BRAD LOCKE: Is this a step back for Bulldogs, or a step into their bright future?

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

Dan Mullen said something interesting following last week’s 28-16 win at Kentucky. He went all big picture on us – like, really big picture.
With the win, Mississippi State moved to 4-4 overall, two wins shy of qualifying for a bowl game for the second consecutive season. MSU hasn’t done that since the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
Here’s what Mullen had to say:
“I’ve said all along, this is one of the most important seasons in school history, and we’re battling through that right now. We get ourselves to a bowl game this year, and hopefully a really good bowl game, you know what, we’re going in the direction we want to go with this program.”
There are a few ways to digest that claim.
You could call it an arrogant statement of Mullen placing his regime above those of his predecessors. You could say he’s being delusional about MSU becoming a perennial contender for the SEC title. You could say he’s content simply to make a bowl game.
Or, you could say he’s simply viewing everything through the lens of the process it takes to build a winner. Mullen came to Starkville with a plan, and as far as he’s concerned, everything remains on course. Making a bowl every year is part of it, but believe you me, the man wants to win championships.
A strike against Mullen is the Bulldogs’ record, which includes a 1-4 mark in SEC play. Plus, he has yet to beat a Western Division team not named Ole Miss (he’s 0-10 against those teams).
That argument, however, could be considered shortsighted. It’s the sort of mentality that gets coaches fired before they’ve had a chance to get comfortable.
I’d say Mullen is speaking from the perspective of a man who had a good idea what he was getting into when taking the job in December of 2008, and so his confidence in his plan won’t be shaken by a few losses in the third year.
Let’s be honest here: MSU’s season thus far has been considered by some a disappointment – to whatever degree – only because of what happened in 2010. And that was a season that exceeded most everybody’s expectations.
Invested in future
So, back to Mullen’s assertion: Is this one of the most important seasons in the program’s history? Perhaps it’s the most important, considering how invested MSU is in Mullen, and vice versa. The man has rebuffed any and all enticements – real and imagined – to leave Starkville.
To him, this season is about learning how to finish plays, finish games, develop that first recruiting class into a strong group that’ll provide veteran leadership, and capitalize on the goodwill of the early success.
If all goes according to plan, perhaps Mullen’s statement will carry more weight in retrospect.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@ journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.