By David Brandt/The Associated Press
STARKVILLE — Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was his usual energetic self at Friday night’s practice, telling jokes and barking instructions to players as he jogged around the chilly field in a gray hooded sweatshirt and maroon hat.
Normally, that wouldn’t be a very big deal at all. But with two major coaching jobs open at Florida and Miami and Mullen’s name attached to both, his presence in Starkville has been closely monitored.
“I don’t worry about it,” Mullen said. “I don’t live in a speculation world. We live in a real world. That’s all we deal with.”
Mullen has become a hot name in coaching circles after leading MSU to a bowl game in just his second season with the program. The 21st-ranked Bulldogs (8-4) will face Michigan (7-5) in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Mullen’s ties to the Gators are obvious: He was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008, which coincides with Meyer’s most productive four seasons, including two national championships. The two have remained friends, though Mullen says he hasn’t talked to Meyer since he abruptly resigned on Wednesday.
Miami would be a less obvious choice, though Mullen’s familiarity with the state would likely be a plus.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State athletics director Scott Stricklin has said a new contract is in the works for Mullen, who signed a four-year contract worth $1.2 million per year when he was hired in 2008.
But Mullen said he’s focused solely on the football field, and the Bulldogs were back on the practice field for the first time since beating Mississippi 31-23 in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 27.
Mullen said he didn’t feel the need to address his team about any job rumors. Left tackle Derek Sherrod said the team was simply happy to be on the practice field in December — which is a first for the program since playing in the Liberty Bowl in 2007.
There’s been plenty of big moments for the Bulldogs this season, including the team’s longest winning streak since 1999 and its first national ranking since 2001.
“It was all smiles for everybody just to be back on the field in December and not March when spring practice starts,” Sherrod said. “Everybody’s done with finals now, so our minds are on football.”
Mississippi State will eventually have to figure out a way to stop Michigan’s dynamic quarterback Denard Robinson, who has accounted for 3,959 total yards and 30 touchdowns this season. But for now, the Bulldogs are focused on making sure their starters stay healthy and the team’s younger players get some more work in practice.
“After a couple weeks (of rest), it’s kind of good to just run around, get a sweat on and throw and catch the ball a little bit,” Mullen said. “We’re shaking loose some of those cobwebs.”
Read more about Mississippi State football in Saturday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.