But even if Mississippi State’s head football coach did not bring the Golden Egg with him to a roundball game, he did have something for Bulldog fans to cheer. Some ones, rather, as Mullen formally presented the week’s two additions to his defensive coaching staff for 2010. New defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Manny Diaz and co-coordinator/defensive line coach Chris Wilson joined their new boss on the court for the crowd to meet. And greet.
“We have two new coaches, so please welcome them to the Mississippi State family,” said Mullen.
Diaz, 35, is somewhat familiar to MSU folk as organizer of the Middle Tennessee defense that gave State troubles the last two seasons. Though both Bulldog teams came away winners, Mullen and many others came back from this past fall’s victory impressed with the young coordinator’s schemes and how it often offset superior athletes.
Wilson, 40, has not been exposed directly to Bulldog football over the course of his playing or coaching career. But the Oklahoma alumnus has met Mullen before; or faced-off with him rather as their 2008 teams battled for the B.C.S. title with Mullen’s Florida squad taking the crystal football. Full career biographies are available on the Mississippi State sports website.
Mullen made his choices this week, though he’d been working on the coordinator’s post since Carl Torbush’s abrupt departure to Kansas in December. And only a week ago d-line coach David Turner accepted the offer to reunite with a former cohort at Kentucky. Yet Mullen insisted to media that he’d been following a patient course all along, allowing bowl seasons—even NFL regular season—to end, then attending this past week’s AFCA convention, before picking his men. Mullen also said these were his top choices for both posts, though over twenty candidates had contact of varying interests from each side.
Mullen clarifies the process, as well as other aspects of the search and selections, in the following transcript. What the head coach was not asked in the hasty halftime media conference was how the timing of his hirings was influenced by this first weekend of official campus visits. Nor was there any need to, since his impromptu pep-rally style of talk to the Hump crowd was naturally aimed at the score or so of invited guests.
Also, before Mullen took center stage his first, favorite Bulldog alumnus was given his own turn in the spotlight when record-setting back Anthony Dixon was given a special recognition. This allowed Mullen to preach on. “I wanted to come out and thank you for recognizing Anthony for all he did for us. All our seniors, the foundation they laid for our team for the future. That we’re going to build a championship program for the state of Mississippi.
“We’re going to do even more next year. Last year we broke our season attendance record by over 70,000 and that’s just the start of many good things to come. So we can show our players, our recruits and the entire state of Mississippi that we are a championship football program that everybody wants to be a part of.” Again, there was no mistake what ears this message was most-meant for. And not just those in the house or who cheer the Bulldogs, either, as Mullen took advantage of opportunity to remind everyone in this state what the current score is.
“I know there’s still 310 days on the countdown clock in our locker room. And in 26 days we continue our domination over the school up north. Go Dogs!”
COACH DAN MULLEN:
Q: What attracted you to these two coaches? “A lot of different things. Manny Diaz, obviously when we played them last year I thought they did a bunch of things on defense, had a very aggressive style of defense and he was a very innovative defensive mind and innovative thinker. That reminded me a lot of myself as an offensive coach. Since that point, I try to keep a file of people I’d be interested in and he was somebody I had right in front of that file after our game last year. And we’re really happy to have him here.
“Obviously I got time to talk to Chris Wilson on several occasions, having not met him before he really made a great impression on me. As a guy who is a proven recruiter, a proven coach, and as part of a coaching staff that is one of the most successful coaching staffs over the last ten years. And a defense that is one of the top defenses in the country every single year. To have him able to bring that knowledge, want to come here, be a part of something we think we’re building (that is) special, he just brought so much to the table I was really excited to have him part of our staff.”
Q: Have you worked in a co-coordinator situation before? “Oh yeah. Here’s how a lot of things work. We’re going to change up a lot of things we do defensively to have all the input, and how people are inputting things. And very much like we do on offense, when our defense comes off the field I want to have input from Chris on the front of what we’re doing and how we’re defeating protections, how we’re stopping the run. I want to have input from Melvin Smith and Tony Hughes on the back end, what coverages we need to be in to stop the pass. Input from me because…I’m me and pretty opinionated! And Manny to sort it all out and give everybody what we’re going to go with for that series.
