When Dan Mullen first came to Mississippi State, he often talked about changing the culture of Mississippi State. Has he done that? I would say yes he has, but the question we need to be asking ourselves at this point in the life of our football program, can he continue to change it even more? To answer that, we need to know what the culture was like in the previous eras of Mississippi State.
When Jackie Sherrill Left
Jackie Sherrill is the winningest coach in State history. That doesn’t mean it was all roses and daisies when he was here.
I graduated from MSU at the end of the fall semester of 2001. This was the year Mississippi State fell apart under Jackie Sherrill. We were ranked in the preseason and picked to finish second in the West by most people. What happened for those of us who are old enough to remember was a train wreck. We finished the season 3-8 with a homecoming loss to Troy thrown into the mix. The next two seasons were even worse. Adding to the misery on the field, the perception surrounding the program was that we were a rogue program. The NCAA would hit us with sanctions at the end of the Sherrill era, and we had countless number of off field problems. It just wasn’t a good place to be.
The culture: A team that couldn’t do anything right on or off the field
When Sylvester Croom Left
Croom had his work cut out for him when he arrived. As poor as we played under him, there actually were some positives.
Croom had five years at Mississippi State, and we all know that only one of those years did we finish with a winning record. Croom’s first order of business though had nothing to do with what we saw on the field. He had to clean up the program. He got rid of a bunch of troublemakers, and he held the players to a strict code of discipline. The results were swift. The number of times that you saw players from Mississippi State making headlines for off the field behavior came way down. The only problem was we weren’t making headlines with on the field play either.
That is, for one small caveat, the coaches that got Croomed.
Croom seemed to have a knack for pulling such an unbelievable upset that it led to the head coach that he beat getting fired. This was also a testament to how bad we were during the Croom years. There were programs that thought it was so humiliating to lose to Mississippi State that the coach’s loss to us was the last straw that it led to them getting fired. It happened to Zook in 2004 while at Florida, Shula in 2006 at Alabama, and Orgeron at Ole Miss in 2007 (more for how he lost than anything else). The 2008 MSU-Auburn 3-2 game didn’t help Tuberville either.
The culture: A squeaky clean program that had a few fun moments.
The culture now
Dan Mullen picked up the reins and ran with it. He has done well, but can he do better?
When Mullen got to Starkville, he changed the perception of a boring offense to one that might could score points. He talked endless amounts of smack about “The School Up North”. The fanbase was energized for the first time since 2000 and things were looking bright. It reached a fever pitch in 2012 when the team started 7-0 heading into the Alabama game. Everyone was so excited, the school started its #WeBelieve campaign, and well, that didn’t go so well.
State proceeded to lose 5 of their next six games, and not only were there a lot of losses, they were really bad losses. Starting the year off with a 4-4 record with limited opportunities to find two more wins and make it to a bowl game has thrown some water on the fire of the fan base.
The culture: What more can we hope for?
Can Mullen take it to the next step?
I don’t know if he can. If you wanted a really good break down of what Mullen has done with what has been handed to him, you need to read what Croom Diaries wrote yesterday. What is obvious is that Croom took us one step, and Mullen has taken us another. At some point he is going to have to prove that the $2.5 million he is getting paid is a worthy investment and can make the next step. The Alabama chancellor said on 60 Minutes this week that Nick Saban is the best investment the school has ever made because they are receiving the results of it ten fold. At one time, you could say that about Mullen. I don’t know that we still are. If he can take us to the next step, it’s time to prove it this weekend in College Station.