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|Mullen bleeds maroon, white|
For any Mississippi State football fan wondering if there is still a little orange and blue running through the veins of newly-hired head football coach Dan Mullen, they need not worry anymore.
I spoke with Mullen before he took the podium at an alumni event in Natchez on May 6 and asked him if his former football team — the Florida Gators — was beatable in 2009?
"I don't know about any other weekend, but I know they will be on Oct. 24," Mullen said, referring to the Gators coming to Starkville that Saturday.
And even more convincing that the man who served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Florida the past four seasons now bleeds maroon and white was the fact he will not say Ole Miss.
I asked Mullen about Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin taking some shots at his former boss, Urban Meyer, when he was named Vols head coach.
"When you've got big rivals you do that," Mullen said. "I know we play a school up north of us that's a big rival. We'll be ready. But I won't take too many shots at them."
Twice during his talk to the alumni Mullen described Ole Miss as the "school up north."
Tell me he hasn't adjusted to live in Starkville.
By the way, Mullen didn't exactly come out and guarantee a win over the Gators, but you have to figure if anybody has an idea of how to slow down the Gator offense a little bit it would be Mullen.
"They will be tough, I imagine they will be preseason No. 1," Mullen said. "They are two-deep on defense, return all their specialists and have six or seven starters back on offense, including a guy who should have two Heisman Trophies. They will be a tough team to beat. But when they come to Starkville I know our fans will come out and make it a tough place to play."
Of course the guy who won the Heisman is quarterback Tim Tebow, who Mullen said is a special football player and person.
"Tim has an amazing affect on people's lives," Mullen said. "He's like a 20-year old rock star celebrity. My cell phone has high school football players in it. His has A-list celebrities. It's real important for him to make a difference in people's lives. He believes it would be a tremendous waste of his talent if he couldn't use it to better people's lives. So many athletes don't want to be role models or live their live the wrong way. He feels an obligation and that it's his responsibility that God gave him this great gift to give back and try to be an influence in a positive way."
The head coaching job at State is Mullen's first after stints as an assistant at Bowling Green, Utah (where he coached Alex Smith) and Florida.
"When you get into coaching you want the opportunity to have your own program and to have the opportunity to do that in the Southeastern Conference, which is by far the best conference in college football, is an amazing deal," Mullen said. "Every once in a while I wake up and say, 'Wow, I'm a head coach in the SEC.' And my wife tells me to just stay exactly who I am. I don't think I've changed a whole lot. I'm just me. A lot of my high school teammates and friends back home make sure to keep me in line. I got text messages and e-mails from people making a little bit of fun of me because they see of picture of me and Bully on the Internet."
If Mullen were not a head football coach, he would be a great promoter for a Fortune 500 company.
He went on and on about State's record-setting 31,000 turnout for its spring game and implored the crowd to continue to show up for events.
"Believe me, the effort would not have been as good if there would have only been 10,000 people in attendance," he said.
And that all centers around recruiting. "We want to recruit lot of Mississippi players to come play for us." Mullen said. "We want players from this state to take lot of pride back with them when they go home for the holidays, knowing they represent the state of Mississippi on the football field. Having 31,000 at that spring game and setting the all-time State record boosted our players an awful lot, boosted our confidence and justified all the work they put in this offseason."
I also had to ask Mullen about the new twitter phase and about Auburn's new coaching staff using a Hummer limo to travel the state and visit recruits.
"The key to recruiting comes down to people," he said. "It doesn't matter what kind of car you use to show up at a high school. That's not going to help you win championships. A lot of kids see through all of that stuff. If you come to Mississippi State you will see a family atmosphere and a community of people who care about each other. That's what makes our program different."
Mullen said he is against a playoff system.
"I like the system the way it is now," he said. "I actually like the old bowl system. Someone was complaining about two national champions. I don't see anything wrong with that. Do you want to see a great influence on the life of a young man? Let him win the national championship. There is so much tradition in college football . We have a great playoff system, it starts on Sept. 5 and ends the first week in December. There are Super Bowl winners that have five losses. College football is so special because of the passion and energy and every single game is so important. I love the fact that there are 32 bowl games and 32 teams finish the season on a high note."
Mullen said he has not set a goal as far as number of wins in his first season.
"I want to see a team that plays with a relentless effort and has a passion for the game of football," he said. "I never set goals. I look at a schedule and I plan on winning every game on there. I have never seen a schedule where I didn't think we could go undefeated."
Mullen admitted he has had to adjust to life as a head coach.
"But there are so many positives," he said. "I came in kind of blind not knowing what was going to happen but the people in Mississippi have been so welcoming to us. I had not really been here before taking the job. There is a lot of great high school talent in this state, a lot of great people and a great sense of community. There is so much for us to build on. We just have to get all those great players to come play for us, come represent their state and their state's university. If we can do that we can do that, we can build a championship football program."
Just don't mention that school up north.
Joey Martin is sports editor of the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday/Vidalia. The Concordia Sentinel is a sister publication of The Franklin Sun in Winnsboro and The Ouachita Citizen in Monroe/West Monroe. Martin can be reached by e-mailing email@example.com.