By JOEL COLEMAN
For 15 minutes on Monday afternoon, Dan Mullen was just one of the guys.
After his weekly press conference had concluded at the Seal Complex, MSU’s eighth-year head coach was asked a simple question as to what he classifies as an explosive play. (It’s any play of 12 or more yards by the way, something he hopes to see a minimum of eight times in a game).
It was a simple followup and the type of question that reporters ask on an almost weekly basis just to get clarity on a previous statement. However from there, Mullen settled in and just started talking football. This wasn’t for the television cameras. This wasn’t for public perception. In fact, I debated whether or not to even mention it here. That’s how informal this was.
This was just a football coach, for a brief few moments, letting some of the usual guard down and conversing with a crowd of just a few guys who, like him, spend much of their lives around the game.
What followed wasn’t anything earth-shattering, but it was revealing as to who this man that stepped off an airplane in Starkville eight years ago, really is.
As he explained to us scribes the process of developing a quarterback, you could see the man that so many quarterbacks have expressed their admiration for. The public gets to see the Dan Mullen that answers 20 questions in three minutes after a loss at BYU. Frankly, that’s often all we in the media get, too. Yet for a few seconds on Monday, Mullen showed a different side – the teacher side.
As he explained to us how quarterbacks go from panicky and green, to a graduate level of football like Dak Prescott attained, you could see Mullen’s enthusiasm. He talked of how Prescott went from a raw talent to superstar, and why Prescott could put games together like his demolition of Kentucky a season ago.
He then compared Prescott’s development to current starter Nick Fitzgerald’s, who he bragged on for many of the plays he made at BYU.
Through it all, there was an excitement behind what Mullen was conveying. He was enjoying this. He genuinely liked walking us through the process.
I bring all this up to say, if you think Dan Mullen has lost his passion for coaching or his fire or any of the other things brought up on social media and message boards, you’re wrong. You’re dead wrong.
I’m not writing this to make excuses for Mullen or the 2-4 start. Mullen can be criticized for in-game decisions or who’s on the field or play calling or whatever, but if you’re still questioning his enthusiasm, you’re grasping at straws.
Mullen offered some of the usual explanations that you’ve heard for why things are the way they are. This team is inexperienced. They’ve been thrust into roles they might not all be ready for. Several key guys have been injured.
He pointed to frustrations over several plays that State just hasn’t been able to make. He cited the game-ending missed field goal against South Alabama and the fumble that MSU forced and then didn’t recover in the first overtime at BYU as two plays that, if you change those outcomes on just those two plays, State would be 4-2 and the outlook for this season might not be so bleak.
Perhaps the most telling thing he talked about was something A.J. Jefferson mentioned to the media last week. This team just hasn’t seemed to learn how to have fun winning. The two games that State has won have seemed more like a relief than anything.
Mullen mentioned a couple of times that one of the biggest steps for a team to take is to hate losing so much you don’t want to experience it and to love winning so much that’s all you want to do. He said he didn’t know where his club fit on that scale right now.
Reading through the lines of Mullen’s comments, you get a picture of where this team is. They are a team that is incredibly tight right now. They feel the burden to be the same team that won 19 games the last two seasons. The problem is the Dak Prescotts and De’Runnya Wilsons and Chris Joneses and the other big-time contributors to that success aren’t walking back through that door.
This isn’t the same team that won 19 games the last two years. This is, in many ways, a brand new breed of Bulldog.
Their growing pains have already been pretty well-documented. Quite frankly, there might be more ahead.
But I write this to tell you, if you think the problem is that Dan Mullen doesn’t care, you couldn’t be further from the truth. The words of this blog won’t do his few minutes with us justice.
The best way that I can describe it is this. When I was a teenager, I had a fender bender in my dad’s truck. I was terrified to call and tell him.
When I did, you know what he said? “It’s OK son, we’ll get it fixed.”
Mullen had the demeanor of a patient father today that had full confidence that eventually, (maybe not as soon as many of you reading hope) MSU will reap the rewards from their current struggles.
He was the dad that seemed to be saying, ‘We just have to keep shaking things off and, in the end, it’ll all be fixed.”
When Mullen finally left the room to get on with his day, he had one last comment.
“We’ll get ‘em there.”
I’m not here to say whether Mullen will be successful in that or not. I’m just here to tell you that, after today, I’m convinced he’s not going to stop caring or trying.
Criticisms of this team are valid. A 2-4 record earns that. But if your complaint is that Mullen is in any way complacent/unaware/uncaring, well you’re just a Bulldog barking up the wrong tree.