Being a head football coach in Mississippi brings about all kinds of interesting dilemmas. You are expected to win more often than not without necessarily having the best of facilities or recruiting base. You will often be doubted or linked to another job at your first moment of success, and apparently you may not get to land a big, long-term contract.
Mississippi law will not allow the college football coaches—perhaps, any state employee—to have more than a four-year contract, and with Dan Mullen having just recently added a year to his contract to max it back to four years, some might think there should not be a rush to lock him up at the right price for the four year-long term. Anyone who feels that way is foolish, and Mississippi State should do whatever it takes to change laws, cheat, whatever, to give Mullen a pay bump and lock him into Starkville for quite some time. If that is not possible—and, sure, it's probably not possible to change laws or write illegal contracts—the Bulldogs must make sure they rework Mullen's four-year contract. Even though Mullen has a nice contract now, Mississippi State needs to take the current contract, toss it out the window, and get him on a better contract.
When Mullen arrived in Starkville, Mississippi State football had been a dumpster fire since the end of the 2000 season. Eventually Jackie Sherrill could not continue to put out the fires, and he found the door. Sylvester Croom walked in that door, and while he cleaned the dumpster, the fire continued to rage. Not many teams sat in a worse position than Mississippi State at the end of the 2008 season, but Mullen came in and started to make a difference right away.
In 2009, Mullen and the Bulldogs were within a few inches against LSU and a blown illegal forward pass call in a game against Houston from going to a bowl game in his first year in Starkville. Missing a bowl game that year did not seem like a big deal, after all, the Bulldogs had only been once since 2000 (2007 Liberty Bowl); however, today, bowl eligibility, which happened Saturday, has become an expected afterthought. Mississippi State is no longer playing for the Liberty Bowl, but for a spot in the national championship playoff.
The fact that statement can be typed in a serious manner is an amazing testament to the work of Mullen in Starkville, and do not think that other schools are not noticing this. There could be an impressive list of vacancies this year with Michigan, Florida, and LSU all having potential to be open. Brady Hoke has found himself squarely on the hot seat, and should he be shown the door, the Wolverines could turn to Mullen, or they could turn to their "Michigan Man," Les Miles. Should that scenario unfold—who knows how likely it is—LSU could make a play for Mullen. Also, everyone has pointed out the connections that Mullen has to Florida, and Will Muschamp may be running out of time with the Gators, especially since they lost to LSU Saturday. With that loss, the Gators stand at 3-2 with only two more sure wins on their schedule. Missing a bowl game would surely get Muschamp canned, and 6-6 may not be enough to save him. In addition to those schools, who else might be lurking for Mullen's services?
If these folks could be noticing, Mississippi State better well notice. The state law in place absolutely hampers the Bulldogs in building a contract that would pay Mullen well and over a long length time. At the very least, the school needs to look at reworking what is place inside of the current frameworks of state law.
At the risk of being called a prisoner of the moment, the fact is Dan Mullen has done more in his time in Starkville than any coach in the modern era, and yes, that includes Jackie Sherrill. Only a handful of teams, and none since 1983, have accomplished what the Bulldogs have done already this season by knocking off three straight top-ten teams. While the validity of those teams being in the top-ten can be argued, the fact remains that Mullen and the Bulldogs made it happen.
Project out the season a bit. Mississippi State should stand at 9-0 in a few weeks, ranked in the top-three (or higher) in the country before heading to Tuscaloosa for a game against what will be another top-ten Alabama team. The Bulldogs will also face a similar challenge when they head to Oxford to close out the season. At the worst, Mississippi State should finish the regular season at 10-2 with road losses to top-ten opponents, something that should not bring shame to anyone. However, this team is also in position to be 12-0 and playing for an SEC and national championship. The fact that these (and of course, an 11-1 season) are the most likely out comes for Mississippi State this year shows the process set in place by Mullen is working.
Mullen is at best in the middle of the road as far as highest paid coach in the conference, but given what he has done this season—and really, in an injury plagued 2013—he is coaching at much higher level than he is being paid. Others will notice this as well, and they could easily offer more money, which would put Mississippi State in the position of having to play catch-up with their offers. Mississippi State needs to get the money right with Mullen, and then the Bulldogs will have to look at getting the money right with his staff. While it is likely that some may go to head coaching positions, Mississippi State should not allow money to allow any of them to leave for a similar position at another school. Having to shell out a lot of money for coaches can be tough, but in the case of this staff, it needs to happen.
Usually, I am not for making rush decisions in the middle of a season, and I understand that nothing could be signed (I guess, or who knows, legally, even announced) at this point of the season, but Mississippi State needs to do something to let Mullen know he will be taken care of before the season ends. Just like in any relationship, both parties need to feel valued and loved by the others. Watching Mullen on Saturday showed that he loves this team and this program. Perhaps more importantly, it is obvious that he views them as his team and his program. Mississippi State has shown Mullen love as well by building all of the facilities he has hoped to get in Starkville. No, this new contract does not have to be finalized this week, but it does need to have had talks started and a path forward put in place. Now is the time to show a little more love and let him know that he and his staff will be taken care of when the season ends.