When the Mississippi State Bulldogs hired Dan Mullen as head coach in December of 2008, he was one of the hottest commodities in the coaching community. After all, Mullen had been the offensive coordinator for the Florida Gators, under head coach Urban Meyer, and had been an integral part of Florida’s two national championships.
Mississippi State had high hopes for Mullen, who was 36 when he moved to Starkville. The program was coming off of the disappointing tenure of Sylvester Croom. However, Mullen was able to go 5-7 during his first year in Starkville, a one-game improvement from Croom’s final season. The highlight of the 2009 season was an Egg Bowl victory over State’s arch rivals, the Ole Miss Rebels.
In 2010, Mullen was able to push Mississippi State to a 9-4 record, including a 52-14 pounding of the Michigan Wolverines in the Gator Bowl.
At that point, a number of schools came calling, hoping Mullen was ready to make a move to a bigger and more prominent program. Still only 38 years old, Mullen seemed to be high on the list of many schools that offseason. However, instead of leaving for a big pay-day or a chance to coach in a bigger town, Mullen stayed in Starkville.
In 2011, MSU had to win its last two games to finish 7-6, which is not the season Mullen and his Bulldogs had hoped to assemble.
However, 2012 appeared to be a turning point, at least at the beginning of the season. MSU raced out of the gate by winning its first seven games. Not only did they win the games, the Bulldogs were dominant in those seven contests, outscoring their opponents 257-101, winning by an average of 22 points per game.
After winning seven in a row, MSU didn’t have the same kind of luck the rest of the season. In fact, the Bulldogs won only one of their last six games, slipping to an 8-5 record.
Now Mullen returns to Starkville for his fifth season and it appears that he will have a solid team. Senior quarterback Tyler Russell and senior running back LaDarius Perkins return for MSU, and should form a solid tandem in the backfield.
Many wonder if Mullen regrets not leaving after his second year at MSU to take another job. To strike while the iron was hot, he chose not to. Now, many also wonder if Mullen will ever get another shot to leave Starkville for what could be a better (higher-paying) job. If his team can compete in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference this season, Mullen could certainly get another look from one or more of the sport’s “big boys”.