By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Dan Mullen will meet an old friend on New Year’s Day.
Mullen’s Mississippi State squad was chosen on Sunday to play in the Gator Bowl against Northwestern of the Big Ten. It will be the Bulldogs’ second trip to the Jacksonville, Fla., game in three years, and their first meeting with the Wildcats.
The game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Jan. 1 and will be televised by ESPN2.
Northwestern (9-3) is coached by Pat Fitzgerald, who like Mullen has put together a solid program. The two have known each other for years, going back to when Mullen was an assistant coach at Utah and Fitzgerald an assistant at Northwestern.
They both recruited in the Houston area at the time.
“Pat is somebody who has always been gracious enough to help me out and help us when we had question or we had ideas,” said Mullen, 40, who’s in his fourth season at MSU (8-4).
Mullen has asked Fitzgerald, 38, for advice on being a head coach; the latter is in his seventh season as the head man at Northwestern. This will be the school’s fifth consecutive bowl appearance, and this senior class is the winningest in program history with a 30-21 record.
Fitzgerald and Mullen don’t talk so much X’s and O’s as how to run a program.
“Dan’s one of those guys that I’m going to reach out to and do some research and just bounce some ideas off of,” Fitzgerald said. “We spent some great time up here in Chicago a couple of years ago and talked head coaching and what you do and how you run your program and how you manage it.”
Mullen said he studies tape of Northwestern every offseason, and the two coaching staffs actually exchanged game film a couple of weeks ago. The Wildcats run an up-tempo offense centered on the run game; they rank 14th in the country in rushing offense at 230.9 yards per game.
“Look at the success he’s had, and not just short-term success – consistent success – shows that he’s one of the premier coaches in all of college football,” Mullen said.
Since taking over at MSU in 2009, Mullen has compiled a record of 28-21, and this is the third consecutive bowl trip for State.
“He runs his program the right way, does the right things on and off the field,” Fitzgerald said. “And then he’s just a terrific football coach schematically, terrific football coach motivationally, and then obviously fundamentally his guys play so hard.
“They play with such great technique and terrific effort. So it’s going to be a great challenge for our guys, there’s no doubt.”