Nov 26, 2011; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs former head coach Jackie Sherrill waves to fans before the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State won 31-3. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing the Mullen and Sherrill Eras


There was a lot of talk about Mullen and what he has accomplished yesterday, especially when compared to previous coaches. So why not take a look at how he stacks up against one of the most successful coaches in school history, Jackie Sherrill.

Comparison Criteria

Mullen is in the midst of his fifth year as head coach, so I think it is only fair that we compare the two coaches’ first four seasons at the helm. We could compare overall winning percentages but I think the sample size should be about the same. I also think we should look at what the program was like when both coaches got there. Why don’t we start there?

State of the Program Before They Arrived

Before Sherrill: Sherrill’s first year at State was 1991. In the three years prior to 1991, Rocky Felker led the Bulldogs to a 11-22 record overall and 2-19 in the SEC. The worst being 1988 where the Bulldogs probably had their worst season ever at 1-10. (On a side note, to show how much college athletics has changed, there would be no way a coach would survive a 1-10 season in today’s coaching landscape, much less coach two more years.) The program was pretty barren. The two years prior to Sherrill’s arrival were 5-6, but there was only one SEC win apiece each year.

Before Mullen: Mullen’s first year at State was 2009. In the three years prior to his arrival, Sylveter Croom led the Bulldogs to a 15-22 record overall and 7-17 SEC record to go along with an appearance in the Liberty Bowl during the 2007 season. The overall records aren’t drastically different, but there is a clear difference in what the Bulldogs were able to in the SEC. We weren’t good during the Croom years, with the lone exception being 2007, but the players played their butts off during that time and managed to win a few games  that we weren’t supposed to, just in case you forgot what getting “Croomed” meant.

Edge: I give the edge (meaning coach who had a more difficult job that he inherited) to Sherrill. We were bad before both coaches, but I think you could say we were pathetic under Felker and just a bad team under Croom. I will also admit this is like picking between being killed by the rack and the iron maiden.

Records During the First Four Seasons

The Sherrill Years: Sherril went 25-20-2 in his first four years as head coach overall and an SEC record of 14-15-1 with three Bowl Appearances. That is a pretty good turn around from where they were as a program, especially considering where the program was before he got there.

The Mullen Years: Mullen in his first four years went 29-22 overall and an SEC record of 13-19 and three Bowl Appearances as well. The biggest difference in record being the 12th game that was added to the schedule and the fact that Mullen won two bowl games in this time and Sherrill lost all three. Also a really good turn around by Mullen, that is unmistakable.

Edge: Going to have to give the slight edge to Sherrill, simply because of the SEC record. We were a tie away from Arkansas from being a .500 ball club during this time in the SEC.

The Fifth Year

Sherrill’s Fifth Year: Through the first seven games of the year, State started off 2-5, and would go on to finish 3-8. It was a diappointing season and some questioned whether or not Sherrill would be able to fix the problems on the football team.

Mullen’s Fifth Year: Through our first seven games, Mullen is 4-3. We don’t yet know how this one is going to end.

Edge: Mullen has a better record entering his eight game, so I think he gets the clear edge here.

Biggest Wins

Sherrill: Texas (91 and 92), Florida (1992), and Tennessee (1994)

Mullen: Ole Miss (2009), Florida (2010), Michigan (2010)

Edge: Edge goes to Sherrill because three of his four biggest wins came against ranked opponents. Two of Mullen’s biggest wins came against a ranked opponent, and that was Ole Miss in 2009 and Florida 2010.

What Do We Make of All This

I think the most important thing people should take away from this is that it is hard to determine when to make a head coaching change. A lot of people like to point out that Sherrill was almost ousted after the 1995 season and he went on to have one of the most successful four year periods in school history from 1997- 2000. The difference between the two coaches is that the SEC is in a completely different place today than it was during the Sherrill years. The SEC was one of about three conferences that tried to claim the title of best conference. Today, the SEC is the undisputed best conference in football, and we are in the best division of that conference. Sherrill was able to capitalize from 97-2000 on a division that had some traditional powers that weren’t having their typical dominant years, mainly Alabama and LSU. Even though we won the West in 1998, we didn’t even finish the year ranked. The only team that did in the division was Arkansas.

I say all this because if you want to say Mullen should stay regardless of what happens the rest of the year because he has outperformed our winningest coach, I think you have some flawed logic. I am not 100% convinced he has out performed Sherrill, but even if he has, what Sherrill has to overcome and what Mullen has to overcome are totally different. Let me also be clear, I am not sold on the idea of letting Mullen go. I just think there are a number of people who think to even consider it is ridiculous. Mullen has brought the program a long way. I’m not sure he can take it much further though, and I hope he can. He has done so much more good for the program than many thought possible. But if he isn’t capable of getting us an occasional season where we can at least compete for the division title, it’s not such a horrible idea to consider giving another person a shot.

Tags: Dan Mullen Jackie Sherrill Mississippi State Football

  • Ghost of Hank Flick

    Good points. The only thing I would add is when some folks wanted JWS to go after ’95, we did know he was a proven head coach, as in we knew he was an excellent head coach at Pitt and A&M. Mullen has no track record there.

    When you wrote about how Mullen has done positive things for MSU that we probably never thought possible, I agree. By the same token, however, I never thought we’d be paying a coach $2.5 mil so it kind of goes hand in hand. He’s done great things for MSU, MSU has done great things for him. I hope people recognize this when playing the loyalty card.

    • The Grass of DWS

      The biggest thing that people are afraid of is that we might be worse if we change coaches. So they always point to how much better than Sherrill he has been. I am not sure he has been, and I think a lot of people are willing to settle for middle tier bowl games. I think Mullen might be able to take a program to contender level, but I am not sure we need to give him time to figure out how to do it. It’s like you said, we are paying him $2.5 million and he needs to get us to that level sooner than later.