Mullen Takes Stage At SEC Media Days

A year ago he was a fresh face on the SEC Media Days stage. This time, after the annual fluctuation in the league's coaching lineup, Dan Mullen is practically an old hand at the conference press-fest. "Yeah, a bunch of guys get to be the ‘new guy' this year! Probably next year there might even be more, you never know how it all works out. I just hope I'm back!"

He isn't the only one thinking that way. If Mississippi State's second season under Dan Mullen's direction brings the anticipated improvement on the field, scoreboard, and record, this is a coach who can write his own Bulldog ticket for years to come. Yet that jest was about the only comment made by Mullen that looked any further ahead than the 2010 campaign. Or even upcoming preseason camp for that matter.

Prior to his scheduled turn with the assembled conference press corps, which is available through the SEC's website, Mullen met with the contingent of MSU-focused media for a separate interview with the Q&A following. Perhaps the lone main-conference comment worth noting was Mullen's response to a question posed earlier to Alabama Coach Nick Saban about offensive trends. Where his Crimson Tide counterpart stressed how their approach is more in-line with professional development, Mullen countered that he had coached more first-round draft quarterback than the other guy with his spread offense systems. This certainly perked ears among the local press corps.

Meanwhile in the prior talk, besides the Bulldog-specific subjects though the topic of agent interference in college football also came up, with Mullen explaining that here State is trying to stay ahead of what is becoming the hottest of pre-season controversies.

Q: Expectations from outside are modest for you this year. What are your expectations? "We come into every season to find a way to win the SEC West and get to Atlanta. To compete for and win a SEC Championship on your side of the league you have to win at home. If we win our home games, and we have a tough road schedule, if we find a way to win a couple of those, we'll find ourselves competing late in the season for a way to go to Atlanta. That's always going to be our expectation."

Q: Talk about momentum from last year going into this season? "Any time you finish a season on a win, and especially a win over a huge rival, and the way we won that game in the fourth quarter and battled and pulled away to win, it's huge. And that really catapulted us into the off-season, the attitude our team had attacking the off-season. I found that they were ready to start playing again right after that game. So they've been really looking forward to getting this season going, I know our coaching staff is, and hopefully we can take that winning edge and continue right into the season."

Q: Can you talk about the rivalry from where it was when you got here? "It's always important to win a rivalry. I know us and that school up north, their fans are passionate and to people around the state it's huge. That's what makes rivalries great, not just people on the field but the fans. But a rivalry also has to be competitive to be great and hopefully we've made it competitive."

Q: You have a couple of new coaches on the staff, you don't have to be as vocal at practice now? "Yeah, Coach (Manny) Diaz and Coach (Chris) Wilson are very, very high energy coaches out there on the field. Every time I want to yell, they've already started yelling at something and running around the field! I love the energy that they coach with and hopefully we see that translate into the energy our defense plays with on the field."

Q: You stress an attack approach to offense, do these new coaches fit your personality on defense as well? "Yeah, it does. And I really love our staff chemistry. Manny does a great job of managing everybody, and when you're in the staff room just the camaraderie of the staff…I really like this situation we're in right now. And I like the fact that they're not afraid to think outside the box, not afraid to try different things and be creative on the defensive side of the ball."

Q: Nobody on your staff focuses on just one overall area; you have co-coordinators on defense, run-offense and pass-offense coordinators on that side, everybody has input in everything? "Yeah, we try to help everybody out that way. Here's the thing: if you give people responsibilities they're going to be accountable for their responsibility. So as we give people these extra responsibilities you're also going to see their performance improve, because they feel accountable to make sure that part of the game is gonna be done the right way."

Q: Last year Anthony Dixon was the player everybody knew. What are the talking-points for this team, this pre-season? "Well, just hopefully a team. I mean, a team from top-to-bottom. I think offensively for us not having that one star player could actually help us; we're not trying to force-feed the ball to somebody, we're just going to run the offense, play the offense, and give a lot of guys the opportunities to make plays.

"Defensively the thing I'm a little more comfortable with is the depth. Not at linebacker, we're still searching for that. But depth at the d-line and depth in the secondary are much better than it was this time last year. So if we can keep ourselves healthy at linebacker we're going to be a deeper defense, we can play more players and hopefully play at a higher level."

Q: Has anything changed since your spring evaluation of the team? Especially concerns about depth and experience at wide receiver? "We're still growing. There is a lot of youth on the team right now and nothing but time can change that factor for us, we're not going to be able to speed that up. But we've had a lot of our guys in summer school working hard. Chris Relf and Tyler Russell have done a good job trying to coach-up the young receivers out there on the field and work with them, get some timing down so we can get some depth at that position."

