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July 21, 2010

Dan Mullen


THE MODERATOR: We are ready to continue with our second coach of the day, Mississippi State's Dan Mullen. If you could give us some thoughts on the upcoming season, then we'll take some questions.
COACH DAN MULLEN: Thanks. For the next 10 seconds, it's legal to ring or cow bell, but we're going into a cow bell dead zone after that. So go, 10 seconds (laughter).
Neat to be back up here at this day. It really kicks off the season. I know for our coaching staff, I know for me, some of our players, if they weren't ready to get going this season, you come out here today, you see attention the Southeastern Conference gets, you know it's football time.
We're excited about this upcoming season with our players. Had a great off-season. I think when you finish the season how we did last year, with a huge win over your rival, it catapults you into that next year.
Our guys came back in January ready to start their off-season program. They were hungry, ready to go. They finished on a win. They were excited to get back out on the field, led them on through that, getting them to spring practice.
Second year in spring practice, our guys knew what to expect from our coaching staff. They knew the demands of our coaching staff. They knew what we wanted from them. They weren't surprised by anything out there on the field. They knew what was coming.
This summer, I hope we're having a great summer training. Coming into two-a-days, you're going to see a lot, with a lot more confidence because they know what two-a-days are all about, the effort we're going to demand of our players.
You're going to see us play next year with the same team, same relentless effort, same passion we had for football last year, and hopefully a team with a lot more confidence coming into this year. They're not just going to play hard and battle teams for four quarters, they're going to find a way to win games and get us to championship level this season.

Q. You came from the SEC East. How would you evaluate a couple teams in the east?
COACH DAN MULLEN: The SEC is the toughest conference in college football. When you have that, you look at the schedule that we play, we cross over this year. We're playing Kentucky, Florida, and Georgia. You're playing those teams on our side of the league, when you go through the schedule, playing Arkansas, whose people are expecting to have a huge year. LSU is always one of the most talented teams in the country. Auburn, ton of talent. Alabama, defending national championship.
The depth of the league from top to bottom is what makes it the toughest league in all of college football. I know there's teams, they have circled games in other conferences, this is the premiere game in the conference for this season. That's almost every single week in our conference. If you don't bring your A game, you're not going to have a chance to win no matter who you are in this league. You have got to play at a high level of football every single week.

Q. You mentioned getting to the championship level. Given the success you had in the first year, how much of a step forward or progress you made in that initial year going into year two?
COACH DAN MULLEN: I think a huge step forward. I think the way we finished the year off, our guys believe they can compete. Let's put it this way: our guys believe, how we played last year, they can compete with any team in the league. How we finished the year off, I believe they now believe they can beat any team in this league.
What we have to do is have that mental toughness, bring that focus, and we bring that drive every single week, and find a way to win those games.
Our goal this season, as it will be every year that I'm head coach, is to find a way to win the SEC West. That is all we can control. If we're fortunate enough to get one game in December, we'll worry about winning a championship at that point. But our championship right now is finding a way to be the top team in the SEC West come the end of November.

Q. Could you talk about how much farther ahead you feel like you are now after being there for a full year and a full season? Talk about your quarterback a little bit, as well.
COACH DAN MULLEN: Obviously in year two, we know our players a lot better. Our players know us, our coaches, our system, our routine a lot better. You are way further ahead. This time last year, I never had the opportunity to see any of our guys play live in a football game, how their reactions are going to be when the lights come on on Saturday, how you're going to perform. Now we know how those guys are going to be.
The Chris Relf part of it, Chris is a completely different player than he was last year. Chris Relf went home -- I think had some success in the last game of the season, went home over the Christmas break, his approach and demeanor in January completely different than it was last off-season. His approach to developing his quarterback fundamentals, what it takes to be a quarterback, has completely changed in his preparation going in through spring practice, and hopefully this summer, what he's told me he's been doing all summer long.
You're dealing with a completely different player. A lot of our players are that way. They know the commitment it's going to take for them to be great and to play at the level they need to play at for us to be on a championship level, That is the critical thing.
They have a much better understanding of that this season than they had last season.

