Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen opened up about the departure of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins to Florida following Tuesday morning’s practice. Mullen also talked about his name being mentioned for other jobs, a possible contract extension with the Bulldogs and an injury to quarterback Elijah Staley.
Mullen: “Good phase-one to bowl prep right now. Today ends kind of the phase-one of our bowl prep. I’m really pleased with what I saw with the future for us, with a lot of young guys getting their reps in.
“Tomorrow everything flips now into game-week mode. It’s now Georgia Tech game week so starting tomorrow it will get like a regular game week that we go through. But I’m really pleased with the reps our young guys got and the effort and the attitude they attacked practice with. It will be a huge jump-start for us forward.”
You took over a new job today as linebackers coach early on?
Mullen:“I helped. John Haneline is going to coach the linebackers right now for us. He’s a really good up-and-coming young coach and knows what we do. He’ll do a good job coaching those guys up. I like coaching every position, I meddle in just about every position out here on the field.”
When does the process begin to find a replacement for Geoff Collins?
Mullen “For that? Yeah, we’ll look at all that stuff. We always play great defense here. We play great defense no matter what coach is going to be here. And as long as I’m the head coach we’ll always play great defense here. So I mean right now our focus is going to be on beating Georgia Tech.”
Do you have someone taking responsibility for the defense now?
Mullen: “Nope. We’ll get it all figured out.”
What does it turn to tomorrow?
Mullen: “Tomorrow is a ‘Monday’ practice so if you guys talk to me the rest of this week it will be all out-of-whack. So tomorrow is like a Monday, it’s actually like a Wednesday to most normal human beings but to me it’s a Monday. So that for us now gets into like we would prepare. We’re going to practice a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday, just like a regular game week. Like we’ll be ready to play on Dec. 22, and prep that way for the game this week.”
What did you see from the younger guys during these practices?
Mullen: “I loved the energy that they brought. That’s what you want out of this, is that transition. Because a lot of guys either redshirting or on the scout team kind of go through ‘I’m going to read the card or just do this’. Having to go run our offense, our defense, having to get special teams work in, I thought they did a great job of doing that.
“The other part of that is now is there is a lot of them on film. It’s one thing to watch film for young guys. I think it’s a lot easier for young guys to watch film of themselves doing it. So now they get to watch themselves running our offense, running our defense, and that will jump-start them going into spring practice.”
Did any freshmen in particular jump out to you?
Mullen: “Boy, I don’t know. I just saw a lot of guys getting better at individual things. I don’t know that anybody kind of jumps out or not to me, because there’s so many little things that need to get fixed.”
Elijah Staley tweeted he had knee surgery?
Mullen: “Yeah, his patella tendon, which I know it started (in) basketball. In doing that he had some tendonitis in there and then tweaked it out here at practice and had to have surgery. So he is going to be out for a little bit. I said can he still throw, he didn’t break his arm or anything? They said he can still throw, so he might even have to sit in the chair and throw some. But we’ll get him back and get him ready to go play.”
Will he be ready for spring?
Mullen: “Probably be doubtful for spring. We’re hoping he’ll be full-go for training camp. I’m hoping in spring, we talked about it, that he’ll be able to do somethings, even do pass/skeleton where he doesn’t have to do a lot of movement on it. But we’ll see that as it moves forward.”
How does preparations change for Georgia Tech’s offense?
Mullen: “They’re somewhat of a unique offense. There’s not a lot of carry-over with them from other teams you see. You watch teams run inside zone, inside zone, inside zone. Some people do it from the shotgun and read it; some people do it from two tights, some people from the I-formation and block the back-side end.
“But with the veer-option and trap-option and all that it’s a different scheme. So our scout team guys we’ll try to get some bonus work with them this week just so they can learn it and adjust to the speed of the game. And for us defensively we’re going to put a great plan together to make sure we’re sound and get those matchups.
”But we still have to do a great job tackling in the open field, I think that’s going to be a real critical deal. Because everyone has a responsibility. And if you miss the tackle nobody else has that responsibility, you’d better make it.”
With a big bowl game how frustrating is it with Geoff leaving, your name being linked to other jobs?
Mullen: “Oh, I’m psyched to go to the Capital One Orange Bowl. So Geoff leaving is just going to put a little bit more work on my plate. I haven’t heard from anybody, so that doesn’t really have any distraction on my end. It’s just a little bit more work on my plate to get going.”
When you say you haven’t heard from anybody does that include your representative?
Mullen: “Yeah, my agent has heard from Scott Stricklin. Just Scott, so hopefully we get something done there.”
Is there any progress on an extension?
Mullen: “I don’t know, we’ve talked but we have to see how far we’re coming along. I mean right now to me, I’ve got even more on my plate. Mississippi State has always been great to me, my family we love it here. So I imagine it will get worked out.”
Is it tough to see a coordinator go to a conference rival?
Mullen: “I don’t like anybody leaving for what I view as lateral moves, to be perfectly honest with you. But when guys make decisions in their lives, they view it as to make decisions.”
With the Monday deadline passed, did any more players request NFL evaluations?
Mullen: “I don’t think so. I met with all the guys, we had a big meeting with probably about 20 guys just to go through everything, to answer questions, all the different stuff that is to go through. And they went to Rockey (Felker) with his assistant filling out all the paperwork. I don’t know if anybody else did it or not, but that’s usually something once the paperwork gets back or after the bowl game we’ll sit down and discuss with the kids and the families.”
Did Geoff’s departure take you by surprise?
Mullen: “Jim McElwain called me yesterday, said they’d like to talk to him. Which I appreciate, I mean we’ve had coaches, I’ve found out on radio before a coach left! So I appreciate him handling business, doing things the right way.
”I thought Geoff did a great job for us here, and pleased with (what) he’s done. But our Psycho Defense will continue to be a Psycho Defense out there on the field. That’s our program, that’s what we play here. And whoever the d-coordinator is we’re going to play that great defense.”
With success and being #1 in the country, is that just something to deal with?
Mullen: “Yeah, this is the crazy time of the year for coaches, right? I mean you look here; Scott Stricklin is worried I’m leaving, I’m worried my coaches are leaving, the coaches are worried the players are going to the NFL draft. I mean, it just is a vicious circle that kind of goes on all over the place.
”But that’s just the crazy season in college football right now. But that’s just all part of it. Usually I hope our guys have opportunities to go be head coaches more than leaving for lateral positions. I think success, hopefully we do have some guys get opportunities to get head coaching positions.”
Do you think national guys don’t realize what kind of job Mississippi State is with the way things have improved?
Mullen: “Which national guys? The coaches or the media?”
People who would say Michigan is a big step up from Mississippi State?
Mullen: “No, I think most of the people now that have come here and see what we’ve been able to build; the facilities that we have, the players we have in our program; that this is a premier place in the country. I think people that know football realize that now.
”I mean you’re playing in the best conference, best Division in all of college football against the best teams every single week. But here at Mississippi State we’ve a sold-out stadium, an unbelievable game day environment, we have great players, we have players that want to come here and play. We have I think the best facilities in the SEC. So I think the people that know football know that this is a great place to be.”