Mississippi State Football – Year in Review: Defensive Assistant Coaches and Special Teams Coach

December 7, 2011

News, Sports

Initial Outlook: I took a look at the offensive assistants on Sunday judging them on player development, recruiting prowess, and their overall value to the team. Today, I chose to evaluate the defensive assistants and Special Teams Coach Dan Mullen.


Chris Wilson

Chris Wilson

Chris Wilson: Defensive Line Coach / Defensive Coordinator

2011 Assessment: Wilson had a pretty good 2011 — his first as the defensive coordinator. He dialed up some terrific game plans against LSU, Alabama, and South Carolina, and settled in quite nicely.  I like the way he uses the defensive personnel — always pushing the right buttons.

He also had stellar year as a positional coach. Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd played at an All-SEC level, and Wilson deserves credit for this. He said repeatedly that he wanted greatness from the two defensive linemen, and they responded. Wilson also must be commended for getting Preston Smith and P.J. Jones ready to play as true freshmen. The experience will help both push for a starting job at their respective positions in 2012. I say that assuming Fletcher Cox heads to the NFL.

Wilson did a lot of great things in 2011, but his game plans for Auburn and Arkansas were very poor, in my opinion. If Wilson is to become a great coordinator, he will need to come up with better game plans against high-powered offenses.

2-Year Assessment: Wilson has done an excellent job over the past two years. He has emerged as one of the top assistants on the coaching staff. Wilson has aided in the development of Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd. Cox is All-SEC and potential All-American in 2011—Wilson deserves a lot of credit for pushing him to that level. He has also done a good job of developing the rest of the defensive line as well.

In addition, Wilson has been a great recruiter and evaluator of talent. He can be credited with bringing in five-star recruit Quay Evans, four-star recruit Nick James, and four other defensive linemen in the 2012 class.

Mullen would be wise to lock Wilson up with a raise.

Overall Grade: B+


Geoff Collins: Linebackers Coach / Co-Defensive Coordinator

Geoff Collins

Geoff Collins

2011 Assessment: I’m not going to sugarcoat it—I wasn’t very happy with how Collins coached in 2011. Some have pointed to the play of Cam Lawrence and Brandon Wilson, which is fair. But, I felt Collins showed too much faith in the two players. I had no problems with them starting, but he should have trusted the younger linebackers more: Christian Holmes, Chris Hughes, and Ferlando Bohanna. If he had trusted them, the linebacking unit could have been three deep by the end of season. I don’t like the favoritism he is showing, but I will reserve judgment on him. He has a chance to do better next season, and I will hold off on any more criticism.

Overall Grade: Incomplete



Melvin Smith

Melvin Smith

Melvin Smith: Cornerbacks Coach

2011 Assessment: The case could be made that Coach Smith did the best job on the entire coaching staff this season. He deserves credit for getting Darius Slay ready to play, after he arrived late in August. Jamerson Love also became a solid contributor and has a bright future at the position.

The only criticism I have of Smith for the 2011 season is the fact that he didn’t start Slay. Corey Broomfield is a solid nickel back, but he struggled covering man-to-man. Coach Smith started rotating the other cornerbacks in, trying to compensate for Broomfield, but he was unwilling to pull the trigger.

3-Year Assessment: Coach Smith is probably the most underrated assistant on the roster, and he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves. I was amazed while looking at the recruiting list at just how many big fish he has personally recruited. Flecther Cox, Kaleb Eulls, and Michael Carr are just a few of the names that Smith has recruited. The claim could be made that he is the top recruiter on the roster.

Smith has also been one of the best developers of talent on the coaching staff. Johnthan Banks could potentially get drafted after his junior year, and Coach Smith should be commended for his individual development. Smith, in addition to Banks, has developed Corey Broomfield, Darius Slay, and Jamerson Love. True freshman cornerback Taveze Calhoun was also coming along well before he got injured. I’m excited to see Smith develop all the talented cornerbacks that are committed for 2012.

Mullen should lock him up for the long term.

Overall Grade: A


Tony Hughes: Safeties Coach

Tony Hughes

Tony Hughes

2011 Assessment: I don’t think Coach Hughes had a good 2011. Nickoe Whitley did play at an All-SEC level, but Whitley is a player who plays off of instinct. I know some might misunderstand that statement, but I’m trying to relay the point that what Whitley does is because of talent — not coaching.

Hughes also didn’t push Charles Mitchell to step up and make more plays in the passing game. I’m not saying that Mitchell should have been removed from the lineup, but he could have been pushed more.

3-Year Assessment: Coach Hughes has not done a poor job during his three years on staff, but he has not really done a great one, either. Hughes has been a good recruiter with a great network to pull from.

I have problems with the lack of talent development, though. Charles Mitchell, Wade Bonner, and even Nickoe Whitley are all behind developmentally. I know some are going to say, “J. Short is nuts saying Nickoe hasn’t developed.” Whitley is one of best safeties in the SEC, but he could be better. He still freelances way too much, and doesn’t understand the mental aspects of the game of football yet. The injury may force him to concentrate more on his mentality though, and we all hope he does not lose a step.

The other primary safeties, Bonner and Mitchell, have been liabilities in pass coverage the past few years. I can understand Bonner struggling in coverage, but Mitchell should be stronger in pass coverage than he has been. I think their lack of pass coverage skills fall on Hughes. It’s alarming when two players haven’t made an interception in two years. Someone has to take the blame for that.

Overall Grade: C

Dan Mullen: Special Teams Coach

Dan Mullen

Dan Mullen

2011 Assessment: Mullen, the Special Teams Coach, had a terrible year in my opinion. The coverage team did a great job, but I thought his other units were horrible. The return game was essentially bare, with the exception of a few plays here and there. I feel it could have been, if Mullen would have been willing to let Darius Slay return kicks and punts. Slay was a Junior College All-American.

3-Year Assessment: Mullen, as the special teams coach, has been average at best. If it weren’t for Leon Berry’s terrific kick return skills, then the return units would have been virtually non-existent the past three years. Mullen’s coverage units have been excellent, as I mentioned above, but that alone isn’t good enough.

I’m not going to blame Dan Mullen for the kickers, because as Jimmie Johnson said on Fox NFL Sunday, kickers are flakes. I don’t mean that to disrespect the position, but they can’t be trusted. I have to be critical of the fake kicks that Mullen has called over the last three years. I honestly don’t think one fake has been executed successfully the past three years.

The hardest decision Mullen might have to make is removing himself as special teams coach, because it simply hasn’t worked.

Overall Grade: C-


Final Outlook: The defensive coaching staff has done a good job of developing talent and have been darn good recruiters. They are a good staff, but if Mississippi State’s defense is to become elite, they must also be elite in their approach. I don’t foresee Mullen making any changes to the defensive staff, but they must create a better culture of competition in their units.

Upcoming: Year In Review: Quarterbacks


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