They've been replaced with a couple of quick hires. Former MSU aide David Turner has returned to the program as defensive line coach, and Deshea Townsend hired from the National Football League to coach cornerbacks on the revised staff. Also, linebackers coach Geoff Collins has been promoted to overall defensive coordinator.
Over-riding much of the internal business has been the ongoing recruiting campaign, with Signing Day less than a month away for Mullen and MSU. So yes, the man has been busy. But Mullen made Friday time to talk with media, as a sort-of wrap on 2012 and early look ahead to his fifth Mississippi State season.
"The guys that have been here and moved on I wish them the best. They did a great job for us. But we're really excited about all the new guys coming in here. David Turner has a lot of experience here and knows the state of Mississippi, knows recruiting, knows what our program is about. Knows about our guys. I know we were really disappointed to lose him when we lost him a couple of years ago. And I was really thrilled and excited to have him come back and join our staff."
"Officially that's the only one we can announce right now." (An hour later MSU announced Townsend's hiring).
Do you feel good about the other one when it is announced? "Yeah. One of the things, when you have the opportunity to hire new coaches, or change things up, there's really a big plan in play that you look at and get excited about. It kind of can bring a new energy, there's a lot of new excitement and juice that comes in. And new thoughts, new ideas. That is the benefit of having staff changes. You get that kind of a new way of doing things walking in the door."
How much did Turner's familiarity play into the hiring? "To me the biggest part of planning good fit is his experience, of knowing our program. But the quality of coach that he is and the respect that I have for him both as a coach and as a recruiter, and as a mentor of young men. So I think that was such a huge part of it."
"But we had a lot of candidates. I think a lot of people want to be involved in what we're doing around here right now. So there certainly wasn't a shortage of people. I'm just pleased to get the people we're getting."
What did you see in Geoff Collins that he can handle defensive coordinator duties? "Well, he's done it before. He had one of the top defensives in the Sun Belt when he had the opportunity to coordinate. He's had experience at a lot of different levels. And I'm a big fan of that."
"He and I, you kind of grow-up in that same path. And I think when you do that a lot of guys have that experience, that they've grown-up from small schools and been in all different roles. From being GA's to being position coaches, to having a chance to coordinate. I think you understand everything from top to bottom. There certainly is not a silver-spoon coach I guess you could say who just showed up on the door one day, but he's a guy who really worked his way up from the bottom. And I think when you have those guys coordinating and have those guys in charge, that they know every little detail of everything that needs to get done."
What do you expect him to bring to the defense? "I just think because he had a lot of input in stuff last year, we haven't gone through to do a complete evaluation yet of where we need to go with the players we have in place. I know he is going to be aggressive in coming after people, in blitzing people and showing some different looks and I think trying to confuse people. Especially the teams running the no-huddle stuff. That stuff you face, the ability to make changes within the call during while they're looking and making their checks. That we can change some things up on our side of the ball as well."
How important was it to have the staff in place before official visits? "Well, it was always big. You keep a file and do things. I mean, the past, what is it now, eleven days have not been tons of fun for me I guess! All of that stuff is one of the tough deals. I mean constant, lots of job interviews, lots of talking to people and evaluating what the combination is for us to move forward. And I think we've found it."
Have you talked to the junior college transfers what you expect immediately? "Absolutely. One of the big things and you talk about it, I actually met with them both today; is with the junior college players you're coming in as a veteran. You have to act like a junior, act in a leadership role. You look at guys who have come in and had great success here from the junior college ranks; from a Pernell McPhee, from a Vick Ballard, showing up from day-one as leaders. Coming in with that energy, that excitement and acting like an older guy right from the beginning."
"So I had that discussion with them and said not only do we expect you to play immediately, we expect you to act like an older guy and act in a leadership role within your position group."
How confident are you Turner can mesh with this staff? "Absolutely. I think what David understands is my philosophy of the program. I mean, we're going to have a different defense this year a little bit than we had last year in that personality. Both Geoff Collins and Tony Hughes were very involved in the hiring process, though. Because when you look at it, the staff continuity; when you go to hire somebody it's not about just hiring a specific coach. To me it's hiring a coaching staff, in making sure that staff has a great combination of people that we're putting out there. And that everybody can feed off of each other. That's what we've done."
Your thoughts on moving into the Seal Building? "I'm gonna tell you what, there's a lot to be excited about it isn't there? I mean we've got 90,000 square-feet in our football program stepping into this new year to start things off wit. So I know I'm fired-up about it, and it's like coming to a new job; but coming to a new job that you know all the players, know all the coaches, know how it is set up, know what the expectations are, fan base knows who you are. But is has that excitement feeling."
