Not many questions this week, but they were all good ones, the final one requiring a lengthy answer. And all of them are about football – two about coaches, one about quarterbacks. Of course, because it’s March.
Here we go.
Q: What’s practice like without Manny Diaz, and does the defensive play calling look any different? If so, how? What’s the players’ take on coach Geoff Collins? What is his on-the-field coaching style?
A: Too soon to say about the play-calling, since they’ve not even had a full scrimmage yet, but you’re not losing anything with Chris Wilson in the intensity department. Defensive end Sean Ferguson said Wilson is actually “a lot more fiery” than Diaz.
I’ve been to only two of the four spring practices – they’ve been off since March 10 – and haven’t watched Collins that closely. But I know he’s a high-energy guy in the mold of Diaz. I expect an easy transition there.
Q: What are the chances that we could see Tyler Russell get the start at Memphis? I’m sure he will play a lot like last year. Is this something that Dan Mullen would even consider knowing that Auburn is on the road and LSU on a short week?
A: I’ve learned not to try and read Mullen’s mind, but I believe that unless Chris Relf regresses terribly or Russell is just a beast in August, there’s no way Mullen doesn’t keep Relf as the starter. I do think Russell will play, and perhaps more than he did last year, but this job belongs to Relf.
Q: What’s your opinion on the best head football coaches at MSU over the last 50 years? Listed in order, and why?
A: Man, tough question. Let’s go back a little further, some seven decades, because that’s where you’ll find Allyn McKeen, whose 65-19-3 record is the best in school history since the SEC era began in 1933. He was 28-16-2 in SEC play.
Once I reach a certain point on this list, though, there’s really no good way to rank one above the other, so I’ll just group those guys together at the end. So here’s a top six, plus the others.
(Note: I most certainly am basing these rankings partly on what these coaches did before and/or after coaching at MSU.)
• Allyn McKeen, 1939-48 (65-19-3, 28-16-2 SEC): See above. Led MSU to to a 10-0-1 record in 1940. Can you believe he was fired in 1948, after his only non-winning season (4-4-1)?
• Darrell Royal, 1954-55 (12-8, 7-7): Became a legend at Texas and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
• Murray Warmath, 1952-53 (10-6-3, 6-5-3): Went on to an 18-year tenure at Minnesota, winning a national title in 1960. Coached under McKeen from 1939-42, was smart enough to hire Royal as an assistant. He died Wednesday at 98.
• Jackie Sherrill, 1991-2003 (75-75-2, 43-59-1): Too high? Well, he did lead MSU to its first and so far only SEC Championship Game, in 1998. And he was good at Pitt and Texas A&M. Sherrill had some really good teams at State before his career sputtered to an end.
• Dan Mullen, 2009-present (14-11, 7-9): It’s only been two seasons, but let’s be honest, it is a rather low bar in recent years. The rest of the coaches on this list have losing records. Besides, things are looking up for MSU, and Mullen has caused a bit of a culture shift in Starkville regarding expectations.
• Emory Bellard, 1979-85 (37-42, 15-27): I had one person tell me recently that Bellard’s success dwindled in later years because he clung too long to his wishbone offense. But Bellard led MSU to two bowl games and, most memorably, that 6-3 upset of Alabama in 1980. He previously worked under Royal at Texas.
• The rest, alphabetically: Sylvester Croom, Paul Davis, Rockey Felker, Slick Morton, Charley Shira, Bob Tyler, Wade Walker.