Dan Mullen Must Change His Ways

October 27, 2011

News, Sports

Dan Mullen, Head Coach, Mississippi State University Football

Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen

Mississippi State third year head coach Dan Mullen has enjoyed a stellar beginning to his tenure, leading a turnaround that has instilled hope and excitement in the fan base. He has been rewarded with a 2.65 million a year extension, media acclaim, and interest from other programs. He has also achieved almost god-like status by the MSU fan base, where he seemingly can do no wrong in their eyes. I personally like most of what he has done to build the program up to this point, but he must humble himself before his program is to take the next step.

Most young coaches when they first start out have that chip on their shoulder trying to prove how brilliant they are as they try to prove that they can succeed no matter the obstacles. This has doomed many a young coach who did not learn this lesson in due time. One of the oldest sayings in football is, “It’s about Bobbies and Joes, not X’s and O’s”.  The saying basically is stating that big time players win games–not coaches.

Lane Kiffin at the University of Southern California doesn’t quite possess  a “stellar” reputation after leaving Tennessee unceremoniously after one season to coach USC. What I do like about Kiffin is that he realizes that it’s about players, and that’s why he hit the ground running, bringing in players to Tennessee when he got hired after the 2008 season. His methods may have been somewhat unethical, but I think ultimately he was merely trying to upgrade the talent on his roster. Derek Dooley, the new UT coach, has done a good job, but his program will benefit long term by inheriting Kiffin’s previous efforts. Kiffin is a case of a young coach “getting it” when it comes to the players, but former Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniel had to learn the hard way that it is truly about the players. McDaniel, to make a long story short, traded the starting quarterback Jay Cutler, released a promising running back Peyton Hillis, and traded superstar wide receiver Brandon Marshall. His team struggled throughout his tenure, and he got fired in the middle of his second season. There is no way to say for sure that McDaniels would still have his job if he hadn’t made those moves, but they certainly did not help.

I bring these examples up to illustrate a point:  how young coaches can get it right and how they can get it wrong. Mullen, in my opinion, is trending more toward McDaniel’s approach thinking it’s more about him while discounting the talent on the field in the process. If no one is in agreement yet with me or my perspective, please consider this example: During Spring 2010, former receiver O’Neal Wilder quit the team to focus on track. The truth of the situation was that Wilder had no plans to quit the football team to focus on track but wanted to do both. Mullen wanted Wilder to focus on solely on football. Mullen gave Wilder a choice–basically an ultimatum–choose either football or track; you can’t play both sports. Wilder decided to choose his first love, track.  With that deal breaker, Mullen, and thus Mississippi State, showed arrogance thinking it’s all about him, and they lost the potential for another deep threat.  I honestly believe a MSU team with Wilder possibly could have won two or three more games over the past two seasons.  One of biggest complaints from the media and fans has been MSU’s lack of a vertical threat. Well, they had one, but Mullen’s arrogance is why one, namely Wilder, is not on the roster.  I can understand a coach wanting players to focus solely on his team, but that is not how big time college football works. There are many cases where dual sport players divide their attention. Take Deion Sanders, for example, who participated in two other sports while at Florida State, and I never heard Bobby Bowden complaining!

Mullen has continued to display arrogance by not playing talented young players Michael Carr, Jameon Lewis, and Joe Morrow, because they are not 100 percent up to speed. Most big time programs, such as LSU, find a way to utilize the explosive second string talents in their game plan. It’s just hard for me to believe that those three players could not contribute in given specific packages that allow them a chance to showcase their talents. I’m all for preaching fundamentals, but would a stagnant MSU offense benefit from using these playmakers or having them ride the pine?

In conclusion, the question I would like to ask here is this:  Will Mullen realize that it’s about players (and not himself) before he becomes another up-and-comer that didn’t make it in the long run?

– Follow me on Twitter: @JeremiahShort26

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12 Comments on “Dan Mullen Must Change His Ways”

  1. Kevin Gregg (@infination) Says:

    Interesting article, @JeremiahShort26. Thanks for the enlightenment!


  2. Martin Howard Says:

    It’s too bad this “column” is electronic. If it were in print, I could use it to line our cat’s litterbox where it would actually serve a purpose.


  3. Dick Mahoney Says:

    A great, arguable analysis, inviting comment and made for the hot stove league. Are you sure you didn’t have a previous life as a Boston sportswriter, a breed unto themselves. Cliff Keane (who loved controversy and made Ted Williams his frequent target) would have taken you under his wing in a New York second. Enjoyed your perspective.


  4. Benard Says:

    Number one: Have you ever seen any of the players practice? Do you know their habits and short comings? Or do you know they are just that good?
    Number two: This is no sand lot football. You have to know the plays and how to play the game (and also how not to fumble)
    Number three: Every college coach deals with around 100 17-22 year old boys. Yes that is what they are, boys. They should all be there for an education and sports come second.
    Number four: Every coach on every level makes mistakes just like all of us. Only ours are not shown to millions of people.
    And finally, how do you compare a professional coach with a college coach? Programs are much different.


    • State Alum Says:

      I can tell you a Dan Mullen believer. The article is dead on. Sure enough there’s a playbook, but most offensive plays are usually the same with a variation in the formation and possibly a player in motion. As far as defense, it’s simply about the front 7 reading their keys and the DBs getting in the right coverage It’s doesn’t take muching coaching on that. These things have been taught to players from little league. Any coach or player of any sport will tell you raw atlethicism usually will get a young player by. The knowledge of the game comes in to play as you age and you atlethicism starts to deteriorate.


  5. nate Says:

    I’m a little late on this story, but I agree with some of the comments. If it’s true you make a player choose a sport, you will lose that player. LSU does have many track athletes on all sports and it benefits well with speed. However, I understand you wanting good, young players on the field, but what if they truly aren’t ready? Comparing MSU and LSU talent is a hard proposition. Comparing LSU’s 2nd string with MSU’s 1st string would even be difficult, but to compare MSU’s 2nd string with LSU’s 2nd string is a little off kilter. We all know LSU has a stockpile of talent; MSU doesn’t. I think Mullen has trended toward giving talented players the most time to be in school and learn the program. He has held players back and I think he is trying to build a program from the ground and is focusing less on short term success, which is what MSU has had in the past.


    • Jeremiah Short Says:

      Yes I wrote a column essentially agreeing with that philosophy. It’s just hard sometimes watching the talented playmakers MSU does have not playing.


  6. will53 Says:

    I know Wilder personally and he was looking for a way out of football. He only played football two years before coming to MSU and there were people in his ear everytime he came home encourgaging him to quit football. The physicality of football was too much for him from the beginning. ARE YOU IN PRACTICE TO KNOW WHO SHOULD BE PLAYING.


    • Jeremiah Short Says:

      I’m not but I have friends who were there. I judged based what I see in actual games. MSU lacked playmakers this year and those players were playmakers. Seems pretty simple to me.


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