It's time for Dan Mullen to strike while the iron is hot and plan his exit
Mississippi State has been good to Mullen, but he should be the next Bulldog to upgrade
Dan Mullen is the hottest coach in America.
Not necessarily the best or the most successful, just the hottest.
Ed Orgeron and the Tigers were absolutely schooled in a result that reminded us just how good Mullen is at this coaching thing -- and how bad he needs to get out of Starkville, Mississippi.
For five weeks in 2014, the Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in the country.
Mullen has the best winning percentage at MSU in 69 years (.604).
The Bulldogs have been to seven straight bowls, five of them wins.
This week, Mississippi State went from unranked to No. 17 in the AP Top 25 after thrashing No. 12 LSU. Mullen is off to his third 3-0 start since 2012.
You don't have to be told the man can coach quarterbacks. Mullen followed up the NFL phenomenon that is Dak Prescott with Nick Fitzgerald. We all remember Tim Tebow. Alex Smith is in his 13th NFL season after learning the spread from Mullen and Urban Meyer at Utah. Even more impressive, Mullen helped get the immortal Josh Harris drafted -- as a quarterback -- from Bowling Green in 2004. He also once won nine games with the immortal Chris Relf.
All of these accomplishments were either established or refined in Starkville.
Mullen is not only second in SEC coaching seniority (definitely) but also the league's second best coach (probably). He is surpassed only by Saban in both categories.
Mullen is young (45), successful and ready for the next stop. If only there was such an obvious place.
In short, Mullen has coached himself into a corner, bumping his head against a ceiling made of Saban. With a salary of $4.5 million, there are only a handful of schools that can afford one of the nation's 15 highest paid coaches. That's a lot of money for a guy who has never won the SEC West, much less beaten Alabama.
Mullen's record against ranked teams (6-25) is sure to give pause. So are the whispers that working with Mullen is difficult. But how many coaches aren't hard to work with when there's so much on the line?
Nick Saban could start his own YouTube channel with his weekly press conference rants.
Fortunately or unfortunately, most of the best opportunities for Mullen just might be in the SEC where he'd still have to beat Saban, win the division and win the SEC before competing in the College Football Playoff.
Someday, Florida might call him to come back to the scene of his greatest glory now that former Bulldogs athletic director Scott Stricklin is at the helm of the Gators. Would Tennessee scratch the $5 million check it would take (for starters) to pique Mullen's interest?
But that doesn't detract from the original point: At this moment, Mullen is the hottest coach in America.
Now, what does he do with that label? Once again, he absolutely has to get out of Starkville. Five of those wins against top-25 competition have come in the last four seasons. At a remote campus, Mullen has overachieved in a way only Bill Snyder can appreciate.
He has earned a promotion in his eighth year coaching what might be the West Division's fifth-best program.
Those knots on his head from hitting the ceiling are getting painful.
The possibilities are both enticing and limited.
One coaching search coach source said Mullen would have to be on a "legitimate short list" for Texas A&M.
Notre Dame could do worse if it jettisons Brian Kelly. Mullen has the everyman good looks, personality and Northeast roots (suburban Philadelphia) that would appeal to Domers of every species.
If it dumps Jim Mora Jr., UCLA has shown no historical inclination to pay what Mullen is worth.
Arizona State might be willing to pay with an AD (Ray Anderson) who knows it takes money to make money. ASU is in the process of a massive $270 million facilities upgrade.
Nebraska remains desperate for relevancy.
Simply put, most every other program would either be below Mullen's consideration or unable to pay him what he would command to leave Mississippi State.
And that's a huge issue for a coach looking to maximize his value in the prime of his career.
Aside from Mullen and Saban, the SEC in general is in a state of coaching flux. Coming into the season, six coaches were entering their third season or fewer. In 2009, there was a moment when the league sported five national championship coaches (Saban, Meyer, Les Miles, Steve Spurrier and Phil Fulmer).
No matter how bad your week has been,.
Missouri may have quit on Barry Odom three games into his second season.
Auburn has been pushed around to some degree in consecutive weeks by Clemson and … Mercer.
The shine may be wearing off Bret Bielema at Arkansas.
You shouldn't have to be told Kevin Sumlin is on the hot seat at Texas A&M because his AD said so.
Ole Miss has an interim coach and a questionable future.
Orgeron's LSU honeymoon lasted as long as his team being outplayed by Mississippi State and outcoached by Mullen.
This is way beyond Mullen being the second-best coach in the SEC. As long as Saban is around, that's a bit like being the forest's tallest mushroom.
It's a long jump for any SEC coach from go from second best to beating Nick Saban. The last SEC coach to defeat him in a single game, Hugh Freeze in 2015, is out of a job. In fact, there are significant questions -- starting with the NCAA -- as to how Freeze was able to get to that level.
Finally, you know how I know Mullen needs to leave?
There were four people in the room the day he interviewed at Mississippi State eight years ago. Three of them have upgraded. Then-AD Greg Byrne is at Alabama. Stricklin, Byrne's No. 2, replaced Byrne and then left for Florida. John Cohen, the Bulldogs' baseball coach, is now also Mississippi State's current AD.
Mullen is still the coach. That's great for job security in an age when the staying power of an.
It's not great for career advancement -- or one's head.
Man, those knots have to hurt.
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