Comparing the First Seven Years of Dan Mullen and Jackie Sherrill


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Dan Mullen is one of only four coaches in Mississippi State history to last seven seasons as head football coach (Allyn McKeen, Emory Bellard, Jackie Sherrill). He is one of only three coaches who will make it to their eighth season (Allyn McKeen, Jackie Sherrill). There’s not much comparison for any MSU coach to Allyn McKeen who was 65-19-3 in nine seasons. He also coached in the 1940s when football was a different game than it has been for the last 40-50 years. So for a more accurate comparison to what Coach Mullen has accomplished during his tenure in Starkville, let’s compare him to Jackie Wayne Sherrill.

Jackie Sherrill was hired by Mississippi State before the 1991 season. So for the sake of this comparison, all his numbers below are from 1991-1997. And all the numbers for Dan Mullen are from 2009-present.

Here are a few interesting facts before we get into records:

High AP ranking:

  • Mullen: #1
  • JWS: #15

Number of weeks ranked in AP top 25:

  • Mullen: 40
  • JWS: 32

Non-conference games vs. power conference teams (regular season only):

  • Mullen: 2
  • JWS: 3

Number of games vs. AP ranked teams:

  • Mullen: 33
  • JWS: 25

Now let’s get to the comparison of records. On the surface it appears Mullen (54-35) is way head of Sherrill (40-38-2). But there are differences between the schedules they played we need to handicap.

First, let’s review them using the standards JWS coached under. That means no FCS (or Division 1-AA as it was known) games. It also means only 11 games. It’s easy to make an accurate comparison because the added 12th game in the current era has simply been a FCS team for each of Mullen’s seven years. So here’s what each regular season would look like under 1991-1997 standards:

44-33 (.571)40-35-2 (.532)
3 bowl games3 bowl games

As you can see, the FCS games have really helped Mullen get to six straight bowl games. While he would have been eligible for four bowl games with those 7+ win seasons, Sherrill accomplished the same feat but got the shaft in 1997 – so I have to assume the same would happen to MSU under Mullen.

Now, on to the standards of 2009-2015. That means playing against a FCS team for a 12th game. Here’s what it would look like:

51-33 (.607)48-36 (.571)
6 bowl games5 bowl games

I took the liberty of making Sherrill’s two ties into one win and one loss since that’s how they are counted when figuring winning percentage, and there are no ties anymore.

Mullen does get to one more bowl game under this scenario, and of course he still has more wins.

I think the final result is a decent edge to Dan Mullen, but it’s a lot closer than I thought it would be before I started this research. With all the talk about consecutive bowl games and winning so many games, it’s easy to forget Mullen has the advantage of playing FCS games that Sherrill didn’t. That’s an extra seven wins added to his record.

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The thing that is most impressive is what’s above the records. Mullen has spent eight more weeks in the top 25 despite playing eight more ranked teams during his time. So while he hasn’t had win-loss records that were significantly better than Sherrill, he has faced tougher competition and gotten more respect from AP voters.

So far, Mullen is second behind Allyn McKeen in the list of greatest coaches in MSU history. But he’s still got some time to become the best….

The Future

As we all know, Jackie Sherrill’s best years were from 1998-2000. He won the SEC West in ’98, won 10 games in ’99 and completed an 8-4 season with a (Snow) bowl win in ’00.

Can Mullen do similar things? Even though Dak Prescott is graduating, it appears that State is positioned for continued success. Despite the cries of poor recruiting, Mullen’s best classes were from 2012-15. Those will 5th year seniors down to red-shirt freshman in 2016. And there has been plenty of talk about 2017 looking like a chance for another run like 2014 was.

We’ll see what happens. Coach Mullen will certainly have to continue his winning ways in years 8-10 to keep up with Coach Sherrill’s pace. And there’s that elusive SEC West championship….