With Ole Miss claiming the 2015 Egg Bowl to keep the trophy in Oxford for the second year in a row and the third time in four seasons, Dan Mullen has some work to do to win back the Mississippi State fan base.
Long gone are the days from 2009 to 2011 when Mullen defeated "the school up north" as he would say, three outings in a row. Hugh Freeze has won three Egg Bowls in four seasons since taking over the program in 2012. The momentum in the rivalry is all red and blue, even with MSU just one year removed from a 10-3 campaign.
Mullen has won eight or more regular season games four times since he's been the head coach at MSU. This will be the sixth year in a row he'll have his team in a bowl game (a school record). In 2014 his team spent five weeks as the No. 1 team in college football and finished the season with an Orange Bowl berth. But somehow here we are today, after three out of four Egg Bowl losses, and a large portion of MSU fans either want Mullen gone or don't care if he's hired away.
How did it get to this point? Mullen did it to himself. He came in seven years ago and convinced the fans his number one priority was beating the school up north. He took jab after jab at Ole Miss, put a countdown clock in the locker room, and convinced everyone the program was on the rise as long as he won that ever so important game at the end of every November.
If you don't think that's true, look at how the program was viewed at the end of 2011 and compare it to now. That team went 7-6 after huge expectations following a 9-4 record the previous year. But they throttled Ole Miss by 28 points in the Egg Bowl, the third victory in a row over the Rebels and one that had MSU fans in the clouds. The "our state" chants and billboards soon followed. Mullen was the man, and you couldn't convince any of us otherwise.
That much confidence after a season that saw MSU squeak by to earn bowl eligibility. But now after 10-2 and 8-4 regular seasons, half the fans are telling the guy not to let the door hit him on the way out. That's how much the Egg Bowl means to the university and to the psyche of the fans. Fair or unfair, that's how Mullen will be judged. If he loses that game, the season was a failure unless it still resulted in a championship. And again I want to stress, he has nobody to blame but himself for those expectations.
It's not just that he's lost the Egg so often as of late, it's the manner in which it happened. Ole Miss dominated MSU in every facet of the game in 2012, 2014, and 2015. The Rebels have been more mentally prepared, tougher in the trenches, and simply wanted it more. Freeze has also taken Mullen to the woodshed as far as in-game coaching.
It looks as if Mullen may never be able to recover. Freeze has more quality wins, is recruiting at a much higher level, and most importantly has Ole Miss more nationally relevant. With that being said, there is still light at the end of the tunnel for Mullen. And no, that's not leaving Starkville for another job. It's staying right where he is and continuing to build on what he started.
Does he need to start recruiting at a level closer to that of the other SEC West coaches? Absolutely. Does he need to reevaluate his offensive scheme and creativity? Absolutely. He even needs to take a close look at the performance of his assistant coaches -- both on the field and in recruiting -- and put friendships aside to make changes where they are warranted.
Dan Mullen will be just fine. The prisoner of the moment mentality has taken over many MSU fans. Competing for championships is still a long way off, but there's no doubt Mullen has the program much better off than how he found it. So much perception hinges on that one game, and if State wins last Saturday, the narrative is much different. They would have finished ahead of Ole Miss in the SEC six years in a row and all would be well.
I'm not telling you to be satisfied with mediocrity or not to expect more out of Dan Mullen, but I'm telling you to look at the big picture and stop calling for a coach to be fired over one game. If he had won it this year then MSU is 9-3 and Mullen is the greatest coach in the world. Instead he lost and many want him out. That's the difference of one game and that's crazy.
Like I said, it's not your fault because he's the one who decided to make the Egg Bowl so significant, even more than it already was. But Mullen will be just fine and you shouldn't want him out as head coach. He does need to tweak some things within the program, but right now his name and hot seat shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence. The grass isn't always greener on the other side.