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Monday, October 20, 2014

He’s still Dan: Mullen doesn’t know how to bow to Rebels

COLUMN: HOOVER, Ala. — It was a minor rebranding effort, but noticeable nonetheless. 

Dan Mullen, the Mississippi State coach who built an in-state empire on touting dominance of all things Magnolia on the field and off, took the stage in Hoover for the first time since coming off of a loss to the Ole Miss Rebels.

Outside of the state of Mississippi, that’s only part of the story. Mullen’s once 7-0 Bulldogs were dismantled by eventual champion Alabama at the start of a 1-5 run to end 2012. That’s why the now fifth-year MSU coach led with a platform of “consistent winning seasons” as a definition of his time in Starkville.

“As you consistently win, at that point you’re going to have the opportunity to go on and continue to take those next steps and go compete, which our ultimate goal is to find a way to get to Atlanta and compete for an SEC Championship,” Mullen said in his opening statement.

Technically, it’s an honest self-assessment: State has enjoyed three consecutive bowl runs, two on New Year’s Day and a 3-1 record against Ole Miss. The bloom certainly isn’t off the rose in the Bulldog community, but a Rebel fan reasonably could boast that Mullen’s ineptitude against the rest of the SEC West (a 2-15 record vs. Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M), losing that much ballyhooed Golden Egg and serviceable-yet-unsexy finishes in recruiting have him in a humbler frame of mind.

Or not. Or he’s still Dan The Man, and deep, deep down he’s still the man Rebel fans want to hate. Observe his short-sale of the Rebels’ win over State:

“When I got hired, the other school in our state, they’d gone to the Cotton Bowl, won the Cotton Bowl. We came up from a team that wasn’t doing very well and won a couple in a row. Now we’ve been going to the New Year’s Day bowl games the last couple years.”

Not impressed? How about if Mullen masterfully turned the Rebels’ recruiting windfall into simply a reason why the Egg Bowl – and MSU – are worth watching: “I think it’s certainly sparking the rivalry even more. I think it’s going to make Thanksgiving night an even bigger game. … I think certainly when you go around the state of Mississippi, it will make Thanksgiving night this fall a pretty important day throughout the whole state. Not that it hasn’t been before, but I think it is going to draw a lot more attention to it nationally, how important and big that rivalry is for everybody in our state.”

If you’re enraged (and you probably are), he’s doing it right. And Mullen’s proven to be nothing if not a master of “doing it right” to Ole Miss in the media.

Give him credit, though – Mullen’s antics and soundbites have been carefully plotted since the first day he left Florida for the State job, and he knows the way back to Bulldog fans’ hearts – beating Ole Miss.

If you’re an Ole Miss fan, the only way to temper your disdain for all things Mullen is to see if he’s as flippant on the heels of back-to-back Egg Bowl losses. But even if the Rebels win in Starkville for the first time since 2003, I wouldn’t bet on a humbler Dan Mullen come July of 2014. (July 18, 2013, Page 6)

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