Q. You were just talking about in the future being fortunate enough playing in December in Atlanta. What is your timetable on that? How soon can you get Mississippi State in Atlanta?
COACH DAN MULLEN: Our plan is this December. I'll be honest, I don't look at our schedule and say, We're going to lose that game. When you look at your schedule, the teams you have to play, you play to win, and you play to plan on winning. I don't show up on Sunday and say, We're not going to win this one, so let's worry about another one.
Or, I guess, Guys, take it off this week, there's no chance of us winning, we don't have to go to work.
We're going to try to find a way to win every single game we play. If we do that, we're going to find ourselves in Atlanta.

Q. You talked about you know the players better this year; they know what you expect. How are you a better head coach than you were a year ago?
COACH DAN MULLEN: You know, I know a lot more of what to expect from me. I think you go into it, you have an idea what's coming at you when you become a head coach. I think as an assistant I worked for a guy that did a great job of teaching you those things, trying to develop you to become a head coach. Until you're in that role, until you're doing the job, you can't prepare for it.
I think this year coming into this second season, from everything, whether it be coming here today, dealing with academic issues, dealing with players' personal issues, recruiting as a head coach, practice schedules, organization, alumni events, how I'm dealing with my weekly schedule during the season, how I'm coaching as the head coach on the field, not a position coach or coordinator, I think all of those things, I'm much more comfortable.
I know I've been through it now. I know what to expect already. It's not going to be the first time me doing every one of those things. I'm in a position and I'm improving as a head coach and making better decisions, better judgments, handling all of those situations better than I did last season.

Q. Can you give one example of being on the sideline?
COACH DAN MULLEN: Yeah, there's a lot of different things. The head coach, you're out there, when to challenge calls for instant replay would be one. Another huge one is the special teams organization. You're out there on the field making sure the special teams are ready and the special teams calls going into the game, whether it's our punt team after helping the offense on third down. I mean, you're clicking over there.
The defense is trying to ask me a question and I'm talking to the offensive coaches. So someone is yelling at me, You got to click over to go talk to the defense. All those different things that go on during game day, game management skills, you just are different. The game is very different if you're a position coach, what you're worried about. The game is different and responsibilities you're thinking about as a coordinator. Again, there's a whole different list of things you're doing on game day as a head coach that you haven't done in the past.

Q. In the last few years, do you think coaches have become more savvy about using social media like Facebook and Twitter to their advantage? Is there anybody on your staff that is the go-to guy for tech or web issues?
COACH DAN MULLEN: Right now we have a younger staff a little bit. We have some young guys, some older guys. I think the young guys are much more comfortable in using those things. I'm comfortable in using it.
I think they serve a lot of good purposes for coaches. When you look at Twitter and Facebook, the fan pages, it's a great way for us to communicate with a large number of our fans. We have a huge fan base. Hopefully to grow our fan base, it's a great way for us to communicate with them.
For the coaching side of things, you're using it hopefully to our recruiting advantage of finding a way to form relationships with these young recruits. We're responsible for all of their actions, responsible for recruiting them. But sometimes it's really hard to communicate with them. It's another way for us to communicate through Facebook with them.
I'll also say this. It's another great way, as many of you know in the media, because you check up on it all the time, you can learn a lot about a person when you get on their Facebook page. If I can get on a recruit's Facebook page, see what type of things they're writing. I can tell you this. We certainly have crossed a recruit off our board because of the different things I've seen them post on Facebook. Maybe that's not the type of character player, the type of person we're looking for, what they're doing in their social life, what we're looking for in our program.

Q. Are you happy with the excitement that's starts to build around the program as far as the fans and students? You have a big Jumbotron, loud music, creating a loud place for people to play each Saturday.
COACH DAN MULLEN: We've tried to create a game-day atmosphere and make it an event. Game days in Starkville are an event, whether you're out in the parking lot, the game's on the Jumbotron, the festivities that are going on outside the stadium. Being in Starkville on a Saturday in the fall is an event.
I'm really pleased. Our fan base, obviously year one as a new head coach, you're creating a lot of excitement as a new head coach. You come in and ask them to come to the spring game. We set a spring game record. Asked them to buy the season tickets, and we set the season ticket record.
Our fans have obviously bought into the program we're trying to build, because we come out this spring, I was worried we wouldn't have anybody show up at the spring game. It's year two, it's different. They shattered the record again. They have really bought into the program, what we're trying to build.
We have the opportunity right now to beat our season ticket record that we shattered last year, to do that again. We're coming off a 5-7 season, not a national championship season last year. But our fans have really bought into our program and the future that they see that we have to build a championship program.

