VandyMania Interview: Bryan Mullen

Bryan Mullen took over last December as the <i>Tennessean</i>'s beat writer for Vanderbilt men's sports. In seven short months, he's covered a Sweet 16 season in men's basketball, as well as the best baseball season in school history. In a candid interview with VandyMania, Mullen talks about his background in journalism, his approach to covering the Commodores, and the best and worst aspects of a beat writer's job. (Part 1 of 2).

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VandyMania: Bryan, in December you took over the job of beat writer for Vanderbilt men's sports, a job that had been held by Mike Organ for about nine years before that. How did that transition come about? Did you get drafted into it? Did you ask to be moved into it?

Tennessean beat writer Bryan Mullen: I think that Mike, maybe for the last couple of years, had been wanting to do something different, maybe take a different beat. I had been working on covering Preps (high school sports). Finally the situation came about where the bosses talked to me and asked me if I wouldn't mind moving over to Vanderbilt. I had probably worked in Preps for about seven different years at three different papers, including the Tennessean, so it was about time for me to do something else. It was perfect timing, getting into basketball season. I think it might have been a little hairier if it had been the beginning of football season, but I think I made a nice transition to Vanderbilt. Everybody at Vanderbilt in the sports information office, Andre Foushee, all those guys have been really, really good at helping me make that transition a smooth one.

VM: Most Nashvillians, I'm sure, were familiar with you from your stories in the Preps section at the Tennessean, but tell us a little more about where you grew up and went to school.

Mullen: I was born in Virginia Beach, Va., lived in Virginia and New Jersey growing up. When I was in high school, my family moved to Jacksonville, Fla., and I lived in a little beach community outside Jacksonville. I went to Bishop Kenny High School and played baseball there for four years. Each year I was there, we were ranked in the USA Today Top 25 national poll. I didn't play college ball, but my best friend to this day was a No. 1 draft pick our senior year (1994), Kevin Witt. He started for the Detroit Tigers last year. So I'm kind of a baseball guy... I told Tim Corbin, Kevin Stallings and Bobby Johnson that I'm a baseball guy at heart! (laugh)

Then I went to the University of North Florida, which is in Jacksonville. I was a Literature major, Communications minor. I got a job in college just doing some stringing for high school games. Eventually it grew into a 15-hour a week position, and I moved on from there. I was at the Florida Times-Union, roughly the same size paper as the Tennessean, for about five years, during college and after college. I went next to St. Augustine, about 40 minutes down the road, and worked for a smaller paper there that was owned by the same paper that owned the Times-Union. I stayed there for a year, then went back to the Times-Union, then came to the Tennessean about two-and-a-half years ago.

VM: How'd you end up at the Tennessean?

Mullen: Just kind of through some networking. One of my former bosses at the Times-Union was now working at the Tennessean, and he had just kept me in mind. We had a good working relationship. I guess he liked my writing. When the job of high school writer for the Tennessean came open, he threw it out there, and said send some stuff in. He had about 200 applications for that job, so there was a lot of pressure on me to perform well right away! But they liked my work, and eventually they moved me over to covering Vanderbilt.

VM: A lot of people would probably say, being a beat writer for a sports team is kind of a glamour job. You and I know better... but what in your opinion is the best thing about it and the worst thing about it?

Mullen: The best thing about it... I can only speak from a Vanderbilt standpoint... is that the kids are so bright and articulate. You rarely hear a cliché. I can only speak about Vanderbilt, because that's the only college beat I've had. But it makes my job so much easier. I hear a lot of horror stories from some of my beat writer friends about how difficult some people are to deal with, from the sports information offices all the way down to the soccer coach, or whatever. I have not had one bad experience, not one bad experience. I'd have to say that's the best thing. And also, getting to all these places I've heard about. I'd never been to Rupp Arena before. There's a lot of places I'd never been to, doing Preps.

The biggest negative is, you never really have a day off. It can affect your social life a little bit! You think you've worked ahead a little bit and get a Sunday off, and then something breaks, and bam, you're on it. Which is OK! There are times of the year that are a little less stressed than others. But whenever something happens at any point, you're working.

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Coming soon: In Part Two of VandyMania's interview with Bryan Mullen, the Tennessean's Vanderbilt beat writer talks about his February feature article on Vandy's Matt Freije, a piece universally acclaimed by Commodore fans... and his perspective on the Tennessean's hierarchy when it comes to covering the Nashville sports scene.


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