"I think the same with our players, it's all new for them and the excitement that comes from all of that is pretty special. And not just in the recruiting aspects. But you walk around here, we've got the premier facility in the Southeastern Conference. Which probably means we have the top facility in the country right now. That to me is pretty exciting and pretty special."
Do you anticipate other changes in your staff beyond those already? "The one that I can control, I'm not going anywhere! I love it here. So that's the only one where I have direct control over, me and Megan. I've got two kids that are local, they're Mississippians."
Is there anything you want to change offensively? "We'll look. What did we set, 15 school records this year? So every year will be different, in other years we've set rushing records."
"I think a lot depends on it shows we're tweaking around the personality of our players. We've had a couple of premier, NFL running backs and set school rushing records. We have some experienced receivers and a passing quarterback who sets school passing records. So all of that is really looking at the direction when we get this team together. When you evaluate the roster, what tweaks? We use probably 60 to 70 percent of our offense in a given season and 30 to 40 percent is put on a shelf. So as we get going, always the next challenge is what 60-70 percent are we applying to this year's team."
Could we see elements of tempo and hurry-up on offense? "We've used it before. Interesting stats that you find, we ran more plays per game this year huddling than we did last year in a hurry-up. So there are so many different aspects of things that we study and look at. And also that it fits the personality of the team we have. Not just the offense, it fits the special teams the defense, that everybody is on the same page working together."
Can you comment on Xavier Grindle leaving? "That certainly didn't come as a shock for me. I give him a lot of credit because he wanted to pack it in a couple of times during training camp. He just wanted to be home. I said you've got to stick it out, you've got to try; how do you know if you don't try? So I give him credit for sticking it out, and enjoyed having him here. I think he just wanted to go home and go to junior college."
What were the thought processes during the staff changes? "It was a little bit. You're looking at a little bit things. When I evaluate the program, which I'm always evaluating our program, you never want to rush to a judgment. You don't change just to make change. You change to continue to move in the right direction."
"And you're always changing. Even if you stay the same, the world around you is getting better and worse. Sometimes even when you stay the same, you're changing. So we evaluated it and thought we're going to have to tweak a couple of things here and there to get things done. And I think you saw that in the bowl game on the defensive side of the ball, of when you're playing a tempo team of how we were going to make some adjustments. I thought our guys did a pretty good job of that on the defensive side of the ball. Even though we gave up some points, the offense…I think they had a one-yard drive and a zero-yard drive for 14 of the points. So we didn't play great team football in that game which is always critical as well."
Are you happy where this recruiting class is? "Am I ever happy?! You know my feeling on recruiting. I think our guys are working really hard. I think players out there see what's going on here, not just the great direction the program's headed. The great direction the university is headed, with facilities, stadium expansion, sold-out crowds, unbelievable game day atmosphere."
"We're averaging eight wins a year over the last three years and hopefully striving to get better. I want to increase that total. I want to get that average up to nine, 10, 11, 12 wins a year as we move forward. I think guys see that, and I think there is a lot of excitement around the program with players choosing to come play for us."
What impact can the Seal Complex have with prospects coming in next weekend? "Yeah, the next couple of weeks. One thing it shows is the commitment the university has to the football program here and our commitment to excellence and our commitment to giving them as players the absolute best. They come here to Mississippi State, they're getting the best. They're going to have the best facilities, they're going to have the best coaching, the best on-the-field treatment, best strength coach, in their complete development. The best academic staff, all of those things, I think they see our commitment to excellence as we move forward."
Can you draw parallels in Gabe Jackson and John Banks decisions to return? "I do, I think a lot. It just shows our guys' commitments. I know we're thrilled to have him back."
"To sit down with the families, one, that's a big deal for us, the commitment the guys have to the program, and the family togetherness that we have in this program. I know Gabe wants to come represent Mississippi State, wants to have another opportunity to represent the people of the state and show what he can do on the field as well as continue to develop to become a better football player and get his degree and walk out the door successful."
He sees how Banks helped his professional prospects? "It certainly benefited him in the opportunity of winning the Thorpe Award. That is a very, very, very special honor, he has to go down as one of the great players in the history of the state of Mississippi, I'd imagine. I don't think there's a lot of Mississippi natives that have those national individual awards out there. And that's special."
"Financially how it'll benefit him, we'll find out here in a couple of months. I know he's a great kid, and what it does is it does show young people not just in our program, but young people all over the place, about your commitment to excellence as a person. If you're committed to excellence, great things are going to happen to you, both on the field, in the classroom and in life, and John's a great example of following through and finishing what you started to be successful."
