2010 Almost Ruined 2014 for the Bulldogs


Oct 11, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen leads the team out on the field before the game against the Auburn Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Before this season, Mississippi State fans have spent the last five seasons with Dan Mullen. It’s been quite the roller coaster ride. There have been some ups and downs along the way. There have been some times when we thought he was the greatest coach we ever had before 2014, and there have been times we believed he was trying to give us all a heart attack. One of the prevailing questions that has surrounded Dan Mullen and Mississippi State is why has it taken so long to get this team to where it is today? The simple and short explanation is that Mullen had a long term plan that he wanted to implement that would have produced incremental growth until the team was built in the mold that he wanted. It wasn’t the microwave approach to building a team; it was the crock pot method. It has proven to be a good plan, but the success of 2010 almost threw the whole thing off.

I know what you’re thinking. How can one of the most successful seasons in the history of Mississippi State football be seen as a bad thing? It’s complicated, but it is not only possible but probable. Mullen’s squad in 2009 overachieved to a certain extent. The Bulldogs went 5-7 and were a goal line stand against LSU away from being a bowl eligible team in Mullen’s first year. That team probably shouldn’t have been more that a 3 or 4 win team because they were not built anywhere close to what Dan Mullen needed to execute the offense or game plan that Mullen is using in this season. Despite the fact that the team overachieved somewhat in 2009, most saw the Bulldogs doing not much better than 6-6, possibly  7-5 if the Bulldogs were able to get an upset in 2010, especially after they lost out on Cam Newton to Auburn.

Well, they went way above and beyond that. The Bulldogs beat traditional powers Georgia and Florida, the latter in Gainesville, to end the regular season at 8-4. A beat down of another traditional power Michigan in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day was far more than anything anyone expected that year. The Bulldogs would finish the year ranked 15th in the country, and things were looking to be headed in the right direction for the Bulldogs. And that could have destroyed this season.

If we can continue to build on the success that we have shown in 2014, and finish the year with 0, 1, or 2 losses, how we view that 2010 season is probably going to change. The criticism of Mullen entering this season was that he didn’t have a signature win. Many of us tried to defend Mullen with either the Georgia or Florida victories of 2010. Looking back, those who said the wins against Georgia or Florida didn’t count as signature wins were probably right. Georgia finished the regular season that year 6-6 and a loss in the Liberty Bowl made them finish the season at 6-7. Florida was a little better. They finished the regular season 7-5, and their victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl would give the Gators a record of 8-5. It still wasn’t typical of what we think of the Gators.

Another thing that went far better than any of us expected was the development of Chris Relf as a passer. He wasn’t great the first 9 games, but he was serviceable from the passing standpoint and was a bruising runner. Then the Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Michigan games happened and made many of us think Relf had figured things out as a quarterback. He completed 51 of 73 passes in those three games and threw for 793 yards to go with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He looked great. That production though probably had more to do with three terrible defenses than any significant development on Relf’s part.

So what’s my point with all this? Success came so quickly for Mullen in his second year, that it made people expect more from the Bulldogs than we ever should have. 2011 brought expectations of 8, 9, and possibly 10 wins for the Bulldogs. The problem was the 2010 squad benefited from a number of circumstances that inflated our perception of what was actually happening on the field. The 2010 team was good, but if either Georgia or Florida had the seasons that we are all accustomed to, that 2010 season probably ends up a little differently. Ever since that season, everything Dan Mullen has or hasn’t accomplished at Mississippi State has always been compared to that team. Many thought Mullen was regressing as a coach, when in reality he has been building the team the way he had intended since he took over. That plan included redshirting freshman and building the players’ bodies into hard core athletes that can dominate on the football field. But that takes time. He was lucky enough to have some talent in place when Croom left. If Croom was half as good at developing talent as Mullen has been, he might have been able to stick around just a little bit longer.

If the 2010 team had played to their expectations and won 6 or at most 7 games that season, the 6-6 team in 2011, 8-4 team in 2012, and 6-6 team in 2013 would have been far more in line with the plan Mullen had in place to get the team where he wanted. The early success of Mullen made many, myself included, think that the rebuilding of Mississippi State football was ahead of schedule. It wasn’t. Mullen just had talent that no one knew how to use until he got there. But because we had such a great season in our memory, many fans and media kept thinking that the 2010 season should be replicated at some point in Mullen’s tenure. Early success can be such a double edged sword for a coach. On the one hand, you receive lots of accolades for your accomplishments, but on the other hand, it creates inflated opinions of how you are doing as a coach sometimes. Many wanted him run out of town, and some are still skeptical that this season is going to fall apart. A lot of that has to do with the regression perceived by many after 2010. If the naysayers had their way towards the end of last year, we might have had a new coach this year, and there is no telling where we would be if that was the case.