Mullen, Freeze and the flag

By JOEL COLEMAN

sports@starkvilledailynews.com

Did you all hear? Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen and Ole Miss head man Hugh Freeze were both asked questions regarding the state flag at this week’s SEC Media Days.

Who are we kidding? Of course you heard. If you’ve been living under a rock though, basically Mullen talked a lot about the diversity of Mississippi State while never taking a certain stance on whether or not the flag should stay up. Freeze, meanwhile, said it was time to take the flag down.

Now I’m not here to contribute some long, opinionated piece on either coach’s statements that condemn or praise either man. Plenty have weighed in on that. What I would like to do is point out something I’ve seen no one mention to this point. As local and national media have dissected the answers of both Mullen and Freeze, it dawned on me that no one was mentioning the actual questions that were asked.

So here they are, the two questions in their entirety, along with the settings in which they were asked.

  • Question to Dan Mullen (asked while on the main stage at SEC Media Days Tuesday): Mississippi remains the only state on the NCAA’s postseason ban because of the confederate flag waving in Jackson, Mississippi, on the state flag. It’s been a debate raging within the state. What’s your opinion on the current state flag that has the confederate flag within it?
  • Question to Hugh Freeze (asked in press conference with local Ole Miss beat writers prior to taking the main stage at SEC Media Days Thursday): Hugh, do you have an opinion on the state flag and whether or not it should be changed?

I bring this up simply to point out three things, one of which probably doesn’t matter all that much, another which might and a third that definitely does.

The first, perhaps unimportant fact, is the location of the questions. Due to a SportsCenter appearance shortly after arrival in Hoover, Ala., Mullen wasn’t made available to local media prior to taking the main stage on Tuesday. So his first shot at the flag issue came in front of hundreds of reporters, televised live on the SEC Network. Meanwhile, Freeze tackled the issue in front of a smaller, local crowd that he was familiar with. Does that matter? Probably not. These are professional coaches being paid millions. I’d think both coaches would have answered their respective questions in similar manners should the settings have been swapped. But it is at least worth considering. After all, aren’t we all a little more comfortable and open around the people we know?

The second thing to consider is the timing of the questions. Mullen was like the leadoff hitter in a baseball game. He goes up there, works the count and sees what kind of pitches are being thrown, then reports back to the dugout so the upcoming batters have a better chance. Yes, Mullen should’ve known the flag question was coming. He shouldn’t have been (and I don’t think he was) caught off guard. So I’m not saying he was shocked on stage. What I am saying is that he answered his question on Tuesday. Then came negative press from inside and outside the state of Mississippi because Mullen wasn’t more definitive in his response. That gave Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze 48 hours to make sure they took a stance and avoided backlash. Now maybe Freeze’s Thursday answer would’ve been the same no matter when he was asked. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility that a different, more neutral answer was originally prepared, then changed, once Mullen received grief from the press.

The last detail to consider is, to me, the most important. Each coach was asked a completely different question. Mullen was asked to “give his opinion on the current state flag”, which he went on to explain he never sees very much because it’s not on campus and so forth. Freeze was asked for not only his opinion on the flag, but rather pointedly, whether or not it should be changed.

Maybe you think I’m reaching here, but I look at it this way. If my wife asks me what I want for dinner, it’s entirely possible that I’m going to ramble. I may mention a dozen different possibilities and never settle on any of them. But, if she asks me if I want pizza or tacos for dinner, I’m most likely going to give a definitive answer.

Put simply, Mullen was asked to paint in broad strokes. He did. Freeze was asked to choose door No. 1 or door No. 2. He did. Both coaches were asked questions, that in my opinion, they answered. Yes, Mullen rambled, but he was given a discussion question. Meanwhile Freeze was given multiple choice.

I know many think that Mullen should have come out stronger on the issue regardless. But at least consider the possibility that he didn’t avoid anything. He simply answered the question handed to him. Had he received the same question given to Freeze, maybe he’d have given the same answer. Maybe not. But before anyone goes praising, defending or bashing one coach over the other, at least keep in mind that the times, settings and, most importantly, the actual questions asked were not the same. There were two different questions, and thus two different answers.

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