Yesterday, I took a look back at how the entire team has done so far. I think with the anxiety some fans have about the current state of the program, Mullen’s status deserves to be examined all by itself.
What Mullen Has Done Right
He has changed the culture of the program. This can’t be undervalued. Mississippi State is coming off its third straight bowl appearance, and there is a very vocal section of the fanbase that wants him gone. There was a time when this would have made some fans push to have any coach who can get us to three straight bowls a contract for life. Mississippi State fans now expect to go bowling and they expect to have winning seasons. That’s pretty impressive for how quickly it happened.
He has sold the program. One of the most important jobs of being a head coach has nothing to do with X’s and O’s. I think after the Bowling Green game, it was announced that we just had our 27th straight sell out. There is an expansion of Davis Wade Stadium going right now that will get our total attendance up over 60,000 a game. It’s still small in SEC standards, but when I first arrived at State back in August of 1999, the stadium could barely hold 40,000. A lot of this is attributed to Mullen and the way he has marketed the program.
He has riled up Ole Miss. Ole Miss fans hate Mullen. They despise everything about him because they say he is arrogant, cocky, and classless. How true those things are can easily be debated, but the real source of their anger towards him is that he says awful, mean things about THEIR school. He almost never says anything negative about the other schools we compete against. I don’t remember which year it was, but he famously stated that he thought LSU could play in the NFC East. I have a brother who is a die hard Ole Miss fan, and his face literally turns beet red with anger whenever he talks about Mullen or someone brings his name up.
What Mullen Has Done Wrong
He only wins games he should. The only real upset in the Mullen tenure to date came in his first season, when State clobbered Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl 41-27. After that, there is no real signature win. Think about the three biggest wins from the 2010 season: Georgia, Florida, and Michigan. Those were considered big wins at the time, but let’s be honest, all three of those teams were having very atypical years then. He needs to get a signature win, and the sooner the better.
He needs to take more chances. The perception about the way Mississippi State plays is that we are real creative and play aggressive early while trying to take a lead, but once we do so, we play more “not to lose”. Mullen has got to keep his foot on the gas pedal when we get a lead and suffocate the will to compete out of the other team. He went all the way up to the Auburn game of this year without losing a game that he led entering the fourth quarter. I think he got really complacent thinking that if he just keep it conservative with a lead, we would win.
Capitalize on opportunities. We have to start taking advantage of the other team’s mistakes. Consider this:
Oklahoma State: 0 turnovers, 0 points off turnovers
Alcorn State: 3 turnovers, 14 points off turnovers
Auburn: 3 turnovers, 0 points off turnovers
Troy: 2 turnovers, 10 points off turnovers
LSU: 1 turnover, 0 points off turnovers
BGSU: 1 turnover, but it came on the last play of the game
We have forced 8 turnovers and only scored 24 points. That isn’t going to cut it, especially when some of those turnovers are created at or around midfield. We have to stick it in the end zone as much as possible when we force turnovers.
How Mullen keeps his Job
It will take no less than 5 wins to do so, and even just five will be really iffy. I think Stricklin gives him one more year to try to recapture the momentum that we had after the 2010 season. A big win over Alabama, Texas A&M, or South Carolina and finishing with 7 wins would probably get him a raise, whether he deserves it or not is always a good debate. One thing that would also help is beating Ole Miss. I think a lot of people underestimate how much losing to them the way that we lost that game bothered him. Ole Miss took great pride in beating Mullen last year, and they went out of their way to show how much they enjoyed it (despite the fact that we aren’t their “real” rival). A three or four win season will probably get him fired. I think he knows this. Let’s just hope that he can rally the guys together to pull off a memorable season still.