TUPELO – You know why I love covering young athletes? They tend to speak their mind.
Most of them haven’t yet been schooled in the ways of diplomacy and tact. I believe those things have their place, but I’ve always thought blunt honesty is the best policy.
Take Charles Mitchell, a rising sophomore safety for Mississippi State. In a recent interview with his hometown paper, the Clarksdale Press Register, he said, “We’re a better team. We’ve got a new attitude. We’re excited about playing football at Mississippi State.”
That speaks well of what new coach Dan Mullen has brought in his nearly eight months on the job. The flipside to that, of course, is that it tends to reflect poorly on his predecessor, Sylvester Croom.
People in charge don’t like to speak ill of others, indirectly or otherwise. I’ve heard nary a negative comment about Croom from the people he used to work with or under at MSU, and that’s to be expected.
But the fact is, the Bulldogs are better off under Mullen. I know, he hasn’t won anything yet, but let’s be honest, the man has inspired everyone from the players to the fans to the administration.
I guess he even inspired me, in a way: The only reason I picked MSU to finish fifth in the SEC West instead of sixth? Mullen.
The mighty Tim Tebow himself said last week that because of Mullen, “They’re gonna will themselves to win some games.”
I’ll be honest, I didn’t see a lot of what you’d call willpower last season. I saw a team that couldn’t handle its business in the fourth quarter, if it was even still in the game at that point. I saw an offense that had as much horsepower as a golf cart.
I saw plenty of reasons for change to happen.
Coaching changes always bring some level of excitement, but this one seems different. Think back to when Mullen was hired. A lot of people liked the hire, but a lot didn’t know what to make of it.
The excitement level and anticipation have both increased since then – witness the spring game crowd and climbing season ticket sales – and that’s mostly due to Mullen and his ability to make others believe that better times lie ahead.
Mitchell obviously believes. So do his teammates.
At SEC Media Days last week, I asked junior linebacker K.J. Wright about Mitchell’s comments. Are you, I asked, a better team already?
“That’s definitely the case,” Wright said. “We’re preparing to win, working hard.”
For what it’s worth, Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News wrote over the weekend that of the SEC’s three new coaches, Mullen was the “most impressive” at Media Days.
Hurt then wrote that if he had to hire one of the three, he’d take Mullen over Auburn’s Gene Chizik and Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin.
I think Mullen’s blunt honesty might have won over Hurt. Mullen is one of those coaches who will speak his mind, more so than a lot of coaches, and I think his players ultimately respect him for it.
Mullen’s criticized his quarterbacks’ offseason work ethic, he’s noted a “lack of skill” on offense, and he called tailback Anthony Dixon’s DUI arrest “selfish.”
There are few things more refreshing than blunt honesty. It’s something the MSU football program needs more of, and I hope Mullen and his players keep it coming.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal