It is the year 2008.
Mississippi State had just been absolutely destroyed in the Egg Bowl, and the football program was struggling. Athletic director Greg Byrne was faced with an incredibly tough choice: Do you give Sylvester Croom another chance?
After all, Croom was a player’s coach. He did have a commitment from Josh Riddell, the third-ranked pro-style QB in the nation. He also had one of the best recruiting classes in program history, ranking 34th. A decision was made, but it was not from Byrne. Croom announced that he would resign as head coach, and it forever changed the sports world. Here is how Croom and his successor, Dan Mullen, could have flipped the sports world upside down:
Dan Mullen takes over a blue blood program:
Dan Mullen was much regarded as one of the top young minds in all of football in 2008. If Mississippi State does not come calling, maybe Dan Mullen takes one of the openings at Tennessee, Auburn, Washington, Oregon, or Clemson. Being a top-tier head coach sets any of those schools up for substantial success long term and effects the careers of Lane Kiffin, Dabo Swinney, and Chip Kelly. Maybe all of these teams pass on Mullen in 2008, but, surely, he does not get passed on in 2009. With USC, Notre Dame, Florida State and Louisville all in search of an up-and-coming coach in 2009, Dan Mullen most definitely would have been hired at one of these jobs. This changes the college football landscape completely and effects the likes of Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher getting hired at Notre Dame and Florida State, both of which competed for a title in the decade.
Maybe, Mullen jumps to a smaller job that is open like Kansas State or something in the Group of 5... or maybe he stays put again. If he stays put again, there is an incredible opportunity that Mullen gets the Florida job seven years sooner. After Urban Meyer took a leave of absence from the program towards the end of 2009, he followed it up with a 7-5 season and then retirement. Instead of the program taking the deep dive that would follow, Mullen could have kept Florida stable and a contender for most of the decade,
Mississippi State fires Croom a year later and hires Oklahoma’s Brent Venables, ECU’s Skip Holtz, or TCU’s Gary Patterson:
There were four names that were reported by Pat Forde in the 2008 coaching search that likely would have been candidates again in 2009: Gary Patterson, Brent Venables, Dan Mullen, and Skip Holtz. It is possible that Dan Mullen takes the same job a year later, but in the spirit of imagination, let’s say he doesn’t. How does Mississippi State head coach Gary Patterson sound? Skip Holtz or Brent Venables is more likely hired as coach, but any of the three could have been successful or massive fails. The thing is... we will never know. This also could have gone on to effect TCU, Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma, and even the Clemson Tigers. TCU loses the most successful coach in program history if he is hired and Oklahoma/Clemson loses a crucial member of a national champion winning coaching staff.
Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay, Dak Prescott, and Nick Fitzgerald, among others, probably don’t play at Mississippi State:
Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks were not heavily recruited by Mississippi State until Dan Mullen took over. Actually, both recruits did not even visit Mississippi State until January of 2009. These were obviously huge recruits for Mullen, as Johnthan Banks went on to win the Thorpe Award in 2012, and Darius Slay is regarded as one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Mullen’s work with quarterbacks, along with his ability to recruit incredible gems, led Mississippi State to two of the SEC’s record holders. Dak Prescott committed to Mississippi State after Dan Mullen was the only coach who was going to let him play quarterback. Even Prescott has said that he was close to signing with Les Miles and LSU. If Prescott signs LSU, he most likely plays tight end in college. Similarly, Nick Fitzgerald was set to attend Middle Tennessee State before setting the SEC’s all-time rushing record. None of these players were likely to attend Mississippi State without the recruitment from Dan Mullen.
Dak Prescott goes to LSU:
Even Prescott will tell you that he almost went to LSU. If Dan Mullen does not promise Prescott that he will remain a quarterback, Prescott does not commit to Mississippi State. Dak Prescott likely plays tight end at LSU and does not go on to have an illustrious college career, at least at quarterback. Maybe, with all the quarterback struggles at LSU, Prescott does go to play quarterback. Does he find the same development without a QB guru like Mullen? If he does, is his offense enough to keep Les Miles’ job? Maybe the contend for a couple of national titles more under Miles, and maybe he is still the coach today. This would of course change a few people jobs, particularly Ed Orgeron, the USC job, and the Kansas job.
Without Dak Prescott, Mississippi State does not debut at #1 in the initial College Football Playoff Rankings:
This is another one of those obvious results. It really only ended up effecting history and Aflac Trivia questions in the end.
Without Dak Prescott, what happens to the Cowboys?
As Tony Romo struggled with injury and his ability on the field, Dak Prescott seized the reins of America’s Team and led them to the playoffs. His success has likely saved Jason Garrett’s job a time or two. Without Prescott, the Cowboy’s likely struggle and fire Jason Garrett, changing the landscape of the NFL.
The new coach likely doesn’t dominate Houston Nutt in back-to-back Egg Bowls, allowing him to keep his job. As a result, the Hugh Freeze sanctions never happen:
If Houston Nutt hangs on to his job for one more year, another team likely wins the Freeze lottery. Without Freeze, there are no Hotty Toddy escorts, thus no sanctions. Ole Miss is no longer banned from any bowls, and hires someone else. This also, likely, means that Ole Miss does not go to a debut at #4 in the College Football Rankings, win a Sugar Bowl, and whatever else.
Rich Rodriguez doesn't get embarrassed in the Gator Bowl in 2009 and remains the head coach at Michigan:
After Mississippi State dominated the Wolverines in the Gator Bowl in 2009, the Rich Rod era in Michigan came to an end. The disastrous Brady Hoke era began shortly after and Michigan looked to Jim Harbaugh to save the programs years later. Rich Rodriguez likely gets at least a year more with the bowl win. Even if he is fired a year later, Michigan could have looked to other candidates like Urban Meyer, Hugh Freeze, Justin Fuente, and Mike Leach who were all hired in 2011. Most coaches hired that year would have likely been more successful than Brady Hoke was in Michigan.
Greg Byrne isn’t regarded so highly after keeping a struggling coach and, in return, doesn’t get job at Arizona/Alabama:
After the football team finally found success at 9-4 in 2009, Greg Byrne was regarded as a top-tier AD in the nation for his hire of Dan Mullen. In result, Byrne announced a move to Arizona, where he makes a program defining decision. After playing in a small on-campus stadium, Byrne first major move at Arizona was to move to Arizona’s baseball team to an off-campus stadium. This move gives Arizona one of the best college baseball parks in the country, which was crucial to their 2012 CWS Championship run. After Sean Miller began to dominate college basketball in his first year as AD, Byrne made sure Miller would be there long term. Byrne signed Miller to extension twice, locking down one of college basketball’s top coaches. Without the hire of Dan Mullen, Byrne likely is not in position to make any of this happen.
Saban to Texas?:
Without his success at Arizona, Byrne is not named AD at Alabama. The important meaning if his hire: Byrne made Nick Saban the highest paid coach in CFB history in his first year as AD. If Nick Saban is not made the highest paid coach, does he leave for Texas in 2017? It is reported that is almost what happened. The highest paid head coach ever was just too much to turn down for Saban, and he remained at Alabama. This also goes on to effect Tom Herman, who likely would have taken the LSU job when the Texas job was filled. With Herman at LSU, Ed Orgeron does not become the head coach of the Tigers and Joe Burrow does not come to LSU either. Without their Heisman trophy winner, it would be hard to imagine LSU where they are now. This is considering that Les Miles remains head coach and Dak Prescott does not rewrite the record books for the Tigers.
So, you can thank Sylvester Croom and Dan Mullen. They did all this and maybe more. Sylvester Croom will always be a crucial part of history for being a pioneer for African-American coaches, but he also could have been a crucial piece to changing college football forever.