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July 17, 2013
KEVIN TRAINOR: We're joined by Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen.
COACH MULLEN: It's great to be back here again this year. This is the real kickoff for us as coaches of the college football season. It reminds you of the sense of urgency we have to have to get this season underway, kickoff's going to be right around the corner.
I'm very excited about this year coming back. What we've tried to do in building a program at Mississippi State is build consistency, build a team that can consistently win.
As you consistently win, at that point you're going to have the opportunity to go on and continue to take those next steps and go compete, which our ultimate goal is to find a way to get to Atlanta and compete for an SEC Championship. Every year, that is always number one goal, try to find a way to get to Atlanta in December.
Over the last couple of years, making it two out of the last three years going to New Year's Day bowl games. Three consecutive bowl games is not something that has been done very often in Starkville. I'm proud of our team, how they've embraced the program we're trying to build, how we're trying to build it.
If you look at this year's team, excited about the guys that are coming back, guys that worked hard to put themselves in a position to go continue building and pushing towards that SEC Championship.
We're going to have a young football team. Only 10 seniors on the roster. A lot of opportunities for young guys to step up, not just as play‑makers on the field, but young guys need to step into leadership roles for us this year. I think that's going to be a real defining factor of our season, how fast these young guys, not just step into the play‑making role, but step into leadership roles and take over for that big senior class that we had last year that walked out the door step into the door.
Obviously going to be a challenging opening schedule. It's great playing an opening kickoff game, playing a team like Oklahoma State, brings a lot more sense of urgency to training camp for our players and for the team as we get ready to go into the season.
I think that focus that they have when you enter camp, knowing what a big game it's going to be week one of the season really changes the demeanor of the team, not just in training camp, but over the summer as well.
It's great. I know we have some guys with us here today. One comforting factor for us, we're going to play in a big game early, having a fifth‑year senior quarterback like Tyler Russell, knows what is expected in big games, what is expected as a leader when he steps out on the field is certainly going to help us.
We're going to continue to build and go in the right direction and create a program I know our fans can be proud of, our student body can be proud of, alumni can be proud of, and everybody in the state of Mississippi can be proud of.
Other exciting things, facility‑wise, moved into a brand‑new facility, which is fantastic for us. We moved in there in January. We're working on stadium expansion right now. I think we're at 23 consecutive sell‑outs. So our fan base has bought into what we tried to build.
My fifth SEC Media Days, so four years ago talking about our fans, if we can sell out the stadium, create an exciting game‑day atmosphere, create great things, we can get a home‑field advantage, which is critical in this league. Last year we were 6‑1 at home. I think our fans have bought into that now with the stadium expansion going on, there's a lot of exciting things happening on our campus and there's going to be a lot more exciting things happening for us in the future.
I will open it up to all y'all's questions.
KEVIN TRAINOR: We'll take questions for Coach Mullen.
Q. In the previous couple of years you had closed well. You whipped Michigan and beat Wake in the bowl. Beaten Ole Miss. But last year you didn't close the season quite as well. Did that change some of the off‑season tempo, the tenor?
COACH MULLEN: I think it does. It changes the sense of urgency for some of the guys. They're guys that have been around our program for a while and are used to winning. In the disappointing way last season ended, there's two parts of it. A little stretch, we were 7‑0 at one point in the season, playing in some pretty important football games later in the season. That's the first time for guys in our program that they've been playing in those level of games that late in the season.
I do think possibly the first loss possibly affected some other games afterwards. I think that was a great learning point for the guys on our team of how to handle that adversity.
We're always talking, Look, we've won a bunch of national championships in this conference in a row and not everybody has done it undefeated. At some point you're going to have to handle the adversity. I think it was a great learning point for the guys on our team. And they took a lot out of it.
Obviously, it's a great thing to play on a New Year's Day bowl game. The tough part about it is you're usually playing a pretty good team. I think our guys were disappointed in their performance in the Gator Bowl. Northwestern played a heck of a game, give them credit. That led, especially to the young players that had been used to winning bowl games, finishing seasons on high notes, led them to have a greater sense of urgency going into this off‑season.
Q. Can you talk about Gabe Jackson and his decision to return for a senior year, the leadership he'll provide?
COACH MULLEN: I think it's huge for us. I think as young men, you look at some of the guys, Gabe this year, John Banks last year, other guys have approached their decision about staying in college, or taking that opportunity to go to the next level and play professionally.