“I think just the knowledge and the backgrounds and the innovative thinking and energy we’re bringing is going to be fantastic.”
Q: How soon did you talk to Diaz about this job? “Not until after the bowl season. I told a lot of people I was not in a hurry to move fast. I wanted kind of to let some bowls play out and let a couple of other things happen and see who would be a legitimate candidate for us. And even though he was near the front of the list, I wanted to make sure we got the right person. I didn’t want to rush people that were preparing for their bowl games, and have them think about other distractions. I wanted to let everybody take care of their situation, their bowl games, give me time to do my research and planning and make sure we get the right people.”
Q: How many people did you talk to? “I’d put it in the twenty range, both combined. A bunch down in Orlando at the AFCA convention and others over the phone. I kind of wanted to let football go in-cycle, with the bowl games to finish, the NFL season to finish. I’ve talked to several different levels of colleges coaches as well as NFL coaches. And I wanted to see what the total pool would be of candidates for it. To be honest it was our choice 1 and 1 at each position, so I feel real fortunate. It’s a big relief to get our top two choices.”
Q: Will Diaz be on a one or two year contract? “He and I are going to discuss that. I’ve talked to him the benefits of both of those deals, we’re going to work out all the contract details out at a later date.”
Q: Did Chris try to contact you first? “What I wanted to do is have the input of our assistant coaches with the network that they have. I said if you have people that would be interested out there, let me know and certain people I want to meet, others we can weed-through before we get to that process. He was someone that we just hit it off right in our first meeting, I thought he’d be a great fit for our program.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MANNY DIAZ
Q: What attracted you to this job? “There were two things I think anybody would look for when they go to make a move. One is the people that you’re going to be surrounded with; and two is the chance to win.
“When you think about it, when you coach college football it’s a year-round process; the recruiting, the off-season workouts, everything. And you only get to play twelve times; 13 in a championship game and 14 in a bowl. After 365 days, that’s not a lot of days. So the people that you’re going to be with, the people that you’re going to be working for all those days that are outside those 14, and the ability to win the majority of those 14. And it was obvious on my trip here that Coach Mullen number-one has set a great vision for this University, he’s put together an outstanding staff of people and not just coaches. But great people who all believe in his vision and are all pulling in one direction.
“It was something that was easy to want to be a part of, it was an easy sell. And the players here and the recruiting efforts that are going on at this juncture, it was not a hard decision.”
Q: Having played State the last two years, what is your opinion of the program and personnel? “I’m happier that I’m on their sideline than playing against them like I did the last couple of years!
“No, from what I’ve seen and from what I’ve been told I believe there are the elements of a real good defense. And we want to get back to where we’re known for a lot of things, but one thing is just being a hard-hitting, aggressive, fundamentally sound but attacking style of defense. I know this, I know people don’t want to play Coach Mullen’s offense. It is a hard offense to defend and when people see us on the schedule they don’t want to play that offense. We want to get to the point we’re the same way with our defense, that offensive coaches around the country when they see us on the schedule that they sort of have to say oh, well, here we go. That’s what we’re trying to get established.”
Q: What does it mean that you and Coach Mullen make this such a young staff? “And that’s a vision. And I’ve even seen it beyond Dan with his staff and a lot of people also at this University. He knows how to win. He knows what he wants.
“I’ll tell you a funny thing, when we first started talking he complimented on what we had done defensively at Middle Tennessee. I turned it right around and complimented him on what he’d done here, because I saw first-hand. We played them back-to-back years and I saw the difference in the offense. As a coach you see the film, you can just tell at that level where there is a really well-disciplined, well-coordinated machine. And it was obvious they were here. So I turned it around, he said you guys did a great job; I said you guys did a great job. He said well we should, in theory we out-personnel you. I said but that doesn’t matter, we play people that are better than us all the time, you could tell that there had been a change here and it was easy to see.”
Q: Do you bring any preconceived schemes and sets or will you work with what you have? “That’s the first thing you always have to do. Number-one, you’ve got to make sure the kids can do it, that they can handle whatever it is. You can decided to do eight million things that are all great, and the kids can’t handle it.
