Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen has taken a lot of flack over the last few months from the media and fans within the program and some of that criticism, while justified, makes you scratch your head.
The Mississippi State football program has never been in better shape than it is today from a facilities standpoint, talent and more. Six straight post season appearances, almost two dozen Bulldogs in the NFL during Mullen’s tenure and the Bulldogs are coming off 19 wins over the last two seasons – a school record under a two year window.
But – there’s the glaring fact that Mullen has lost three of the four and two straight to his rival Ole Miss. There is also the fact that for whatever the reason, Mullen struggled mightily in the 2015-16 recruiting cycle. The Bulldogs did salvage the class by landing Jeff Simmons and Kobe Jones on Signing Day.
For all the good that Mullen has done for Starkville over the last seven years, as always it’s that “what have you done for me lately” mentality that has people questioning Mullen’s motives, plans and program.
But – Bulldog fans should rest easy because Dan Mullen has Rocky Balboa qualities and those qualities assure you the brash coach from Drexel Hill will not only persevere, he will bounce back in a big way.
Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky series is one many of us grew up watching and still love to watch today. And while Balboa is hardly a real person, the qualities and similarities to Mullen are striking.
Both grew up in Pennsylvania, both have that rough tough no nonsense attitude and both can, at times leave people scratching their heads.
But it’s that Northeast attitude and never say die mentality that has carried Mullen this far, and that attitude is one America grew to love with the Rocky Series.
Every time you thought Balboa was done, he fought back and won. Be it his epic battles with Apollo Creed, or Mr. T or the Russian Nightmare in Rocky V. Even down to the bar fight back street brawl with Tommy Gunn, Rocky always came back for more.
If you look over Mullen’s career, it has gone the same way – with Mullen always fighting back and in the end being successful.
In 2006 the Florida Gators lost a 21-17 ballgame down in Death Valley in Baton Rouge, LA to LSU and it was at that moment, the still new Florida Gator staff realized they needed to tweak their offense and the way they approached SEC football.
Mullen and Meyer worked to do that over the next two years – ultimately taking the Gators to the apex of college football.
After arriving in Starkville in 2009, Mullen realized he had to do things differently due to a talent deficiency in the program, so he built his offense around athletic quarterback Chris Relf. Relf led the Bulldogs to the Gator and Music City Bowl and ended up beating Ole Miss three straight years. Keep in mind many said Mullen taking the Mississippi State job was a death sentence and you could never win in Starkville.
Mississippi State struggled with injuries and on the field results in 2013 and down the stretch it looked like the Bulldogs would miss postseason play for the first time since 2009. Talk of Mullen being fired heated up, until the Bulldogs won back to back overtime games to get to the Liberty Bowl. The Bulldogs also revealed at that time what they had in Dak Prescott.
Back to the present – I honestly have never seen anything like this in my life. A program with more success the last seven years than at any other time in program history; more Bulldog players are heading to the NFL in April to add to a big list of Mullen Bulldogs, led by program face man Dak Prescott and a roster full of talented underclassmen returning for the 2016 season.
Yes the Bulldogs struggled down the stretch in recruiting, yes they lost to Ole Miss and Alabama this past year and it wasn’t even close and yes there has been a ton of attrition within the coaching staff.
But – as Mullen has done time and again, he seems to be making the right moves. The Peter Sirmon and Terrell Buckley hires were without doubt positive steps in the right direction and depending on whom Mullen fills his staff out with in the coming weeks, he could end up with a very good staff of coaches and recruiters.
The Bulldogs need to not only produce a good product on the field in 2016 and they should, but they need to have a banner year on the recruiting trail in 2017.
Time and again Philadelphia native, Rocky Balboa got off the mat – every time raising his hands in victory.
Dan Mullen may rub some people the wrong way with his Pennsylvania swagger, but you can almost rest assure those same qualities that Stallone built the Rocky Phenomenon around are imbedded in Mullen’s DNA.
Mullen’s gotten up every time he’s been knocked on the mat and while people are pushing him back down today – rest easy; he’s gotten up every time and he’s about to stand tall again.