MSU Armchair QB: $4 Meeeellion Dollars Edition

Oct 8, 2016; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen yells during the second half of the game against the Auburn Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium. Auburn won 38-14. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2016; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen yells during the second half of the game against the Auburn Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium. Auburn won 38-14. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports /

Peeps, this edition of MSU Arm Chair QB is going to be different. I’ve got a lot to say and little of it has to do with Saturday’s game specifically. You might call this my State of the Program Address.

Game “Analysis”

Since my gimmick is analyzing the game, here’s what I saw: We got absolutely skulldrug by a team that, frankly, isn’t much better than us. Auburn manhandled us at the line of scrimmage all day on both sides of the ball. Everything else stemmed from that simple fact. They did what they wanted, when they wanted. Don’t let the final score or the second half in general fool you. Auburn called off the dogs at halftime and could’ve run it up as high as they wanted to. The first half of that game was completely inexcusable. There’s no other way around it.

After looking completely inept offensively through 5 games, Auburn piled up 432 total yards, 228 on the ground. Auburn ran the ball 56 times in 74 plays. And we had no idea how to stop it. Offensively, State generated just 289 yards of total offense, failing to crack the 300 yard mark, much less the 400 yard benchmark in modern college football.

State of the Program: The #CountryClub

Now it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room: Dan Mullen and his #CountryClubBoyz. As fans, we did our part on Saturday. Despite an 11AM kickoff, despite Bulldog Bash the night before, despite Flo Rida canceling, despite losses to USA & LSU, despite ugly wins against South Carolina & UMass; 60,102 maroon-clad Bulldog fans showed up ready to go, ready to help the Dawgs find away to win. The crowd was loud and into the game from the opening kick. Kivon Coman’s early INT elicited the full roar of delight that can only happen in Davis Wade Stadium. Then Westin Graves misses the chip-shot field goal and all the air was sucked out of the stadium.

Unfortunately, Mullen and his #CountryClubBoyz failed to have the team ready to play. They had two weeks to prepare this team for a must win game. Instead, the team came out and looked clueless. There was no answer for Auburn on either side of the ball. It made me wonder what we did the last two weeks, because we definitely couldn’t have been preparing for Auburn.

Before I name the members of the #CountryClub, allow me to talk about the #Club first. The #CountryClub refers to a select group of long term coaches on the current staff. They have little to no accountability from Mullen. As Mullen himself has become comfortable and complacent at MSU, so have his #CountryClubBoyz.

The #CountryClub mentality has seeped throughout the staff and infected the program at large. There is no longer a sense of urgency or hunger. It’s evident every Saturday now. We saw one example when Mullen wore shorts against USA. We’ve seen it every year when the NFL Draft comes around – which so far has yielded just two offensive line draft picks in seven years (both were Sly Croom recruits). We hear it when we are told that it takes two years to get a RB ready to play in our system. The examples are endless. Allow a fan favorite MSU legend to say it best:

When Boobie is calling out the staff, you have major problems.

#CountryClub Membership

By now you have to be wondering just who the #CountryClub members are. First and foremost you have Dan Mullen himself. But the other members are his “boyz” on the offensive staff: John Hevesy, Scott Sallach, and Greg Knox. Those three are unquestioned #Club members. Let’s take a look at the performance of each.

Oct 4, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs co-offensive coordinator John Hevesy talks to his team during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 4, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs co-offensive coordinator John Hevesy talks to his team during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports /

John Hevesy: We’ve talked about Hev at length before. He and Mullen are BFFs. There have been plenty of rumors over the years that Mullen has said if Hev is forced out, he’ll leave with Hev. Frankly, Hev has become Mullen’s very own Woody McCorvey.

To be fair, I don’t think Hev is a bad coach. He does a decent job when it comes to developing his unit. The problem is that he has the personality of an angry porcupine. A cactus would be jealous of his barbs. He rubs almost everyone the wrong way, but he especially rubs high school coaches, recruits, and parents the wrong way.

If his personality isn’t bad enough, Hev openly talks about how much he hates to recruit. He does the bare minimum required. There’s a reason we wind up with 2-star offensive line recruits we steal from powerhouse programs like Arkansas State, Troy, and UAB. Any OL who seems to have another Power 5 option chooses it. While coaches do recruit a specific area, they are also an integral part of recruiting their position group. It’s telling that almost no one, even a MSU legacy like Scott Lashley, wants to play for Hev.

Scott Sallach: Scott Sallach is another albatross on the offensive staff. He and Mullen have been besties since they were in high school, if I’m remembering correctly. Sallach is responsible for coaching tight ends. Tight end, minus Malcolm Johnson, haven’t exactly been a strength for MSU in Sallach’s 8 years. Many have played, but few have made a significant impact.

When it comes to recruiting, can anyone tell me a single player Sallach is credited with getting? I’m not sure there’s even one. I could take a guy being a questionable coach if he’s pulling in impact recruits every year. But Sallach isn’t doing that, either.

It should speak volumes that Mullen tried to reassign him to an office job twice. But after the 2012 season, there hasn’t been another attempt to move him. If you thought he should’ve been reassigned before, why keep him on the field now?

Greg Knox: Knox is in charge of running backs. After successes with Anthony Dixon, Vick Ballard, LaDarius Perkins, and Josh Robinson, State has struggled mightily to find a RB. There’s undeniable talent at the position: Ashton Shumpert, Aeris Williams, and Nick Gibson were all legitimate 4 star recruits coming out of HS. Alec Murphy was the top RB prospect in the state of Missouri. And all Dontavian Lee has done is look like the best pure runner of the bunch when he touches the ball.

