BRAD LOCKE: Rabid fans, Internet feed speculation on coaching changes

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – It’s December, which means it’s a special season that comes but once a year. A time when people flock to the Internet in search of holiday magic.
That’s right: It’s silly season in college football.
Which means it’s peak season for the Internet and the countless falsehoods it produces regarding coaching vacancies. Fans flock to message boards and pseudo-news sites to gobble up “reports” from that famous Anonymous Source guy.
The big opening right now is at Miami, which fired Randy Shannon on Saturday after a so-so four-year stint. One of the first names to pop up: Dan Mullen.
The Mississippi State head coach is obviously a hot commodity, and rightly so. Two years ago he took over one of the most inept offenses in the country and made it viable, and that – along with an improved defense – has led to an 8-4 record and No. 22 national ranking this season. A nice bowl bid awaits.
Reports this week claim Mullen will interview for the Miami post, and that he’s candidate “1A.” Other reports have former NFL coach and current Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden as the leading candidate, but I read Wednesday that there is “zero chance” he’ll be the next coach at Miami.
At the Conerly Trophy ceremony in Jackson on Tuesday night, Mullen told reporters he’s not been contacted by Miami or any other schools.
He nailed it on the head when he said, “So it’s just the age we’re in today, the information age. And everybody needs to write an article, wants to write a story, talk on radio, all these things. And they need a list of people to talk about, so…”
Now, am I saying the reports linking Mullen and Miami are inaccurate? No. Am I saying Mullen’s lying? No.
What we have here are two entities – coaches and the Internet – with bad track records. Ever since Tommy Tuberville snuck out of Oxford in 1998, I’ve never taken what a coach says in this situation as gospel.
And I sure as heck don’t give much credence to reports from sites without solid journalistic underpinnings that have often gotten things wrong. (I’m just talking in generalities here, not any site specifically.)

No-win situation
Here’s the deal, though: Coaches have to lie in these situations. If Mullen had been contacted, you think he’d tell anyone? No, and he’d be a fool to do so.
We beg for transparency in such situations, but if Mullen were to say, “Yeah, I’m talking to Miami, and I’ll consider an offer,” then he’d get raked across the coals by the message board trolls.
Like Mullen said, the Internet demands that something fill the 24/7 news cycle, and so speculation and rumors fill that void. Finding truth in the rumor mills during a coaching search can be like sifting through a bag of chips hoping to find a bite of steak – it probably won’t happen.
Personally, I don’t see Mullen leaving for Miami. Not because it’s not a better job, because big picture, it is: There’s a rich winning tradition, you’re surrounded by elite recruits, and you’re playing in the ACC, which is much easier to win than the SEC.
As for right now, though, Mullen’s got a pretty good thing going in Starkville. He has good young talent, a rabid fan base, nice enough facilities, and an administration that’s 100 percent behind him.
I don’t think that’ll keep him at MSU for a long time, because he’s too good a coach not to try his hand elsewhere. Nevertheless, he is a coach, so I’d put nothing past him.
So here’s what I suggest you do: This month, spend more of your Internet time shopping for your loved ones, less time worrying about stuff that probably won’t happen.

Brad Locke (brad.locke@djournal.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.