SEC: Greg Byrne
Still, I know it had to be a difficult decision for Byrne because of all he had invested in getting the Mississippi State football program up to speed. He made the gut-wrenching decision to pull the plug on Sylvester Croom at the end of the 2008 season.
It's not something Byrne wanted to do because of what Croom stood for and his efforts in cleaning up the program, but Byrne also felt like the program needed new leadership if it was going to take that next step.
He quickly settled on Dan Mullen, and thanks to Mullen's aggressive recruiting in the state and some tireless marketing and promotion by Byrne and his staff, the excitement and anticipation surrounding the program right now is as high as it's been in a long time.
Byrne will be missed at Mississippi State. He knew how to treat people. He understood that he was in a people business, but he also knew how to make tough decisions.
There's no easy way to fire a coach or force a coach out, especially one as classy as Croom, but Byrne navigated that whole process about as well as he could.
It's always going to be a challenge at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are never going to have the cash and resources to throw around the way they do at Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee.
But Byrne has the Mississippi State football program -- and the climate surrounding the program -- pointed in the right direction.
The groundwork has been laid for his successor.
In other words, they visited a strip club.
Byrne said Mississippi State has concluded its internal review and determined that the incident will not affect the eligibility or future eligibility of those involved. Mississippi State officials are still trying to determine if any NCAA rules were violated. If there's anything there, it would likely be secondary in nature.
This whole thing flared up after some recruits posted on their Facebook pages that they went to an adult establishment (The Pony) while making recruiting visits to Mississippi State last weekend.
Byrne wrote in his e-mail: "Coach (Dan) Mullen and I are disappointed in the poor decisions made by a small number of our student-athletes. We educate our young people repeatedly on the roles they play in representing their teams, the athletic department, the university and the entire state of Mississippi. They know better."
- Florida knows all about getting it done in the fourth quarter, writes David Jones of Florida Today.
- Carlos Dunlap's indiscretion could cost Florida a national title, writes Martin Fennelly of The Tampa Tribune.
- The SEC coaches expect a close, low-scoring game between Florida and Alabama.
- Alabama's Rolando McClain and Florida's Brandon Spikes are the centerpieces of two of the best defenses in the country.
- Possible NCAA rules violations will have no impact on LSU coach Les Miles' employment, according to the LSU chancellor.
- Georgia coach Mark Richt isn't talking about any potential staff changes and says instituting change doesn't always mean you change people.
- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is set to receive a one-year extension that will take his contract through the 2013 season.
- Mississippi State is having early discussions about expanding Scott Field to the 60,000-65,000 range.
- Once about to quit football, Alabama's Javier Arenas is now on the verge of breaking records, writes Gentry Estes of The Mobile Press-Register.
- Mississippi State is itching to turn up the volume, writes Kyle Veazey of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
- Florida is still looking for more big plays on offense, writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
- That was then and this is now for South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, writes Bob Gillespie of The State newspaper.
- Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett will gladly trade any records he might set this season for more wins.
- LSU may find out this weekend how far Jarrett Lee has come after his forgettable season a year ago.
- Auburn's blossoming receiver, Darvin Adams, just wants to be called "Smooth."
- Georgia's A.J. Green poses Auburn's reshuffled secondary some major challenges, writes Andy Bitter of The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Ahh, to be Dan Mullen.
He's 37 years old, making $1.2 million per year and heading up his own program in the best college football conference in the land.
He's coached Tim Tebow and Alex Smith, collected a pair of national championship rings as Florida's offensive coordinator and pretty much won everywhere he's been since quarterbacking Trinity High in Manchester, N.H., to a state championship in 1988.
Now the real "fun" begins.
|AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis|
|Dan Mullen takes over a team which was ranked 113th in total offense last season.|
Mullen takes over a Mississippi State program that has been an afterthought in the SEC for much of this decade. In seven of the nine seasons since 2000, the Bulldogs have finished either fifth or sixth in the Western Division.
And only four times in the last 20 years have they scratched out a winning record in the SEC.
This ain't an easy gig.
Sylvester Croom found that out after winning eight games in 2007, including the Liberty Bowl, and earning SEC Coach of the Year honors. A year later, he was out of a job.
Croom's undoing was an offense that never really got any better. The Bulldogs were 113th in total offense last season and 115th in scoring offense.
So when Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne went looking for a new coach, he was looking for offense. High-octane offense and lots of it.
Enter Mullen, who'd been Urban Meyer's quarterbacks coach at Bowling Green and Utah and then his offensive coordinator at Florida the last four seasons.
While Mullen won't have Tebow pulling the trigger at Mississippi State and Percy Harvin to pitch the ball to on a misdirection reverse, he does have a plan for returning the Bulldogs to relevance again in the SEC.
