Any coaching opening at a major school in college football is going to come with speculation, especially if it is a head coach or coordinator position. One such position, the defensive coordinator spot, has been open on the Mississippi State Bulldogs' sideline since Geoff Collins left for Florida. Earlier this week, we got a glimpse as to how Mississippi State will handle that absence, at least in the short term, when Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen told reporters that cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend would handle the play calling duties for Mississippi State during the Orange Bowl.
"...I think for him with the corners on the back end and the nickel that's involved inside a little bit, I just think it was on the side line, the easiest transition," said Mullen of the decision to have Townsend call plays on defense in the Orange Bowl. "Assistant coach Tony Hughes is up in the box for us. I don't want to change that, disrupt that. Assistant Coach David Tuner with the defensive line, the substituting of the d-line and getting all the substitutions on the field; I just think it's the easiest for us to roll into that."
A few things jump out about this decision and the whole process of selecting a new defensive coordinator at Mississippi State:
- Nearly every time a good organization has an opening, they have an inside candidate who can at least contend for the opening. Is that what is happening with Townsend?
- Is the reason for the hold up on searching for a defensive coordinator a result of contract extension and pay raise for Mullen not having been signed yet? Could the money involved affect the amount of money that can be offered to a defensive coordinator?
- Do the Bulldogs have an eye on someone that they cannot approach at this time?
While nothing says that Mullen will be naming or looking to name Townsend as his next defensive coordinator, one has to wonder if the newly assigned duties might mean that either Mullen, Townsend, or both are interested in the former Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers taking the helm of the defense.
In selecting Townsend as the play caller, Mullen selected his defensive assistant coach with the least amount of experience on the sideline to call the plays. He did not hand that to Turner, who has nearly 30 years of experience in coaching, nor did he give the responsibility to Hughes who has been at Mississippi State for all of Mullen's time in Starkville. The reasoning sounds simple enough in that it was least disruptive to give the duty to Townsend, but it is also interesting that it going to the coach who perhaps has the most to learn about calling plays in a short amount of time.
The last time there was a change at the defensive coordinator position at Mississippi State, Mullen made the decision to relieve Chris Wilson of his play calling duties and gave them to Collins for the Gator Bowl. Not long after the loss to Northwestern, Collins was named the full defensive coordinator for Mississippi State. Could the same thing be happening with Townsend?
Would promoting Townsend (or Hughes or Turner) to defensive coordinator or having two or three of them share the co-defensive coordinator title make it easier for the Bulldogs to bring in a coach to work with linebackers and stay within the budget? While one has to think Mississippi State should have plenty of money for an assistant with Collins's salary coming off the books, there has to be a limit, and Mullen's new contract should eat a bit into that limit. If Townsend alone can handle the duties, he will not command as much money as Collins to be the defensive coordinator, and even if Townsend and another coach had to split the duties, their pay increase would still probably not equal the money Collins made in 2014. That should leave some money left over for a new position coach without touching any new revenue streams for Mullen's extension.
Finally, Townsend might just be nothing more than a one-game stop gap at this time. Notice that the Bulldogs did not mention Townsend as an "interim defensive coordinator" or anything of the sort, at least to my knowledge, even though he is fulfilling many of those duties. Perhaps this is because it could be seen as insulting to him should a new coach come in for the position, or perhaps because it could create a bit of a quagmire should the Bulldogs want someone else, but a Townsend-led defense turns in a spectacular showing against Georgia Tech.
No matter how it goes, this will make for one of the exciting stories within a story to watch when the Bulldogs face off with Georgia Tech Wednesday night.
For more coverage on the decision to have Townsend call plays in the Orange Bowl: