By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – Dan Mullen doesn’t let his time on the big stage go to waste.
At the first day of SEC Media Days on Wednesday, the Mississippi State coach made his usual references to “The School Up North” – Ole Miss – but also took a jab at Alabama coach Nick Saban during his spirited Q&A with reporters in a giant ballroom at the Wynfrey Hotel.
Mullen opened his segment by saying, “For the next 10 seconds, it’s legal to ring your cowbell, so get it out now. But we’re going into a cowbell dead zone after that.”
He was referring, of course, to the recent compromise between MSU and the SEC, which allows Bulldog fans to legally carry their beloved cowbells into Davis Wade Stadium, provided they’re rung at specified times.
That’s lightweight material for Mullen, though.
In his short tenure as MSU’s coach, the 38-year-old hasn’t been afraid to poke the bear, so to speak, whether it’s SEC officiating, a bitter rival or Saban himself.
During his own media session, the coach of the defending national champions questioned how well the spread offense prepares players for the next level. Saban prefers a pro-style offense, while Mullen is one of the country’s biggest proponents of the spread, helping Florida coach Urban Meyer develop the version used now by both the Bulldogs and Gators.
“I’ve coached the spread offense, and I have a lot of more first-round quarterbacks drafted than (Saban) has in his career as a head coach,” Mullen said, referring to Alex Smith and Tim Tebow. “I think it does develop those players pretty well to get there. Amazing, one was a five-star recruit and one was a one-star recruit.
“When you develop players as a coach, you develop players.”
Smith hasn’t panned out, and Tebow has yet to play an NFL game. But the point remains, Mullen isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and that fearlessness is most evident in a setting like this one, when he has everyone’s attention for a few minutes.
Using words to draw attention is one way Mullen can get the MSU name in the ears of high school prospects. In fact, his methods have drawn comparisons to ex-Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, if to a lesser degree.
Any recruits listening to Mullen hear a message that goes beyond mere optimism. When asked about a timeline for getting MSU to the SEC championship game in Atlanta, Mullen replied, “Our plan is this December. That’s our plan. When you look at it, I’ll be honest, I don’t look at our schedule and say, ‘We’re going to lose that game.’”
It’s a confidence that borders on arrogance, and it’s quite necessary Mullen possess it as he tries to build on last season’s 5-7 mark (3-5 SEC).
Mullen’s got a humble streak, though. He said he’s learned a lot about being a head coach since taking the job in December of 2008, with particular challenges being decision-making, game management and recruiting as a head coach versus as an assistant.
“I’m in a position and I’m improving as a head coach and making better decisions, better judgments, handling all of those situations better than I did last season,” he said.
MSU’s players have that same comfort level a year into Mullen’s tenure. While outsiders might dismiss Mullen’s words, they don’t.
Meyer, for one, understands where Mullen is coming from, having worked with him for 10 years.
“I think sometimes he comes across that way (outspoken), but he’s a very intelligent person,” Meyer said. “You ask him a question, and he’ll answer.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Arkansas: Coach Bobby Petrino, DE Jake Bequette, QB Ryan Mallett, TE D.J. Williams
– Georgia: Coach Mark Richt, P Drew Butler, FB Shaun Chapas, WR A.J. Green
– South Carolina: Coach Steve Spurrier, FB Patrick DiMarco, DE Cliff Matthews, LB Shaq Wilson
– Vanderbilt: Interim coach Robbie Caldwell, LB Chris Marve, RB Warren Norman, LB John Stokes