STARKVILLE – I’m one who always appreciates honesty out of the people I cover as a reporter, so I’m going to be honest: I really don’t miss standing under a blazing sun on a hard-baked practice field for three hours every day.
The other reporters on this beat – reporters everywhere, I imagine – would echo that sentiment. After a week of open practices, Mississippi State’s football team has closed off all access during two-a-days, which began last Saturday and end this Saturday.
The downside is that we can’t watch the team as it gets a firmer grasp on the schemes, see who stands out and who’s struggling. That has always been enjoyable, regardless of the temperature.
We’re still allowed to speak with coach Dan Mullen and, in Monday’s case, some assistants and players. But when the Bulldogs are on the field, the only outside observers are the cows that graze next to the intramural fields on the south side of campus.
And Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn coach, who took in Monday’s morning session.
The players are spending this week in a local hotel, a working vacation, if you will. A week to get away from the media, the fans, the scrutiny – well, I guess they’ll never escape the last one – and a chance to not think about the impending fall term, which starts next Monday.
“I like it,” Mullen said after the first practice Monday. “It’s a time for the team to come together, work real hard. The ability to just push themselves, without any outside distractions, this one week is all about football.”
It’s not the first time a football coach has done this. In fact, many schools close practices altogether, so the access we get, we’re grateful for.
This isolation period needs to be productive for MSU, which is a team that must foster togetherness. Last year’s team seemed to get along fine, but it had more of a “happy to be here” kind of dynamic.
Mullen is not just happy to be here. He’s here to win, and win now, and he’s been pushing the Bulldogs beyond normal limits. He’s demanding even for an SEC football coach.
Seven players have left the team since Mullen was hired in December, and I suspect most of them did so because they don’t like Mullen’s methods. He told me a few months ago that he expected his high-intensity approach to drive off some players.
As for the ones who are left, they’ll have to become closer than the Osmond family or get left out.
So is this whole isolation thing working? Mullen says it is.
“Our guys are focused,” he said.
“It’s tough out there,” senior linebacker Jamar Chaney said, “but we’re getting a lot of stuff accomplished.”
What exactly is being accomplished, we don’t know. We can’t be out there to see.
But Mullen’s hope is that come the regular season, we’ll all find out.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal