I’m supposed to write an around the SEC armchair quarterback post at this time every Monday. In that post, I do my SEC Power Rankings. That’s always been a fun piece to write until this season. Now, I have to figure out if the Mississippi St. Bulldogs are better than South Carolina or Missouri. At this point, I’d have to say even Vanderbilt is better than State.
So I don’t want to write that any more. Maybe next season it will be more fun, but I’m done with it for now. With that in mind, I decided to go in a different direction. There is so much talk among fans about making a coaching change, I think we need to look at what the case is for keeping Dan Mullen and firing Dan Mullen.
Why Mullen should not be fired
He’s earned the right to fix this mess.
This is the most obvious reason Mullen should keep his job. The Bulldogs have experienced unprecedented success with Mullen at the helm, and if a program like Mississippi State’s can achieve six straight winning seasons and bowl appearances, then the coach who accomplished such a feat should have an opportunity to find his way out of the hole.
This year’s recruiting class could be his best ever.
The 2017 recruiting class for the Mississippi St. Bulldogs currently sits 20th in the country. If it were to stay there, it would be the second highest rated class Dan Mullen has signed. But Mullen and his staff aren’t done getting prospects.
Earlier this morning, 4 star outside linebacker from Starkville High Willie Gay, announced he was decommitting from Ole Miss.
There are some who believe this is a result of his visit to Michigan and he will be headed to Ann Arbor. But if you go by 247 Sports crystal ball projections, the coveted prospect could very well be headed to Starkville.
This would be a big get for Mullen and his staff, especially after A.J. Brown was plucked out of Starkville in 2016 by Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels. Gay hasn’t committed anywhere yet, and there is still plenty of time for Ole Miss to get back in the game. But with the other prospects the Bulldogs are likely to get along with the possibility of signing Gay could make this Mullen’s best class since he was the head coach. You can just about guarantee the class falls apart if Mullen is terminated.
There’s a window of opportunity to crush Ole Miss
This one is related to the previous reason. Ole Miss is going to go before the Committee on Infractions at some point and get their punishment for the Notice of Allegations they received in January. Speculating on what the NCAA will actually do is almost impossible because there is never any consistency on how they punish similar cases. But I feel almost certain they will add at least something to the self imposed sanctions Ole Miss already announced or this case would have been wrapped up by now.
But the looming threat of NCAA sanctions is hurting this recruiting class for the Rebels (or the bag men have been told to stand down with the NCAA’s looming hammer out there, I’ll let you decide what you want to believe). Currently, the Rebels sit 43rd in the country in recruiting after losing Willie Gay’s commitment. If Ole Miss gets hit hard with sanctions, it would allow Mississippi State to basically eliminate Ole Miss as a threat in the state. They could land almost all of the top prospects and give them a chance to send Ole Miss back to their Houston Nutt and Ed Orgeron days and have a chance to compete once again in the SEC West.
Fire Mullen, and all of that is gone. Ole Miss likely heads to the cellar any way, but the Bulldogs will go right there with them if they choose to can Mullen.
The Bulldogs will have a host of Blue Bloods to compete with for coaching prospects.
If Mississippi State were to pull the trigger and jettison Dan Mullen at the end of this season, finding a quality candidate will be difficult. LSU, Texas, Notre Dame, and USC could all have coaching vacancies. And if they do, they’ll be the first to hire the best coaching candidates.
I don’t think all of them will make changes, but I would anticipate at least two of them doing so, and more likely three. Then the Bulldogs have to start competing for another tier of coaching candidates. There will be similar programs like Baylor and possibly Arizona which will be going for that same tier. Asking a brand new AD to hire a candidate with the amount of competition he will have to get a coach is a tall task.
Why Mullen should be fired
The fans have “stopped believing”.
The Bulldogs will have their first home game this weekend since the Auburn debacle. That debacle was followed up by a disappointing loss to BYU and the first ever loss to Kentucky with Mullen coaching. Davis Wade Stadium might not be half full this weekend.
Part of that will be the opponent. Even if it is Homecoming, fans don’t want to spend lots of money to come see the team play Samford. They really don’t want to go see them play Samford when the team is playing as bad as they have in eight seasons.
The games against Texas A&M and Arkansas might be better attended, but attendance will be down. Going to games is an expensive undertaking. If you have to get a hotel, pay for food, and buy anything else at the game, the expenses for doing so before you even buy a ticket can be anywhere from $500 to $1,500. That’s a lot of dough to shell out to watch the Bulldogs lose and possibly get clobbered the last two games of the season.
This is not a one year fix.
One of the biggest problems, but certainly not the only problem, is the Bulldogs inability to recruit at elite levels like the rest of the SEC West has finally caught up to them. Even if this year’s recruiting class ends up being the best Mullen has ever had, it won’t be able to make up for all of the years of subpar recruiting.
The team will likely be better in 2017 by default. The under-performing seniors will be gone, and the young players who lack experience will finally have it. But will it be so much better that the Bulldogs make a major improvement from this year to next, it seems doubtful.
Dak Prescott delayed the inevitable
One of the criticisms of Dak Prescott as he entered the NFL was he didn’t play well against the best defenses like Alabama and Ole Miss. After watching what he has done with the Dallas Cowboys, it’s become apparent Prescott elevated the play of the rest of the team. The 19 games the teams won with Prescott leading the way in 2014 and 2015 most likely would have been far less had Dak not been on the team.
Obviously, Dan Mullen deserves credit for getting Prescott on the team and developing him to what Dak has become. But once in a generation quarterbacks only come around so often. If getting this team to compete at the highest levels requires a player of that caliber, we might not be able to find one.
So what’s the verdict?
This is the scariest part of the situation. Both keeping Mullen and firing Mullen come with extremely high risks and only small chances of reaping a decent reward.
If Mullen is fired, the Bulldogs are going to be most likely stuck with choosing between coaching candidates who are all considered diamonds in the rough. It would be a similar situation they were in when Rick Ray was hired. Whoever they hired would have the odds stacked against them in succeeding, and the chances the program gets throttled back to the point where it was during the Croom and pre-Sherrill eras goes way up.
If Mullen is kept on, the risk is fan apathy gets worse with no real hope for a rebound until 2018 at the earliest. 2017 will feature all of the “winnable” SEC games on the road, and the virtual locks for losses at home to Alabama and LSU. Though the team would have more experience, it likely doesn’t mean any more games end up in the win column.
At this point, Mississippi State is left with a decision that’s the equivalent of picking their poison when it comes to keeping Dan Mullen. Either one we pick likely ends up with less than favorable results. Whichever posion you choose, you just hope you’ve found some way to build up some immunity to it in the past.