Q. You talked earlier about finding ways to win ballgames this year. Losing Anthony Dixon who had such a great season last year, people might look at your offensive roster and see a lot of individually talented players. Curious as to what the identity of the offense might be.
COACH DAN MULLEN: Yeah, you know, I mean, when you lose an Anthony Dixon, you're not going to replace a player like that. We're not trying to replace him with one player saying, You're filling his shoes. He has so many school records. That's a bad approach to take.
We're taking our team, you build around the strengths. Players that we have on this year's team that will create this year's identity.
What I see from that identity is a balanced attack across the board where we have some young talented receivers. We have a little bit of depth at quarterback. We might play more than one quarterback. Instead of one tailback carrying the bulk of the load, we might disperse the ball amongst several tailbacks. We have some tight ends that have developed in the offense.
I think what it has done is instead of maybe focusing on we're putting the focus on Anthony Dixon carrying us, having a huge game, running the football for us, we have the ability to spread the ball around. And hopefully at the end of the game, you look at the stat sheet, 12 different guys have touched the ball in the course of the game.
Those guys practice hard. They want the ball in their hand, get the ball in a lot of different people's hands, it will make us a harder offense to stop.

Q. You're one of the leading practitioners in the SEC of the spread offense. Coach Saban referred to it being both difficult to defend, but also it had drawbacks when it comes to preparing people for the NFL. How do you counter those when you were recruiting? How do you keep that offense evolving?
COACH DAN MULLEN: I'm not going to knock him. I don't know his personal record. I've coached the spread offense and I have a lot of more first-round quarterbacks drafted than he has in his career as a head coach. Develop them for the NFL, I don't know. In the last six years, I've had two of mine get drafted in the first round.
I think it does develop those players pretty well to get there. Amazing, one was a five star recruit and one was a one star recruit. When you develop players as a coach, you develop players. One came to me, I guess, somebody in here probably rated him a five star, a superstar player. Somebody rated him as a one star. When I got him, I must have done a great job of coaching him to be a first pick in the draft.
I think that's very overrated for that. I coached the NFL Rookie-of-the-Year, I think, last year, too, was in the spread offense, Percy Harvin. So I don't know. I guess statistically a lot of coaches like to say that. But factually, if you check the facts, I think the spread offense is developing the players for the NFL at a little higher rate than other offenses.

Q. Can I get your thoughts on the NCAA's proposal to restrict a scholarship to recruit until these a junior in high school? Do you think that can be policed in any way, shape, or form?
COACH DAN MULLEN: Yeah, I'm fine with that, with the rule. I guess they're trying to avoid getting, like, basketball, where you read that somebody in the eighth grade got a scholarship offer. That's hard to do in football, because there's so much development of young people, the physical development of these young kids, how they go through it throughout their years.
How you can police it, I guess it's pretty easy. If a kid gets a letter saying he got a scholarship offer, you're in violation. Or if kid claims they have offers...
If the law passes, the first day you're allowed to offer a kid, all those kids are going to get offers that day. You're just going to try to recruit 'em and get to know 'em before that point.

Q. I know you feel like you're very well-prepared to become a head coach by Urban Meyer. Can you talk about what happened when you became a head coach? Is there anything overwhelming that no matter how much preparation you can have, it catches you by surprise?
COACH DAN MULLEN: You know what, I don't know if there's anything that's overwhelming when you do it. What's compounded is maybe having to deal with all the different player issues. When you're a position coach, you're dealing with the issues of your players. When you're the head coach, you're dealing with the issues of the entire team, that responsibility that you feel, when I go to sleep at night.
I'm responsible to 85 parents, their sons, that you're responsible for them. They've put them in your hands sending them off to college.
I know as a parent right now, you see your son out there doing something, you want to be a good parent. You hope that you do a good job of keeping your son safe. I've promised these parents that I'm going to look after their sons while they're in our football program. Maybe that is the one thing that is overwhelming, that feeling of obligations for all 85 of your children. You go to bed at night, a lot of people go to bed at night saying, I hope my son is safe. I go to bed, I have 85 of them that are not at home that I hope are out there safe.

