Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen might not have been the program’s top choice, but he is clearly working out in Gainesville. His Gators are up to No. 7 nationally heading into next weekend’s top-10 showdown with Georgia that will almost certainly decide the SEC East.
In some ways, that might not even be the best indicator of Mullen as a coach. Look at what has happened to Mississippi State since he left Starkville.
Mullen’s former Bulldogs are 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the SEC after last week’s 36-13 loss to LSU. That’s understandable because the Tigers are a great team. But the week before, Mississippi State lost 20-10 at Tennessee. Things had been going so poorly for the Volunteers that a Knoxville radio host moved onto the roof of a car dealership until the Vols won again, and coach Jeremy Pruitt compared his program to the Titanic.
Yet the SS Tennessee was the one that sunk Mississippi State.
That loss was preceded by Auburn’s 33-point blowout. Alabama is still on the schedule, as is a trip to Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies. Bowl eligibility likely hinges on the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, which isn’t a guaranteed win. The situation in Starkville is bad enough that’s some growing speculation that coach Joe Moorhead might be looking for a landing spot at Rutgers.
Although Mullen didn’t make a bowl game in his first 5-7 season in Starkville, his Bulldogs did make one in all of his final eight seasons (five of which included at least eight wins). Two years later, that bowl streak is in jeopardy.
It’s easy to blame his replacement, but Moorhead is a respected offensive mind with a track record of success (as a head coach at Fordham and assistant at Penn State). The more likely reason Mississippi State is slipping is that it’s simply regressing to its historic mean.
The Bulldogs had three first-round players on defense in last year’s 8-5 Outback Bowl team. An SEC West also-ran isn’t in position to replace that kind of production easily.
Mississippi State doesn’t have much history of success. Mullen’s eight bowl games are as many as the program played in from 1981-2009 combined.
Although the Bulldogs have a basic version of the football-only complex UF is planning, Mississippi State doesn’t have the tradition or resources of an Alabama, LSU or Tennessee. Its current record reflects that.
And it only makes Mullen’s tenure in Starkville seem even more impressive.