/Dan Mullen returns to scene of – success

Dan Mullen returns to scene of – success

You might have heard that Dan Mullen (who used to live in Florida) is returning to Mississippi State as the head coach for the Florida Gators. From Sports Illustrated to Florida newspapers and media, I have received calls this week from people asking me how Dan Mullen would be received at Scott Field. “Not with open arms but that’s just an guess,” was how I replied. Thursday night I was speaking with the Starkville Quarterback Club and decided to do some research. Nearly 200 people were there. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent were wearing maroon and white, including one lady in a white T-shirt with maroon lettering that said: “Dan Who?” How many of you, I asked, knew Dan Mullen personally from his nine years here? Around 20 people answered the question. How many people thought he was a good coach of football? A little more than twice as many people raised their hands. How many of you liked him most? Three people raised their hands, two slightly hesitantly. How many of you consider him a friend? Two of the three same people raised their hands again. These are the maroon-bleeding most sane people on the planet. You might, like me, wonder what the poll would look like before 2017. My guess: considerably. However, it is clear that State fans never fell in love with Mullen, despite his considerable success. As we often say in Mississippi, State fans weren’t “cotton” to him. Perhaps it was Mullen’s “Yankee”. He was born in Pennsylvania and attended high school in New Hampshire. He played college football at Ursinus (Pa.) College. Mississippians speak slow. Mullen talks fast. Many natives are friendly and back-slapping. Mullen can sometimes be abrupt, let’s just say. True story: In December 2008, Dan Mullen was introduced as the Mississippi State football coach to the crowd. Greg Byrne, then-athletic director, arranged for me meet Mullen in the Babe McCarthy Room for a one-on-1 interview just before Mullen was introduced. I was thinking about how to break the ice, as we say. It was just a few minutes after I saw Meridian’s strong-armed State quarterback recruit Tyler Russell defeat South Panola at the State 6A championship match. Russell had been named the Jackson Touchdown Club’s high school player-of-the-week a month prior. Russell addressed the large crowd as though he were 17 or 30 years old. He was simply, “impressive.” I began the conversation by sharing what I knew about State’s most prized quarterback recruit. Mullen, stone-faced replied, “We didn’t even recruit him in Florida.” That was enough to break the ice. That was Dan Mullen. He isn’t a nice guy. He doesn’t think that way. “…that is why I married my wife, Megan – she’s very nice,” he once said to associates. A veteran assistant coach left Mullen’s staff early in his tenure. It was, at best, a lateral step. “Why?” I asked him. He replied, “Because I am not sonuvabitch and got tired of being called this by my boss.” Mullen seemed to have mellowed quite a bit over his time here. Many of his associates and assistants agreed with me. Perhaps some Mississippi got to him. Bottom line: Nice or not, Dan Mullen won. As few people have ever won as Mississippi State’s coach, he won. He had Mississippi State ranked No.1 for five weeks in 2014. He was ranked No. 1 in the USA. He won because, regardless of what you think about him, he’s a great football coach. My take: Florida will also win. Now, Mississippi State now has Joe Moorhead as its head coach. He is a Pennsylvania native who is much more approachable and friendly than his predecessor, and who also boasts similar offensive credentials to Mullen’s nine-year-old. Moorhead is a favorite of the State fans. They’ll likely build him a statue at Scott Field if he wins, as Mullen did. In the meantime, Mullen will likely be welcomed warmly by Mississippi State in a decade or two. It won’t happen Saturday night. That’s not a guess.