Both of Mississippi’s SEC football programs have been thrust into the coaching carousel — but for very different reasons.
Ahead of the crazy season, the Sun Herald caught up with long-time Associated Press reporter David Brandt to discuss what to expect from Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen as his name has once again surfaced with coaching vacancies. What follows are excerpts from that conversation pertaining to MSU and Mullen:
Q: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen sees his name pop up attached to open jobs nearly every offseason. Is this the year he actually leaves Starkville for another job?
A: I think it makes sense. If he’s ever going to leave there seems to be a lot of good jobs open. Obviously State is good, too, so those two things are matching up pretty well. I do think he has a good situation at State. He makes a lot of money and obviously the pressure there is a little less than it would be at a Florida, Tennessee or Nebraska, whatever big jobs come open. From talking with Dan over the years, I know a little bit about his personality and he’s very competitive. I really do think he wants to win national championships. He worked for Urban Meyer and I think he wants that shot. Especially for as long as Nick Saban is at Alabama, it’s hard to see Mississippi State winning a national championship. You can do that easier at a place like Florida or Tennessee. I do think there are a handful of jobs he would consider. I don’t know how many — maybe 15 or 20 that are willing to pay the money and have the national reach. Florida makes a lot of sense there; I think you can argue if Tennessee is still a premium national job. It’s obviously a good job, but whether it’s in that tier of national title contender. Yes, I think it makes sense for Dan Mullen to leave, but I don’t think he just has to get out of there. He’s not dying to leave, but in the right situation it can happen.
Q: He’s definitely not on the hot seat right now, right? All things considered he’s in a great situation at MSU.
A: He knows he’s in a really good situation right now and if someone wants to come to him with a really good offer he’ll listen. I think there’s a part of him that wants to go to a major national power. Michigan. If Notre Dame ever opened up. I do think he wants a shot at one of those blue-blood jobs, but he’s not going to take a job just to take it if he thinks the administration is a dumpster fire. ... He has a lot of job security. He would have to have two really bad seasons just to get on the hot seat and then he’d probably get a third season after that. He has more job security there and I think he understands that and is comfortable with where State is in the recruiting pecking order. There’s a lot to like. I think the unanswered question is can Mississippi State really compete for a national title and I think he really wants to do that.
Q: Would Florida have interest in him? He coached there previously and his former athletic director at MSU, Scott Stricklin, is there. Or is it almost too convenient of a fit?
A: I would be shocked if he’s not at least on their radar. I don’t know if he’s their lead candidate — I’m not sure anyone does — but Stricklin and Mullen obviously have a relationship. There’s some scuttlebutt as to how good that relationship was, but there’s certainly some familiarity there. What does Florida want? They want offense again. They want quarterbacks. What is Dan Mullen really good at? Developing quarterbacks. He was really good with Urban Meyer when he was there. There are a lot of things there. I’d be absolutely stunned if he’s not at least in the conversation. Now, there’s a lot of other good coaches out there, too. There are a lot of different directions they could go but Dan Mullen is in the conversation for a reason.
Q: How do you read the MSU fan base with Mullen’s job constantly popping up. It’s almost a backhanded compliment in a way — like he’s done a great job but there are better gigs out there.
A: If a fan base wasn’t upset with his name being mentioned with other jobs that would probably be an issue. You’re either on your way out for two reasons: You’re losing and stink or you’re being mentioned with other jobs it’s because you’re doing so well. If you have to have one of the two, you’d certainly rather have the latter. As he rightfully points out, this happens at least every other year and he’s still in Starkville.
Q: What is Mullen’s legacy at Mississippi State right now?
A: He’s a great quarterback coach. The only slight downside to his legacy is he has struggled some against the Alabamas. State has kind of been the team that has won the game they should win but hasn’t had that tear-the-goal-post-down moment. I think he has raised the floor a ton at Mississippi State. They expect to go to bowls every year now; 4-8, 5-7 isn’t really acceptable now. He has had trouble beating Nick Saban, but a lot of people have had trouble beating Nick Saban.
Brandt covered Ole Miss for three years before taking over Mississippi’s responsibilities for the AP seven years ago. Brandt can be followed on Twitter at @DavidBrandtAP.