Then again, after coping with the flu for most of this month Mullen couldn't have easily backed out of Tuesday night's trip the Lakeland Drive sports shrine. He was there with senior linebacker Chris White, the school's media-selected candidate for the Conerly Trophy. The winner of the award, chosen from candidates representing the state's ten four-year schools, was to be announced an hour after this writing.
But it was Mullen, not White, that a handful of media wanted to talk with…even if it meant crowding close enough to risk catching some of the coach's bugs. Then again this is coaching, and coverage, in the SEC. The impromptu interview with Mullen follows, beginning with his response to questions about the open Miami job:
"It's speculation and like I said before it means we're winning, it's a positive thing. But speculation never quite gets close to reality. The reality, I have not talked to anybody."
Q: Are you surprised word spreads so fast? "Well, no, because of the internet. We deal in the same thing in recruiting. I'm going to go home tonight and read an article on recruiting that's going to put me in a tailspin because some recruit said something on the internet. So it's just the age we're in today, the information age. And everybody needs to write an article, wants to write a story, talk on radio, all these things. And they need a list of people to talk about, so…"
Q: Would you be disappointed if your name was not linked with any job openings? "No, not really at all. I just think it's kind of amusing when you see some of that stuff at times. I would imagine the reality of that situation is the people that make choices have a good plan before they do anything. So they kind of know what they want and what they're looking for. All the speculation on the outside doesn't matter to what the reality is to schools on the inside."
Q: What is the weirdest rumor so far? "What's the weirdest rumor I've heard? Oh, I don't know. Someone texted me today that I was on my way to Miami, while I'm mulling over an offer from Minnesota."
Q: But for the first time some reputable people are reporting you're a candidate? "Really? That's nice! I'm going to tell you what, if you want to find out if I'm a candidate for any job you're talking to the wrong person. She's right around the corner! She really likes Starkville, Mississippi!"
Q: A year ago here at the Sports Hall of Fame you were talking about your first season, a year later you are having your name up for other jobs? "Yeah, but I want to talk about the season that was, still. Because we plan on having a lot more good seasons like that, hopefully, in the future. For us, a lot of good things happened to our program this season. And we still have a lot of young players, its a little different transition for us. They tasted success at the end of last year and really worked in the off-season because they wanted more. Now they've got a full tasting of the success this year. We've got to make sure that we continue to improve. If we do what we did last year, we'll be lucky to get the same results. It means we have to do a lot more because we expect a lot more."
Q: Even after winning the Egg Bowl you made a point of saying you were happy, not satisfied? "Yeah, yeah, you don't look at the schedule and say I want to go 8-4. But, I'd probably be lying if you said preseason ‘8-4, take or leave it', I might jump on that! What'd you pick us!"
Q: You're down here with Chris White for the trophy ceremony, talk about his season? "We're excited, he had a fabulous year, and it would be a great honor for him. And I think it would be a well-deserved honor for the type of year he had. He was kind of flying under the radar early on, and really came out and had a huge senior season, recorded over 100 tackles, all the tackles-for-loss he had, all the big plays he made in the big games. Just a phenomenal season."
Q: Have you and Scott Stricklin had any conversations since Saturday? "Yeah, we have. And a lot of it is on our thoughts for the future, how we can make the program go forward. What we need, what we're lacking, what we can improve on, to help our program go forward."
Q: Have you set the bowl practice schedule yet? "We have a good thought on it. Some of it is going to be dictated by the bowl we go to, when we find that out. But we plan on December 10 will be our first practice; right now with the bowls options we have we'll practice on the 10th through the 21st and our kids will go home for Christmas."
Q: When did you get the flu, because you didn't show it! "About three weeks ago. And I just didn't have time in our season to be sick! I'm sure when it's 29 degrees and they dump a cooler of ice cold Gatorade on you right there, that didn't help my cause or my health! But I tell you what, I'll take that! I'll take that, though, it's better than not getting it dumped on you."
"And we were a pretty beat-up crew. Chad Bumphis practiced minimally all week, Chris Smith was minimal, Chris Relf was minimal until Wednesday, Derek Sherrod didn't practice the entire week. So we were a beat-up team."
Q: We just wanted to document that you were here tonight! "Well, I don't know if I'm legally allowed to say this, but the worst thing is I'm flying out at 7:00 tomorrow morning for a recruiting trip."