“But what I can’t wait for, and I know Coach Mullen is a great football mind, I can’t wait for us all to get in there. It’s a rare opportunity where you can say OK, let’s erase this board, if you had to dream it up again today what do you want to be? I look at is a blessing. You have Coach Mullen, great offensive mind, pretty sure he’s going to have a good idea what offenses don’t like to see. Then you have these two philosophies that are going to be in some ways very close but it may be a way you set something; just a minor detail.
“I think people often look at the big picture things which are actually less important; the way you’re going to line up or whether it’s man or zone or what type of zone. That to me is not the answer. It’s maybe a little detail in terms of how you coach this stunt or this movement or this coverage. If we can do that, we just want our kids to have every advantage possible when they take the field. So I look at this as absolutely a blessing for me at this point in my career. And hopefully it will filter down to the kids because they’re the ones that have got to play.”
CO-COORDINATOR CHRIS WILSON
Q: What sold you on taking this position? “Mississippi State. I knew a little bit of the history here and what they’ve been able to accomplish. And one of the big things was having a chance to play against Coach Mullen at Florida a year ago in the national championship game. You knew there was a great system in-place and there was going to be a culture change when he got here.
“And so when I had a chance to visit with him and talk with him and kind of see where he was taking this program, and knowing a little bit of the history playing in the SEC, it became a no-brainer. Some decisions are tougher than others. This was a little tough obviously leaving Oklahoma, leaving your alma mater. But having a chance to sit down and look at personnel, look at the facilities and the culture and the different things that are going on here… It’s a dynamic time. There’s a lot of excitement around this place. So I wanted to be a part of it and build something from the ground-up. That’s kind of what you see here, the start of something that could possibly be something that will last a good, long time.”
Q: How will the co-coordinator system work? “We’ll sit down together and Manny will make the calls during game-day. We’ll sit down and gameplan and do the best thing for our players. That’s just coaches. If it were the scheme, Coach Mullen and I talked, everybody would run the same scheme. It’s not that.
“More than anything is us going out, finding the right players that fit Mississippi State, and developing those guys. And develop them in our system. And if we can find those kind of guys… Per-capita we’re in as good a state as anywhere in the country in developing top players. So they’re here. They’ve got to get in a good system which I believe Coach Diaz and Coach Mullen are providing. My deal is to support that and bring some of our concepts and ideas that we used at Oklahoma and make that my own.
“It’s the first chance he and I have actually got a chance to sit down and really visit. We previously had brief conversations. But our philosophies are very simple. We’re aggressive. And the three things we’re looking for, we want to play smart (so) any time people send our tape out they look at it ‘Mississippi State, those guys play smart, they’ve got answers.’ And I don’t mean answers at halftime; I mean answers during the middle of a series.
“Two, that they’re going to play hard, which they did a tremendous job a year ago doing, they were exciting and they played hard. And third, that we’re the most physical football team in the country. Not in just the SEC, but that we’re physical and when you play us you’re going to be in a physical game. And then the expectation of winning. Not of being close but the expectation of winning and that’s the culture that I believe Coach Mullen is bringing to this program.”
Q: How will you use the last couple of weeks before signing day? “Signing every top player in the state of Mississippi! That’s our goal, to take the best kids in Mississippi and have them go to Mississippi State University, this great University. Me coming here and actually getting to see it, and have a chance to be on staff at a place like this, you sit back and go this place has a chance. And obviously if we can lock-up our state we’ve got a chance to play with anybody in our conference, anybody in the country. So that’s our goal, to finish this deal up; get in every home and establish a relationship with guys we have and show them why this is a great place, that we’ve got a great plan for them. That it’s not just a feel-good deal, we have a great plan for them.”
Q: Will you wear that Big XII ring? “This is part of me. Obviously I plan on, and Coach Mullen and the rest of the staff plan on adding to the whole rings he has.”
Q: What year is that ring? “It’s the last Big XII championship from a year ago, when Coach Mullen and Florida beat us.”
Q: Have you looked for his B.C.S. ring from that game? “I tried to find it, he hasn’t gotten it yet! I was upstairs in his office and haven’t had a chance to see it. But you know, that work ethic and culture that they’re bringing is just going to permeate down the way. So it’s an exciting time.”