What have you learned about yourself this year, and from year-one to now? "You know what, this season, it was to me a great season. Obviously it didn't finish the way we wanted it to finish, but for a lot of teams it doesn't finish the way you want it to. I guess 50% of the teams have to lose their last game or something like that, so you never finish it the way you want to finish it for half the people out there."
"We've been fortunate in the years past. As I reflect on this year, the program's certainly going in the direction I want it to go in, which is the opportunity to continue to win football games. To put ourselves in the discussion, to put yourself in the discussion as the season wears on to go and compete for conference championships, which is our ultimate goal here."
"With our guys a lot you see the challenge that this conference brings week in and week out is awesome. I love being in it, I love what it stands for, I love everything about it. But I think when you look now, as the season ends and you look back on a national stage of college football, you see the dominance of the Southeastern Conference again this year."
"That's the goals that we continue to strive for. You have the opportunity to compete to be one of the best in the conference, you're really one of the best in the nation."
Are there any other roster casualties? "Not at this point, no. You never know. Again, those are things that are sometimes out of our control. I think generally we have a very, very small attrition rate within our program. I think everyone has an attrition rate, so you never know over the next couple of months guys, whether it be medical issues or academic issues or just lost love of the game issues. You usually tend to have one or two more that could possibly happen."
Talk about Michael Carr trying a return to the team? "He's come to meet with me about it. Michael, obviously, left under some tough issues. It wasn't an issue in what he'd done wrong within the program, and it wasn't an issue in his dislike of the program, it was just some personal things he had to get figured out in his life. We've opened the door for him, if he gets those things figured out, to take care of certain business and make sure he's on the personal right track to come and play for us in the future."
Does Matt Balis have a spring in his step with the new weightroom? "He's got an office that overlooks the weight room, so you walk by his office now and he's just staring out there with a big smile on his face!"
"I think all of our players are ready to get back to work. We're having to force to give them a week off. We rest the body. What you need for recovery for the body after going through a long season like that. You look at our guys and they're chomping at the bit to get back after it, get out there and start working. We had our team meeting last week. This year's team, the 2013 team, was born a week ago. It's not even quite a week yet, right? It was born on Sunday. That was the birth of the team and we a one-year life with this team to leave their mark on history. And I know they're fired up ready to get after it."
Have you heard it is called ‘Balis Mall'? "Is that what it is? I haven't heard the nicknames yet. Yeah. I haven't learned all the nicknames of everybody. I've been traveling around doing a lot of different things. I'm sure I'll pick them all up pretty quick."
Have you talked to Tyler Russell since the bowl game about his interceptions? "After the third interception in the first quarter, I said, you've got to take it in the locker room, splash some water in your face and start this over again. You know what? The great thing about Tyler is he knows he's the leader of our program."
"And I know he's a guy that's hard on his staff, but he's mature enough to understand he's hard himself about those things. You're not going to find a coach, you're not going to find a fan, you're not going to find anybody more disappointed in the outcome of that game than Tyler Russell. I know he is disappointed, but I also know Tyler is the leader of our program. Everybody knows he's a great player and they know he has the complete confidence of everybody on the team. As I've told him, you're going to go find Peyton Manning's four-interception game and Brett Favre, I'm sure, had more than one. I don't know. I didn't check all the stats, I'm sure Tom Brady has had those type of days, too."
"You're going to have some of those things and the great thing is how he handles it, his response to it and his desire to get back to work and move forward. I hope he doesn't have another one of those days! But you play in football long enough, too, you're probably you're going to have another day like that and you're just going to have to move past that as well."
What do you think of the junior college enrollees? "Jeremy Chappelle and Justin Cox are here in classes. They're here to play. When you go out and recruiting junior colleges for the most part we don't do it for depth, we bring guys in to play. If you look at the numbers, if you ever want to go do a research project, our junior college player signees to the amount they play is probably the highest in the country. We bring in those guys for need and we're excited about those two being here and I know they're ready to get to work and get after it. They're already in classes and I expect to see both of them on the field for us immediately next fall."
Are there other positions you need to recruit for? "A bunch. Offensive line obviously is a big need for us this year. Quarterback is a big need for us this year. Receiver. Here,s the thing. When you look at it, there's the ones you expect guys to come in and play right away. But, like we've been able to do and build the depth within a program and compete in the SEC, you better have solid recruiting across the board at every position. You can't have lapses in years at positions or you're going to get yourself caught at some point."
Did Jamil Golden leave the team? "Jamil, yeah, he left. We tried to help him get to a bunch (of junior colleges) but Les (Koenning) was handling it. I'm not sure. Academically."