OPINION: Benching Dixon would be Mullen’s best move

STARKVILLE – So far, Dan Mullen has made all the right moves since being named Mississippi State’s head football coach.
From the moment he stepped off that plane in December and rang a cowbell, he’s been Mr. Sunshine, focusing on the positive and the possibilities. He’s preached family, accountability and responsibility.
He’s done the unthinkable: Injected immeasurable enthusiasm into a fan base wearied by Sylvester Croom’s five-year reign of error. It’s not like Mullen’s a big-name, proven coach – although he did come from a big-name, proven program in Florida.
By all appearances, he’s got the MSU ship headed in the right direction.
I’m afraid he’s about to make a wrong move: Putting Anthony Dixon on the field in Saturday’s season-opener against Jackson State.
To review, Dixon was arrested in Starkville on July 18 and charged with DUI. The star senior tailback spent the night in jail. He pleaded guilty and was fined $500.
Dixon has been serving undisclosed team discipline since then, and Mullen said he’s done everything asked of him so far. Dixon is not a lock to be the starter, at least not this week.
On Monday, Mullen said whether Dixon will play will be “determined later in the week.” Wednesday, Mullen the decision would come on Saturday.
Not suspending Dixon would not be unusual:
– Florida State receiver Rod Owens was arrested for DUI in April. He was suspended indefinitely, pleaded no contest, and it was thought he would miss the season opener against Miami. However, he’s listed as running first team on this week’s depth chart.
– Nebraska receiver Niles Paul’s DUI came in April, too. He was suspended from the last week of spring practice. He was a projected starter at the time, and for this week’s opener he’s listed as a backup.
So, Mullen could point to such precedent as reason for not suspending Dixon this week. Perhaps the issue revolves around the timing. Dixon’s arrest occurred two weeks before preseason camp began – seven weeks before this week’s game – so there’s been plenty of time for him to serve other punishments.
My real hang-up here is with how long it’s taking Mullen to reach a decision. Perhaps he thinks the in-house punishment, once completed, will suffice.
I hope he isn’t waiting to see if Arnil Stallworth and/or Robert Elliott, both recovering from knee injuries, will be ready to go full speed. Or to see if Christian Ducré can handle the load.
If that’s the case, then Mullen’s messed up already. Dixon’s punishment should be decided apart from personnel issues. Otherwise, it has no teeth, it smacks of preferential treatment, and Dixon’s teammates will see right through it.
Not good for team chemistry, I don’t care how likable Dixon is.
And will anything get through to Dixon like sitting out a game? The best way to get a player’s attention is to keep him on the sidelines.
Mullen’s ultimate goal, I’m sure, is to make Dixon understand how fortunate he is to be a star tailback in the SEC, and how much his team needs him. Because if the Bulldogs want to win this year, they need Dixon carrying a heavy load.
They don’t need him to beat Jackson State, though. They could make do without him for one game.
It would show that Mullen won’t put up with off-field foolishness. He’s a demanding guy on the field, he should be the same off it.
It’d be the right move.

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

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

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