Q. There's been some talk about expanding the stadium. I know it's one of the smaller stadiums in the conference. How does that affect your efforts to build a program, the recruiting trail? How much of an advantage would it be to have a bigger stadium?
COACH DAN MULLEN: The biggest part is making sure we have fans to put in that expanded stadium. As we continue, hopefully, we sell out our season tickets, create a demand for more seating at our stadium. As we do that and continue to grow within our program, it shows a lot of our local players that they don't have to leave to go somewhere to play big-time football. They have that big-time atmosphere right there in their backyard. Their parents can come watch them play. Everyone in their hometown can see them every single week.
That would be something for us. Hope our fan base jumps onboard. We start selling out season tickets where you can't get a season ticket for a Mississippi State game, there's a waiting list, then we can expand our stadium, build a bigger stadium so we can seat all those people.

Q. Starting more than one quarterback, can you go into the competition between Chris Relf and Tyler Russell?
COACH DAN MULLEN: Those guys, I mean, none of then is an incumbent starting coming back, not that that would prevent them from having to compete for their job. With the job being wide open, there's so many practices. They're two young guys that are still developing. There's a lot of developmental time between now and when we play our first game. During that time, we need to see if somebody separates themselves from the other three.
We talked about two, Dylan Favre coming in, as a guy, led his team to a state championship last year, won the state championship for his team, is a great competitor, a great winner. Those are the traits we look for in a quarterback.
So as those guys go and develop, if we -- we come out of training camp and we feel there's two guys that have earned the right to get on the field and play, then we'll rotate them. We also have guys that don't have a lot of experience in the SEC playing quarterback for us right now.
Say Chris is our starter. If Chris goes down, Tyler Russell better be ready to play. It's my job to make sure he has the experience and ability to go out and play quarterback for our team and make sure that he's there for us to win games. He can't always do that standing on the sidelines.
By him getting on the field, if we play two quarterbacks, whether it be Tyler, Chris, Chris, and Dylan, whoever it is in a combination, it's giving experience to a younger guy for him to be able to take the reins.

Q. Were you surprised after the end of your first year how much more physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted or tired you were compared to when you were an assistant? Does the thought of that, going through that every year for 10, 15 years, make you think how long you would want to be a head coach?
COACH DAN MULLEN: In the first year, there's still so much excitement coming off the win, I'm really excited going into this season. I don't think I'll be up here like Joe Paterno. My wife I don't think would allow that. But, you know, which really shows you the stress we go through, the amazement of guys like Coach Paterno and Coach Bowden, what they were capable of doing is just amazing.
But you know what, I never thought of it that way. I'm excited to be the head football coach. I get up every day. I'm excited to go to work every single day. I feel very fortunate because I think there are probably a lot of people around the world that get up and go to work and aren't excited about their job and what they're doing. They don't get to have that same experience I do, waking up in the morning, can't wait to get around our players and coach our team. Hopefully I get the opportunity to be a head coach for a long time.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DAN MULLEN: I didn't know if it was much more exhausting. Our assistant coaches put in a tremendous amount of work. It is a little bit more mentally draining maybe with just everything that you're dealing with on a regular basis.
But I'm ready to attack it. I can't wait to get this season going. Hopefully the problem with being a head coach, I guess, is it's not the greatest job security in the world these days. Hopefully Mississippi State wants me around 10, 15, 20 years, like you said, to come.

Q. You talked about how Chris is a completely different player than he was a year ago. Can you elaborate in what ways he's different, how that is impacting the quarterback situation.
COACH DAN MULLEN: Yeah, I mean, the first thing I guess as a quarterback, very different. He's worked a lot on his fundamentals in throwing the football. Really worked hard at doing that. He also worked hard at the approach of coming in and trying to spend extra time, come talk to the coaches, sit in on meetings, watch extra film, studying the game. I think when I got there, Chris just thought, I show up when the meetings start, I go to practice, I play football, then I go home, doing all the little extra things.
But also through the off-season, the last off-season, we had to push Chris through the off-season. Your quarterback position shouldn't be the one that you're having to push as a coach. Your quarterback position should be the one that's pushing everybody else on the team. I can tell you this, I couldn't tell you one time this off-season where I had to look at Chris Relf and say, You need to pick it up. He was the one that was winning a lot of the sprints. He's the one that's pushing for extra reps and everything that he did. He's getting that demeanor that he has to be better than the other guys on the team if he's going to be a leader.

