greater in year-two than in year-one." Q: How do you see Tyler Russell progressing? "I thought very good. Like many freshmen, start great, hit that little freshman lull in the middle, and finish great. I think once he realized the role, and once we hit a point of the season where we met and said we're going to try not to play you unless something happens, after that he picked it up a little bit and really improved. And not worry about a lot of things, not worrying as much about playing as about just working fundamentals and improving himself at that point. So we're expecting a lot out of him when he gets back and taking that next step of being an all-around quarterback, a leader, and all of those things." Q: Has Chris Relf's Egg Bowl performance helped him? "Yeah, it's a great way to finish off the season, to jump-start into the off-season for him. But we're going from the 100-level classes at the quarterback position to graduate level classes this off-season. I think the great thing is the confidence boost that gfives him going into this off-season right now."

Q: Corey Broomfield was one of 25 players who made the Freshman All-American team. Talk about his progress? "The thing I like about Corey, he takes coaching very well. There are a lot of young guys that just try to play on ability; Corey is a guy that plays on technique. So if you ask Corey to do something, you're going to see what you ask on the field. I think that's a huge deal, to see those things on film of everything that you ask of him. And the great thing about Corey is he understands that and is very much a student of the game. If you look at a lot of interceptions ‘wow he had a great break on that ball'. His interception against that school up north for a touchdown, he broke before the receiver broke on the route; that's a guy that's preparing himself for the game, that is preparing with film study, that is preparing with technique, a guy that knows what's going to happen before it happens on the field. Corey worked real hard at that and as a young guy that's something usually you don't see in a lot of young players. So we hope he has a great career ahead."

Q: Have you had the winter surgeries yet? "We've had a bunch. But they're all done right now, we had everybody done before the holiday with surgeries. Everyone that is done should be back rehabbing and should be able to go through parts if not all of the off-season program. Nobody is going to be completely out through the off-season program. Then we'll see when we get back, there will be some guys—Corey Broomfield, D.J. Looney, I have the whole list in the other room. We'll have a couple of guys that are going to be probably limited even for a little bit of spring ball, a couple of shoulder injuries that we had; Mike Hunt will be limited through spring practice.

"But nothing that we think is going to have a guy out for the entire spring. There are about ten to fifteen guys; some are two days, some are three weeks, some are three months. In our calendar we try to get it done so that by mid-March everybody is back ready to go so even if it's limited they're ready to go through spring practice."

(Note: players are DB Marvin Bure shoulder, LB Mike Hunt shoulder, DL Josh Jackson ankle, LB Jamie Jones back treatement, OC D.J. Looney knee, OG Templeton Hardy elbow, OC Sam Watts shoulder, DT LaMarcus Williams back treatment.)

Q: Are you counting on Tobias Smith going into spring? "Yeah, he finished the season healthy, he's not on our surgery list! So we're hoping get a lot of out of him this spring. And he was a starter going into the season; hopefully he just steps into that spot he was in at this time last year."

Q: What is the reason your staff is dominating in-state recruiting this year? "Well, I think for us, there are a lot of talented players in the state of Mississippi. With these young men, the last game of the season is a good example. Those players had a lot of pride playing in that game. Because they knew they to go to their hometowns here in Mississippi and people were going to be talking about that game for a whole year. And they want to make sure they win it so they can hold their head up high when they're going to the mall Christmas shopping, or going back to their high schools. So that's a really important thing for us.

"And one of the focuses for these kids is taking a lot of pride in being from Mississippi, playing and representing the people of the state. They know when they're out there and the entire state of Mississippi is behind them, they're going to give you a little bit more than maybe someone from southern California. Saying that, those guys in southern California, that USC-UCLA game is a big old game for them. For a kid from Mississippi that's not quite as big a game as the Egg Bowl is. So that was a big emphasis on us coming here. Go through, the greatest running back is Walter Payton, the greatest NFL receiver is Jerry Rice, and one of the greatest if not the greatest NFL quarterback, I know they argue that all the time, is Brett Favre. All three of them are from the state of Mississippi; none of them played here. So those players are here, we just need to make sure we don't miss them and go get them."

Q: It seems some programs don't understand the importance of recruiting the state, is that something you have developed? "You know, I just think when you get into recruiting sometimes you can get very ‘comfortable' with in-state players and make a terrible mistake; that you get over-comfortable with them. Because they're at all you Junior Days, they're at all your camps, they're at every event you have; then you go flip on a tape of someone from Iowa and watch 20 plays and get all enamored with him and think oh, wow, there's this guy up there we have to go get. Because you've become over-comfortable maybe with the local player.

"That's something that we're very cautious to make sure we don't do. I also look at what I see in the family values that Mississippi kids come with. The type of parents they have, how they've been raised, are things that we want on our football team, on our campus here at Mississippi State. So with those type of kids we want to make an emphasis on recruiting those type of kids that fit in here and have similar values, great family values that people in this state have."

Q: Greg Byrne has said getting you the fourth year again allows you to go into homes and say I'm going to be here your entire career at Mississippi State? "It is big. We tell the guys that. Our assistants, I hope we win a lot of games and we have assistants that have the opportunity to go on and become head football coaches like I was able to do. But as far as how our program is going to be run, on offense, defense, special teams, off-season, discipline, academics, all of those things, I plan on being in charge of it for these guys that we're recruiting right now their whole careers. By Greg getting that extra year now it keeps you right at that point where you can go in and say Mississippi State wants me here for your whole career and I want to be here. And I think that's a big advantage."

Q: Where is the Golden Egg right now? "It's getting engraved. It's been at my house a couple of times, it'll get back over, we have a staff Christmas party this weekend so I'll make sure it's sitting right in the middle of my kitchen for that! I like it, it's a pretty neat deal. And make sure we try to keep it here as long as possible."

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