Much of that plan revolves around getting the best high school players out of Mississippi every year. But there's also an attitude and focus that Mullen is trying to instill, one that he's seeing take shape a little more every day.
With his head-coaching debut three weeks away (Sept. 5 against Jackson State), Mullen weighed in on a variety of topics during a sitdown interview in his office Friday.
You took the job without the benefit of touring the campus. How did your impression of this place change after you first got here?
Dan Mullen: Everything was better than what I thought it was going to be coming here. I had no idea what I was getting into facility-wise, talent-wise, community-wise and school-wise. One thing I knew after meeting with the athletic director (Byrne) was that you had a guy who wanted to win and was very supportive. And then in doing some research, I knew there was tremendous in-state talent, and those were the two things that sold me. My wife had been out here once to cover a golf tournament and said, 'It's a really nice town. I think it gets a little bit of a bad rap, that we're way out in the country.' But it's really not like that.
Do you fight that same perception in recruiting?
DM: When we get kids on campus, most of the reports are when they leave campus something along the lines of, 'I can't believe it was that nice,' or 'I didn't know it would be that nice.' It's not just our athletic facilities. But walk through campus on a school day. Go downtown. It's a great community and just a really nice place to live and a great family atmosphere that revolves around the university. That's what makes it a neat place. The issue we fight is getting kids here. Once they come, they're amazed.
What's the best advice Urban Meyer gave you?
DM: There were so many things, but one of the main ones was to make sure that you be yourself and stick to your guns. Don't change who you are to try and please other people. You have to coach the program your way and with your beliefs. If people don't like it, that's too bad. It's your program and you have to do it your way.
Like Meyer, you're coaching special teams. Have you seen kids buying into that part of the game the way they did at Florida?
DM: As a head coach, you better be involved with special teams. How can you get the kids to fully invest in it, if the head coach isn't fully invested in it? I want to make sure our guys know how important it is to me. Special teams is an effort part of the game. You can win the special teams battle with effort. You don't always need the skill if all 11 guys are giving extraordinary effort. That's something I look for in our program right now, that you can win that third of the game on effort.
What effect did it have on you, coming to Mississippi State from a place like Florida where you had players sitting on the bench that could have started for most of the other schools in the conference?
DM: It just turns your focus to recruiting. To get us caught up, we have to get the players in this state. The state of Mississippi is not lacking for high school talent, and we have a great junior college system in Mississippi. The players are right here. Our biggest challenge is to get them on campus and get us caught up to the talent level of all the other teams.
How was your start this year in getting the recruits you targeted in this state?
DM: I have my own personal rating system, and we got the four best players in the state. I had Fletcher Cox No. 1, Josh Boyd at No. 2, followed by Chad Bumphis at No. 3 and Tyler Russell at No. 4. Those were my top four in the state, the guys we wanted and recruited, and we went 4-for-4.
How much will you miss not coaching Tim Tebow his senior season?
DM: It's kind of a sad deal. I've been with him since day one. I don't get to enjoy it all, watching him finish off what might be the greatest career in college football history. It's a great honor to know that I was a part of it. It's sad that I don't get to be there to see him finish it.
Do you guys still keep in touch?
DM: Oh yeah. We both have busy schedules, but I'd say we speak about once a month.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Despite a $36 million athletic budget that's the smallest in the SEC, Mississippi State's athletic facilities are extremely underrated.
Seriously, if you haven't been on campus here in the past five to six years, you're going to be surprised at how new, how state of the art and how up to date everything is.
It starts with the brand new Templeton Athletic Academic Center, which is as nice as any academic center in the SEC and a terrific recruiting tool.
"We may not be like some schools and just throw money at facilities," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "But we have a vision, and when you have the right vision for what you want, you can have nice facilities."
Mullen admits that he was surprised when he first came to Mississippi State at how nice the facilities actually were. Former coach Sylvester Croom had done a good job of getting the ball rolling with a new weight room, training room, players' lounge and locker room at the Holliman football complex.
That's after the old weight room for the football players was housed in an open pit area in an adjoining building and looked like something you might see at a high school.
The Bulldogs already had an indoor practice facility in place (the Palmeiro Center) and have made several upgrades to Davis Wade Stadium.
It's the nation's second oldest on-campus stadium among FBS schools, but a new $6.1 million JumboTron with a massive screen you can see from all the way across campus will be unveiled in its entirety this season.
Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne, Mullen and other administrators took a tour this summer to look at facilities from around the country to get some more ideas for the future.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Let's take a spin around the SEC.
- Former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville could be the source of the rumors about alleged rules violations at Alabama, Paul Finebaum writes in the Birmingham News.