Q. How surprised, disappointed were you that Coach Torbush left after the first year? How much did he offer you with his veteran coaching experience?
COACH DAN MULLEN: It was good. Carl did a great job for us. One of the main reasons that I went out in hiring a staff was to get someone that had former head coaching experience that I could turn to and rely on those different things. He did a great job for us. Did a great job for me, in helping me do those things last year. Also being year two, I had a completely different approach in hiring a defensive coordinator in what I was looking for in that coach.
You know what, I was surprised. But, you know, it was something that he and I spoke about at great lengths. It was a decision, the opportunity of somebody -- he had known Turner for a while. He talked that he would love to be on his staff one day if that opportunity arose. That opportunity arose. He felt even though we're building great things, it was something that he couldn't pass up.

Q. There's three new head coaches in the league. They all have SEC backgrounds. How much do you think that helps those guys? How important is it when you become a head coach to have some SEC experience on the field and recruiting, too?
COACH DAN MULLEN: It's good. I'm not the new guy anymore, I guess.
But I tell you what. There is something to the SEC football and game day Saturdays, the atmosphere that you go in, this event here. You see the attention that it gets, the importance of SEC football to people in the south. Having that background, that doesn't overwhelm you. I remember my first year as an assistant at Florida, it was a little overwhelming. I mean, you're looking at it saying, Wow. Look at the passion of these fans. Look at these game day atmosphere, how crazy this is, the intensity in recruiting battling. Almost every team finishes in the top 40 nationally in recruiting in our league. You're going to be in a recruiting battle with everybody on a daily basis.
So having that background stepping in as a head coach, none of that part of the game, that part of the job, was overwhelming to me. You knew what to expect from the SEC game days, events like this, recruiting, just what surrounds SEC football.
I think that is going to help all of those guys a lot because none of that becomes an overwhelming factor for them.

Q. Talk a little bit about your secondary. You have a lot of young talent back there. Also with the new defensive coordinator, attacking style.
COACH DAN MULLEN: The great thing is some of those guys have played. The fact they've been in games now, when we bring in new guys, it adds depth to our secondary. We have a lot more depth there than we did last year at that position. We have more depth there and we have more experience there than we had this time last year, and we're still really young. So that's good for the future for us.
But, you know, those guys, we are excited. Charles Mitchell is here with us as the leader of that whole secondary. You give me 11 Charles Mitchells on defense, we're going to have the number one defense in the country. His approach to the game as a person that he is, the student that he is, you know, how he works in the off-season. We have our champions club where we have guys that are champions in different quarters. He's been a champion every single quarter since I've been in the head coach. He hasn't missed one. Just does everything the right way that you ask him to do.
So with that guy, he's still young, he's the leader of that group. They rally around him. We have some young talent there that hopefully we see them play at a much higher level this year than they played last year.

Q. You mentioned Dylan Favre in addition to Tyler and Chris, him being a first-year college student and player, what role do you have for him?
COACH DAN MULLEN: We'll see when the season starts. I want to see him on the field. To tell you about Dylan, he's a young guy that came to our football camp. I watched him on high school film. I don't know about this guy. His team comes to a seven-on-seven per passing tournament. He's only 5'10". I meet him in the passing tournament. His team goes to the finals of the seven-on-seven passing tournament. I'm trying to think in my mind, how can we not take this guy to play quarterback for us. Maybe there has to be a bigger, better, faster, stronger quarterback out there for us to recruit. He goes through the season. You know, I'll share this one with you. This is Dylan Favre demeanor. We play LSU. We lose a very close game. I pick up my phone. There's a text message on my phone from Dylan Favre. If I was your quarterback, I would have scored on that play.
He has that swagger, that 'it' factor that you want in a quarterback. He carries his team to a state championship game and dominates the game on both sides of the ball. Then I get a call, he's over in an All-Star Game. He completes his first 15 passes of a game, which is hard to do with receivers you don't know. He just has that 'it' factor that he wins. Whatever he's going to do, he wins. That's what you're looking for in a quarterback and that's what we're excited to have on our team.

