Mullen mullin' a miracle

First-year Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen has a simple goal: "You want to compete at the highest level against the best there is."

Well, he came to the right place.

In his rookie season as a Southeastern Conference head man he'll be facing three guys who combined to win four of the past six BCS national championships. Florida's Urban Meyer won titles in 2006 and 2008. Alabama's Nick Saban won one in 2003. LSU's Les Miles won one in 2007. All three are on MSU's 2009 schedule.

If Mullen is out of his depth in the shark tank known as SEC football, however, he has yet to realize it.

"It's pretty exciting," he said at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "You're a first-time head coach. When you walk into that first SEC head coaches meeting ... you get to see guys you grew up watching - guys like Steve Spurrier and Rich Brooks. I'm an unbelievable fan of Steve Spurrier."

After four years as Meyer's offensive coordinator at Florida, Mullen already knows all about the fiercely competitive nature of SEC football.

"One thing that makes this league great is the excitement, is the passion, is the importance," he said. "When you know that you're going to have a sold-out stadium wherever you show up in this league - with fans that are nuts, either cheering for you or against you because it's that important to that many people - it makes it awful easy to get up and go to work every morning."

Certainly, there's plenty of work to be done at Mississippi State, whose record over the past eight years is 29-65 overall and 13-51 in SEC play. Still, Mullen has found the fan base to be energetic and supportive.

"The excitement for our program has been off the charts," he said. "When I was hired, I wanted to give the state of Mississippi a team they could be proud of, on and off the field. We promoted our program. They returned by having 31,000 people show up for our spring football game, which was a record in the state of Mississippi. To see that passion the fans have, the excitement they had, drove our team to work even harder over the summer."

Mullen noted that season-ticket sales have topped 37,000 and that he and his staff encountered "huge booster groups everywhere we went" in recent months.

"There is a lot of excitement around Mississippi," offensive tackle Derek Sherrod conceded. "I can't say how many fans have spoken to us about how they can't wait for the first game. I've never seen anything like this before."

Linebacker K.J. Wright is pumped, as well.

"Coach Mullen is an up-tempo guy; he has a huge personality," Wright said. "He has won a national championship (so) he has something we don't have. Coach is a winner. We are going to learn from him and duplicate what he did at Florida."

Since Mullen helped win two national titles in four years at Florida, duplicating that feat clearly is a pipe dream at Mississippi State. Still, the new head man is wildly optimistic.

"At this point, I'm the only undefeated coach in the league," he said. "I'll be real happy if I can come back here and say the same thing next year. That would be a pretty neat deal."

Actually, that would be a miracle.

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