By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – There’s been a lot of talk about Dan Mullen’s contract and the possibility of a raise, and based on what he’s done so far at Mississippi State, a raise is in order.
While athletics director Scott Stricklin doesn’t like to talk specifically about that subject – or about contract bonuses – he has strongly hinted that Mullen is in line for a pay bump.
“We’re going to be very fair with Dan and reward him for the work he’s done,” Stricklin told me Monday.
That’s good, because Mullen is the lowest-paid coach in the SEC. USA Today released its annual list of Division I-A coaches salaries on Wednesday, and of the 11 SEC schools that reported those figures (Vanderbilt didn’t because it’s not a state-funded school), Mullen was dead last, a good half-million dollars behind Joker Phillips of Kentucky.
Mullen has a base salary of $1.2 million for 2010. The SEC’s highest-paid coach is Alabama’s Nick Saban, at more than $5 million.
That’s not surprising, of course. The big boys – Saban, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Mark Richt – rake in the big dough because they’ve won big, and they run bigger, more tradition-rich programs.
They’ve got bigger fan bases, bigger stadiums, bigger budgets, bigger everything.
But that’s OK, because MSU doesn’t necessarily need to be that big to compete. More is better, sure, and a raise in pay for Mullen will likely happen.
Money, however, does not appear to be Mullen’s biggest concern.
Stricklin said that when they talk about the future, Mullen’s contract is not a major topic of discussion.
“The great thing about Dan is most of the time we have those conversations, he talks about how to make the program better, and salary never comes up unless I bring it up,” Stricklin said.
“Dan is focused on what’s the best long-term (plan) for Mississippi State, and in two years there’s a lot of evidence that he’s made a lot of good long-term decisions for us, and we’ve seen the fruits of it already – we’re really going to start seeing the fruits of it.”
Don’t forget assistants
Mullen isn’t the only one who deserves a raise. His assistants have done a pretty good job, too, and sweetening their deals can only help keep this staff together.
And continuity is what this program needs right now, not turnover.
Two assistants – defensive coordinator Carl Torbush and defensive line coach David Turner – left after last season.
Their replacements, Manny Diaz and Chris Wilson (who also holds the title of co-defensive coordinator) have done a bang-up job. State has one of the best rushing defenses in the country, and Wilson’s defensive front has been formidable despite the losses of Johnathan McKenzie and Nick Bell.
Receivers coach/passing game coordinator Mark Hudspeth has helped make Chris Relf a viable passer while dealing with a horrendous lack of depth and experience at receiver, made all the worse by season-ending injuries to Leon Berry, Marcus Green and most recently top ball-catcher Chad Bumphis.
Offensive coordinator Les Koenning, running backs coach Greg Knox and offensive line coach/running game coordinator John Hevesy deserve credit for a rushing attack that didn’t miss a beat after Anthony Dixon left.
Those are the assistants that stand out to me. For MSU to keep ascending, it needs those guys to stick around a while.
That’s going to be tough. Just as Mullen is being sought after for other positions – and you figure Florida will approach him – his assistants are, too, or will be soon. Diaz and Hudspeth in particular come to mind.
Diaz is young (36) and innovative and has taken MSU’s defense from mediocre to really good.
Hudspeth’s name has already been mentioned in connection with the head coach opening at Louisiana-Lafayette. He was the head coach at North Alabama before joining Mullen at State, so he might get that itch soon.
Stricklin is going to have to fight off some wolves, because the flip side of winning is other schools want your coaches.
It’s a good problem to have, and one way to address that problem is opening up the pocketbook.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.