- Houston Nutt apparently is OK with the so-called Houston Nutt Rule, David Brandt writes in The Clarion-Ledger.
- Is Georgia head coach Mark Richt whining too much about the team's tough nonconference slate? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Bill King takes a closer look.
- Rich Brooks has won over his naysayers and made Kentucky football relevant, SI.com's Cory McCartney writes.
- Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne will be treated for melanoma, and the prognosis is very favorable, Kyle Veazey writes in The Clarion-Ledger.
- The Orlando Sentinel's Jeremy Fowler recaps the 24 arrests or citations involving Florida football players during head coach Urban Meyer's tenure.
- In case you missed it, Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin could be in trouble again with recruiting violations.
- Vanderbilt announced its team captains for the 2009 season, Maurice Patton writes in The Tennessean.
- Auburn picked up a commitment from heralded linebacker Jawara White, Charles Goldberg writes in the Birmingham News. LSU, meanwhile, added defensive back Ronnie Vinson Jr., Mike Strom and Pierce W. Huff write in The Times-Picayune. And Arkansas got a commitment from defensive end Chris Smith, Ronnie Gallagher writes in the Salisbury Post.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
DESTIN, Fla. -- While it's true that new Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen hasn't lost a game (or won one, for that matter), the Bulldogs' fans are obviously buying into what he's selling.
Mississippi State has already sold about 32,000 season tickets, according to athletic director Greg Byrne. This time last year, they were hovering somewhere in the neighborhood of 13,000.
Mississippi State moved up the deadline by two weeks for renewing season tickets this year and started the whole process earlier, which has inflated the numbers some. But the biggest factor has been Mullen and the excitement he's generated among the fans.
"He's been all over the state, and the response he's gotten has been incredible," Byrne said.
Mississippi State's record for season-ticket sales is a little more than 38,000, which would seem to be in serious jeopardy. The Bulldogs sold 36,000-plus season tickets a year ago.
The Bulldogs' spring game was a pretty good indicator of what's ahead. A crowd of more than 31,000 was announced back in April compared to crowds in the 5,000 range in previous years.
The home schedule next fall also doesn't hurt. Florida, Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss are the four SEC teams that will come to Davis Wade Stadium, and Georgia Tech also visits on Oct. 10.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Coach Dan Mullen and his spread offense won't be the only thing new at Mississippi State next fall.
The Bulldogs unveiled their new adidas uniforms on Wednesday. The Bulldogs are going back to maroon helmets, and athletic director Greg Byrne also noted that it was important to get the full name of the university on the uniforms.
It's the first time in the modern era that the full "Mississippi State" has been displayed on the jersey. The Bulldogs will also wear black socks and black shoes under Mullen.
"This is a new and exciting uniform for our guys to wear," Mullen said. "We wanted to create a look that was both visually appealing to our current and future players and included the colors and traditions of those Mississippi State teams that came before us."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Sylvester Croom has never been one to second-guess himself, and he's not about to start now.
|Sylvester Croom left the Mississippi State program in better shape than it was when he took over.|
Hired Thursday to coach running backs for the St. Louis Rams, Croom said a part of him will always be nestled at Mississippi State. He poured his heart into that program over the last five years and fully intended to finish what he started.
But when the Bulldogs bottomed out last season at 4-8, capped by an embarrassing 45-0 loss to Ole Miss, new Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne made the decision he didn't want to make, but one he felt like was in the best long-term interest of the program.
He told Croom the Bulldogs were moving in another direction.
"That's where we are now in college football," Croom said. "It happens everywhere, not just at Mississippi State. There's not going to be a lot of patience if you're not winning at a high level and don't continue to win at a high level."
Croom's not bitter, though, not in the least bit.
Asked if he'd do it all over again, even knowing now how it would all end, he answered emphatically, "Oh yeah."
He admits that he debated heavily whether it was the right move when he took the job prior to the 2004 season. It was a huge undertaking, and Croom was well aware of how daunting a rebuilding task he faced. The Bulldogs were about to get hit with crippling NCAA sanctions, hadn't won more than three games for three straight years when Croom took over and had some of the worst facilities in the SEC.
"I took the job for a variety of reasons, and every one of them was a good reason," said Croom, the first black head football coach in SEC history. "Hey, I'm thankful to have had the chance. I'm thankful to Mississippi State, thankful to (former president) Charles Lee and thankful to (former athletic director) Larry Templeton. There are a lot of good coaches out there who never get a chance.
"I'm also thankful that they let me do it my way regardless if people agree with me or not. I did it the way I felt like things needed to be done and have no regrets about the way I did things. I wanted to leave it a better place than I found it, and I wanted my name to have the same integrity as when I went into it.
"I believe I was able to do both of those things."