Mullen and Knox tell us it takes a RB two years to get ready to play. Yet RB is supposed to be far and away the easiest position to play as a freshman. Every year in the SEC we see true freshmen step in at RB and become legitimate threats. So why is it different for us?

Let’s take Mullen and Knox at their word it takes two years for a RB to be ready to play a significant role for us. That begs the question “Why?” For me, there are only two possibilities at this point in Knox’s tenure: 1) Our offense is too complicated for the college game or 2) The RBs aren’t getting properly coached. That’s my bottom line based on the RB talent.

As for recruiting, Knox may be the best of the #CountryClub members. A native Southerner, he understands the culture down here. He’s built relationships throughout the South and the State that still serve him well. Parents trust him. Despite all that, he isn’t exactly setting the world on fire bringing in top tier talent. He’s coasting on what he’s done in the past.

Next: Mississippi State's Running Back Problem

#CountryClub Livin’

Now that we’ve established who belongs to the #CountryClub, let’s look at the life of a #Club member. Being part of the #CountryClub has definite perks.

The biggest is that you get a performance pass from the boss, Dan Mullen. We just discussed the poor performance both coaching and recruiting by the #CountryClubBoyz. Yet where is the accountability? Every #Club member remains on staff with no apparent pressure to improve. And there certainly isn’t any fear of being fired. Contrast that to being a member of a Mullen defensive staff where your job is always in jeopardy.

#Club membership also comes with a pass on public reprimanding. Name the last time you saw Mullen chew out Hev, Sallach, or Knox in public. It just never happens. But woe be unto you as the defensive coordinator should your players screw up. Mullen will rip out your liver and eat it while 60,102 people watch.

Life in the #CountryClub is worry free and easy.

#CountryClub Price Tag

The price of the #CountryClub isn’t cheap. It costs you and me over $4 million dollars a year, payable to Dan Mullen. What do we get for his #CountryClub membership fee? We get a coach who is totally disengaged. We get assistant coaches who don’t perform because they’re buddies of the boss. We also get an offensive staff that plays favorites when it comes to personnel.

What else do we get for $4 million dollars? We get a coach who shops himself to every open job in America every December. This in turn tanks our recruiting classes. We get a coach who failed to build on climbing the mountain to #1. Everything Mullen built the program on pre-#1 is undermined by the #CountryClub.

#CountryClub Chairman

As the Chairman of the #CountryClub, ultimate responsibility falls on Dan Mullen. When you make $4 million dollars, there are certain expectations. The least of those is that your team shows up prepared and ready to play after a Bye Week. Here is a list of coaches making less than Mullen as of late 2015:

  • Jim McElwain
  • Bret Bielema
  • Gary Patterson
  • Mark Dantonio
  • Mike Gundy
  • Chris Petersen
  • Jim Mora
  • Rich Rodriguez
  • Dabo Swinney
  • Bobby Petrino
  • Mike Leach
  • David Shaw
  • Tommy Tubberville
  • David Cutcliffe
  • Larry Fedora
  • Justin Fuente
  • Brian Kelly

Shouldn’t we expect at least as much from Mullen as we would expect from those coaches? There are some excellent coaches making less than Mullen. I, for one, don’t believe a coach making $4 million a year should turn in a performance that resembles a Sylvester Croom team. And make no mistake, State looked and played like a Croom team against Auburn.

The Chairman’s change in attitude since mid-2014 concerns me more than anything. His constant job shopping has been a huge issue. It has negatively affected recruiting as much as the laziness the #CountryClub mentality has promoted. Recruits want to know their coach will be there. If Mullen doesn’t want to stay here and make $4 million a year, then take the pay cut and go somewhere else. Either be all in or get out. It’s that simple.

More from Mississippi State Football

But here is my biggest concern: Mullen no longer accepts responsibility. I have notice two things over the years about great coaches: 1) They always give the players credit when they win. 2) They always deflect blame from the players onto themselves after a loss. The Kang, Jackie Sherrill, did it when he was here. Mullen did it early in his career. That is one of the big reasons I was for retaining him in 2013 when a portion of the fan base wanted him gone. He protected his players and never made it about himself. Somewhere along the way since then that has changed. Now The Chairman likes to take credit for the wins and blames the players, i.e. “execution” and “strain”, when we lose. He makes it about himself. That is not acceptable.

Final Thoughts

It’s time for the #CountryClub to be burned to the ground. That is the first thing I’m looking for from the new athletic director, whoever that may be. He doesn’t have to mandate specific coaches, but he should make it clear that he expects a major overhaul on the offensive side of the ball. The #CountryClub mentality is the antithesis of the mentality Mullen used to build the program.

The most damning thing for me is that the team quit against Auburn. The moment Graves missed the FG in the first quarter, you could see the body language change. I was among the 60,102 who showed up to witness that debacle and it was extremely obvious. There was no fight in the team. Frankly, the players issued a vote of no confidence in The #CountryClub Chairman.

Do I think Mullen should be fired? Not in the middle of the season. He’s earned the opportunity to attempt a turnaround. But if the season plays out the way I believe it will, the answer is yes. I see us finishing at 3-9 based on what we’ve seen through the first 5 games. The only other team we will probably beat is Samford for Homecoming. And as much as I hate to mention them, Northern Miss will annihilate us in Oxford for the Battle of the Golden Egg. Unlike Auburn, they won’t take their foot off the gas, either. At that point, Mullen will have lost three straight to them, all blowouts. No coach in modern MSU history has been retained after losing 3 straight to the Bears. You have to beat your rival, period.

All that said, I still believe a rejuvenated, fully committed Mullen is the best coach for MSU. But as Chairman of the #CountryClub, he must torch the institution in the offseason. He must rediscover the ruthlessness that got us to #1. The ball is in his court. Time to earn that $4 million dollars or find someone who will earn it.