Dan Mullen seeking to extend Mississippi State's success

Dan Mullen seeking to extend Mississippi State's success

July 25th, 2014 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen speaks to media at the Southeastern Conference media days on July 15, 2014, in Hoover, Ala.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Dan Mullen is about to embark on his sixth season as Mississippi State's football coach.

After helping Florida win two national titles as offensive coordinator, Mullen has led MSU to a 36-28 record. He is the first coach to take the Bulldogs to four straight bowl games, and he is 4-1 against Ole Miss.

Mullen, who has 2015 commitments from Baylor quarterback Nick Tiano and Signal Mountain tight end Harrison Moon, was a guest Thursday on "Press Row" on ESPN 105.1 The Zone.

Q: You've said from day one that a championship is your goal. Given the SEC West, do you feel that is going to be harder than you first thought?

A: "No. That is the goal. We're playing in the toughest conference in college football and the toughest division in that conference. We wanted to build a program here, and I think we've done that by going to four straight bowl games, which had never been done before in school history. We have 30 consecutive home sellouts and have expanded our stadium, so I think we've built a solid foundation.

"You look at the SEC West, and the last five champions have gone on to play for the national championship, so the next step for us is a big one."

Q: Your 2015 class right now is ranked No. 7 by Rivals.com. When did Chattanooga become prominent on your radar, and how far do you recruit from Starkville?

A: "Our main area is within a 300-mile or a five-hour drive. We want the parents to be able to see their kids, and what we've noticed with these kids is that they've seen the success that we've had. We've become a much, much more attractive place.

"We used to be challenged by kids even wanting to come visit us, but when these kids do visit now, they see that we have as good of facilities as anybody."

Q: You recently compared your quarterback, Dak Prescott, to one of your former quarterbacks, Tim Tebow. Are you expecting that big of a year from Dak?

A: "I am. Tim played on two national championship teams and had an enormous amount of talent around him. I think we have a great supporting cast around Dak, though maybe not to that level. We're very much a quarterback-driven offense, and if we want to have the type of year that we want to have, Dak is going to have to have a great year.

"If both of those things happen, he will be in discussion for a lot of national awards. I've joked with Dak that if the pressure gets to be too much, just go out there and throw a couple of interceptions so there won't be that pressure anymore."

Q: You refer to Ole Miss as "the school up north." Given your success in the Egg Bowl, what's it like when you encounter Ole Miss fans?

A: "I don't think they like me very much. I've always appreciated how passionate college football rivalries are, but I think people look sometimes and say, 'Boy, you must have a personal vendetta against everybody at the school.' I don't dislike anybody."

Q: You're not losing much sleep over it, are you?

A: "I'm really not. As long as I have possession of that trophy, which I've had for four of the past five years, I get to keep a huge smile on my face and can feel great when I walk around the state of Mississippi. If that trophy is right outside this office, then it will be hard to get me out of this office."

Q: Had you guys lost last year's Egg Bowl, you would have been 5-7 and the perception would be that State is sliding. How huge was that win?

A: "It was huge. You used the key word 'perception,' and there's perception and there's reality. Inside our building, we realize we're never as good as we seem or never as bad as we seem. You look at last year, and there could have been a huge sway at Auburn, because we were up for most of that game and got beat on a pass on basically the last play of the game.

"If we win that game, maybe we have the season they had. We could have won 10 games last year, but in the same breath, we could have won only three. The margin for error in the SEC is so small."

Q: What has been your favorite win?

A: "It's really close. In my first Egg Bowl, we were playing that school up north, and they were ranked and looking like they had a lot of momentum. No one gave us a chance, but we won that one.

"The other one for me would be my second year and going to Florida, where I knew a lot of the guys in the program, and winning in the Swamp."

Q: What is your go-to lunch order?

A: "Here in Starkville, it's a Subway double-meat tuna with American cheese, lettuce and tomato. When I'm not in Starkville, my foods are pizza and cheese steaks."

Q: Is there a fellow SEC coach you confide in since Urban Meyer left Florida after the 2010 season?

A: "No, and even when Urban was there, I didn't trust him because we had to play him. I can trust his opinion now if I call and ask for advice."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.