Mississippi State

Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen responds to Florida speculation

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, hugs Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin at midfield before the start of a game Saturday in College Station, Texas.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, hugs Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin at midfield before the start of a game Saturday in College Station, Texas. Associated Press

“Silly season” has arrived early around the Southeastern Conference and it’s no surprise that Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is right in the thick of it.

The Bulldogs’ ninth-year head man has been mentioned for many jobs across the Power 5 conferences since arriving to Starkville. It doesn’t surprise him that once again he is a top candidate for a big-time opening as Florida fired head coach Jim McElwain on Sunday afternoon.

Mullen, a former Florida offensive coordinator, addressed his interest - or lack thereof - in the job in Gainesville.

“I’m really happy here,” Mullen said. “I think when you look at what we have in the program and the administration, I haven’t really thought much about it. I’ve been here long enough. As the year goes on it gets into that silly season and who is going where.

“Our focus remains on UMass and winning that football game. I’m really happy with what we’re building here.”

This is the third time that the Florida job has come open while Mullen is in Starkville. Mullen was also a name of interest the previous two times. However, this opening raises a few more suspicions with former MSU Athletic Director Scott Stricklin now at the helm at UF.

Mullen mentioned that it’s not the first time that people have felt that he was on the way out of Starkville. He currently sits second all-time in wins in Starkville and is the second-longest tenured coach in the SEC behind Nick Saban with nine years at MSU.

He doesn’t plan to address rumors with his players, but he will have to talk to his recruits.

“I’m still here coaching and hopefully I’ll have a chance to win a lot of football games,” Mullen said. “I think it’s a lot less of a distraction because the players on the team know. It’s always a distraction in recruiting so you’re always on the phone reassuring them.”

The No. 21 Bulldogs (6-2, 3-2 SEC) are back in the spotlight on the field as well as they’ve reeled off three straight wins and got back into the top 25 at No. 21 after their 35-14 win on the road at Texas A&M. They’re preparing for their final non-conference game of the year this week as they host UMass at 11 a.m. on Saturday on the SEC Network.

Two players honored

Nick Fitzgerald and Montez Sweat picked up their second SEC Player of the Week honors of the year earlier on Monday.

Fitzgerald, a junior quarterback, rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown and passed for 141 yards and two scores against Texas A&M. He broke the SEC record for 100-yard rushing performances for a quarterback on Saturday with his 12th such game. It was the third-straight 100-yard game overall.

This was Fitzgerald’s second SEC honor this year also being named SEC Offensive Player of the Week after the LSU game.

Junior defensive end Montez Sweat earned his second-straight SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honor. For the second game in a row he tallied 2.0 sacks against A&M and is up to a team-high 5.5 sacks on the season.

Injury report

MSU had several players banged up Saturday and Mullen hopes those players will return.

Senior linebacker Dez Harris went down in the first half with a stinger and didn’t return to the game. Mullen expects him to return this week.

Wide receiver Donald Gray had a groin injury in the ball game and returned but will have an MRI on Monday and his status is unknown. Senior left tackle Martinas Rankin has missed three straight games but could have returned at A&M. He is expected to play against UMass.

Senior wide out Gabe Myles remains questionable for Saturday with a foot injury.

Game plan

Who: UMass vs. Mississippi State

When: 11 a.m., Saturday

Where: Starkville

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 1580 AM