Q: Do both quarterbacks play this year? "If they both are ready to play and can bring something, then definitely they both play. We have 15 practices in spring and 29 practices before we play a game. So after about practice 20 we'll have a better idea of where we are at that quarterback position. But there's a lot of learning, a lot of developing that still needs to happen at that position before we settle whether we're going to play one quarterback, two quarterbacks, three quarterbacks, or how it's going to shake out."

Q: How is Relf developing his throwing? "Well, throwing is all about fundamentals. I think he's done a tremendous job working on and improving his throwing fundamentals. And then you add that to the second year in the offense where he's much more comfortable with the system, that's where you see great improvement in a player."

Q: Does bringing Chris to Media Days say anything about what you expect of him as a leader? "As far as what we expect of a leader, yeah. One of the things we try to do is bring some of our up-and-coming players and expose them, because a lot of our seniors have already been exposed to a lot of the attention. The idea is for our juniors that are about to have to start dealing with a lot of this exposure, to throw them right in the fire at the beginning."

"Really after the last game of the season Chris has been a completely different person. His approach to workouts, his approach to conditioning, his approach to academics, his whole approach and demeanor has changed. And he really turned the corner having success in that last game of the season and is ready to attack his future."

Q: Along that line what do you expect of Quentin Saulsberry? "Quentin is one of the top leaders on our whole team and does a great job with it. He's continued to do that through the summer as a vocal leader in the off-season and on the field at practice. Especially now he's getting older, he's a junior, he's really having to step up his leadership not only as a rah-rah leader but also as a serious leader and deal with a lot of other situations on the team."

Q: What have you seen from Charles Mitchell in your time here, what kind of potential do you see? "Really, unlimited potential not just as a football player; as a person. We have our Champions Club and he's been a champion every single quarter (of a year) since I've been head coach. Talk to our stretch coach and he's one of the hardest worker in the off-season conditioning. You watch him on the field and he does everything the right way. He could probably start for us on offense for us if we wanted to put him over at offense. He could start on every special team. On top of that, he's a great student and a great person. Give me a whole lot of Charles Mitchells and we'll have a championship team."

Q: Do you see your identity stamped on this team more in the second year? "I do. I thought I saw it some last year, that we were going to be a team that plays with relentless effort and plays for four quarters. You saw that. The final step I guess, just my personality, is not just team that is going to do that; but one that is going to win the game in the fourth quarter. That's the next step for us, not just to battle and come close to all the top-ten teams in the country but actually beat them."

Q: The schedule makers aren't making it easy. "Yeah, I don't control that. I challenge anybody in the Southeastern Conference to find an easy schedule that some team in this league has. When you're playing in this conference you have a tough schedule."

Q: What is your take on the problem with agents and college players, do you educate them on it? "Yeah, we try to educate them, we deal with it. And there's agents trying to contact our players. I guess the good thing is we probably have a couple of good players! But the one hard thing I read, I think Nick (Saban) had some good quotes on it, until the people that are committing the crimes, the agents that are causing the problems, until they have to face consequence it's going to be pretty hard. Right now we're disciplined, the student-athletes are disciplined, the university is disciplined; but the person that is causing the problem has no consequences."

Q: Has the NCAA looked at any of your players? "No, I asked our players and they said no."

Q: Do your tell players inform you of being contacted by agents? "Yeah. And we set up a program, we're in the process of really developing really fine-tuning it right now, of a program for them to talk with agents. The key to me is to make sure everything is done legally. I mean, there are a lot of reputable agents out there that are going to do things the right way and follow the protocol and procedure. They're the ones that are very successful for their clients and their clients are treated well I'm sure and everything goes the right way. If people are going to cheat to get you do something for them, chances are they're going to cheat you once they get you. So, we tell that to our players. If people are going to do it the right way and legally they're probably going to take care of you the right way and legally."

Q: Last year you ‘tweeted' before your first Media Day appearance, do you have something to send out this year? "I'll have to find out in a couple of minutes. I don't know, probably not as good as last year. I'll see what I come up with!"

ADDENDUM: As it turned out Mullen didn't need to e-message anyone. Instead he opened his talk to the full press corps with a tweak of the league-hosts sure to play well back home. "For the next ten seconds it's legal to ring your cowbell, then we go into a cowbell-dead zone!" Mullen grinned.

Video of Dan Mullen at SEC Media Day -

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