Q. It seems as though every first year coach in the SEC has growing pains and struggles, but the second year is usually when we see the most improvement. In terms of that, how do you feel like your team is progressing in terms of grasping the spread offense and the way you want them to play? Secondly, talk about the recruiting dynamic between Ole Miss and LSU, those schools in your area.
COACH DAN MULLEN: I mean, I hope to see a lot of improvement from year one to year two. Year one, if you look at different stages of learning, there's what to do, how to do it, then there's why we do it for our players on the field in the stages of learning that they go through. A lot of times in year one, a lot of your players are still grasping on the what to do. We're in year two. Hopefully, they know what to do.
The focus is how to do it and why we do it. That's why you see the great improvement on the field from the players. I know I got to run a slant. How am I running the slant to beat this player?
Then they're also running it because they know why we're calling that play in those situations. When you get that type of learning curve, the grasp of that from our players on the field, that's where you see great improvement.
They know what to do, so now a lot of their focus is how and why we're doing those things. So I hope to see a lot of improvement this year.
The recruiting dynamic, one thing that makes it tough is, I look, I could put a dot in Starkville, Mississippi, draw a five-hour radius around there. Really you could just recruit by car. You don't even need the kids flying around the country, doing all this stuff. Within that five-hour radius, we could have a national championship football team.
Unfortunately, within that radius, I guess for us, there's the school up north, there's LSU, there's Alabama, there's Auburn, there's Tennessee. They're on the edge in Knoxville. But when you look at all of those schools, these great schools with great football tradition in that area, that's what makes the south the most competitive recruiting area in the nation.

Q. You touched earlier on the coaches you've added to your defensive staff. Can you talk about what Coach Diaz and Wilson have added to the staff, the different mindset, how you hope their influence is going to change the defense this year.
COACH DAN MULLEN: Well, both of 'em come from, really in the last year or so, teams, defense that we've had to play. There's no better interview to me than having to play somebody. We played Manny at Middle Tennessee State last year. Very challenging team to prepare for. The year before in a national championship game, had to play Chris, that defense, when they were at Oklahoma.
The style they bring, very, very high-energy coaches, very intelligent coaches out there on the field. I was really pleased with their demeanor on the field. That's the one thing you don't always get to see in a job interview, is what the demeanor of a coach is going to be on the field. What type of teacher, what is their interaction with the players going to be. Very pleased with the things they've done with that.
More than that, what I really like is their ability. They're not afraid to think outside the box. They're not afraid to try something new or something different. You know, a lot of times that leads to causing issues for offenses, very much like -- like offensively, I don't think we're afraid to think outside the box. We're going to be willing to try different things and be innovative if we can be on offense. Manny and Chris take that same approach to defensive football, they're not afraid to be innovative.
I'm really excited about the future. I think we have tremendous staff chemistry. They've been great additions to our staff. We're expecting a lot out of our defense this season.

Q. That school up north, I'm assuming you're talking about Ole Miss, talk about them going toe-to-toe in the recruiting wars in the state of Mississippi, because we all know there's a lot of talent in that state.
COACH DAN MULLEN: That's a tough battle. You're always going to be in those tough recruiting battles, especially with in-state schools. Every school and every state, when you're sharing the same recruiting base, you're always going to be in those tough battles.
One of the big things for us and our staff is we have to get the best players in Mississippi to come play for us. If we do that, we're going to have a chance to be a consistent championship team. If we can get the best players in Mississippi to come play for us, that's always going to be a tough battle.
I imagine it's going to be a tough battle this year. It was a tough battle last year. I imagine 10 years from now it's still going to be a tough recruiting battle between the two schools.

Q. Why do you call Ole Miss the school from the north?
COACH DAN MULLEN: Because they're located north of us.

Q. Is that Jackie Sherrill, what he used to say, or something you use to tweak Ole Miss with, add a little fire to it?
COACH DAN MULLEN: Just adds to our rivalry, to our kids, that they understand the importance of that game, to our fan base, that they understand the importance of that game. It means an awful lot to the people in the state of Mississippi. I can promise you this. I have got a lot of thanks from people in the state of Mississippi for winning that football game last year, the pride they get to carry with themselves for the next 12 months. That is a tremendous thing for people all around the state. It's an important thing for us to stress to our players, our coaching staff, our administration, that that is a very, very important game to the Mississippi State fan base and all of our alums and Bulldogs everywhere.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.

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