Gabe, you look at what he's going to do. He's scheduled to graduate this December. He's walking out the door with his degree. I think he understands the things that he can continually work on. I think that maturity in a young man really helps in that decision.
When they can look at themselves, look at their future, not just a future of six months. I think we deal with 18‑ to 22‑year‑olds every day, their future is the next 15 minutes what's going to happen. When young men can look at what their future is, to finish and get a degree, the opportunity to come in and improve their skills, make sure they're 100% ready to take that next professional step, I think that is a great decision.
Usually those guys make great decisions and have a lot of success with the decisions that they make.
Q. You've had four different defensive coordinators in your five years at Starkville. What would you like Geoff Collins to bring to that position and your thoughts on the transition?
COACH MULLEN: We have had the co‑coordinator so that we don't have much turnover or much change in that sort of thing.
Look, there's some opportunities that have come up with guys, that's always going to happen. When you're having success, opportunities for guys are going to come up in their futures to go do things. It's not always great as a head coach for us because you love the continuity in your staff.
Last year Geoff Collins was our co‑coordinator, had a lot of say in everything that we were doing on that side of the ball, to take over the coordinator role really doesn't change much. It's going to ad little bit of different personality, but schematically it's not going to change very much what we do on the field.
Q. How have you seen the players respond to Geoff since he's been defensive coordinator?
COACH MULLEN: I think players a lot of times are going to take on the personality of their coaches and a little bit vice versa. We spend so much time together, you do rub off on each other.
With Geoff up there leading and being the mouthpiece of the defense every single day, they're going to take on a little bit more of his personality as a defense. When you look at Geoff, a very aggressive guy, has a lot of fun while he coaches. I think you're going to see that within our players, within the defensive scheme of how we do things. I think you're going to see a defense that's going to play extremely aggressive, but also have a great time, have a lot of fun, be excited while they're doing it.
I think that really is just a reflection of just those slight changes. Schematically, you might not see a difference in what you're doing, you might see a slight change in personality as people take on the personality of their coaches.
Q. You lost a lot of receiving yards last season. Through the spring practice, who have you seen pop out that might replace some of those yards?
COACH MULLEN: Well, one thing that you look at is some of the guys that have been in that background, have been in those roles for a couple years. When you look at Robert Johnson, Jameon Lewis, Joe Morrow have been in a supportive role the last couple years and got to see how the other guys have done it in front of them.
They're not young guys. They're a little bit older players, with two juniors and a sophomore. So they have some experience. They've been on the field, played in games, watched how other people have prepared.
Now they move into that staring role. They're going hopefully from the supporting actor to the lead role on the football on Saturdays.
The transition for those guys is they have to step up and make the plays, help when they have a Tyler Russell there at quarterback, kind of helping them along, building up their confidence. When you make that transition, you're going to have some great moments and you're going to have some down moments.
The key is you're going to have a guy back there at quarterback that can help keep them in the middle. The great moments were great, but let's not get too excited. The bad moments really wasn't as bad as we thought. Let's not worry about the last play, no matter how good or bad it is, let's go out and make the next play. That experience is really going to help those young players out.
Q. You talked about the schedule and the finish last year. This year's schedule kind of back‑loaded. Do you feel like last year the guys learned some things they can handle the schedule better this time?
COACH MULLEN: I'm hoping we're in that same position. We were, in November, at 7‑0. If we start off the season 7‑0, I think our guys are going to know how to handle that adversity a little bit better, not potentially let one game spiral into multiple games with the disappointment. Understanding when you are winning a bunch of football games, you get hit with that adversity, you can rebound right away. You have to put that last game behind you and find a way to get back and win the next week.
In this conference, that's what it's all about. Every single week you have to play your A game to find a way to win.
Q. Four new SEC coaches. What advice do you have for them, if any? What do you remember about your first day at Media Days?
COACH MULLEN: I think it's the wow of what it is. The one thing that makes the Southeastern Conference a little bit difference is that wow factor. Not just the wow factor, the wow factor at Media Days, every single week when you pull into a stadium, when you see the passion and excitement that the fan bases have, sold‑out stadiums.
Next Sunday when you wake up and turn on the game film, it's hard to think that next week's team is going to be better than last week's team.
When you look at these guys coming into the league this year, there's guys that have a lot of experience. These guys have coached a lot of football, have been around a lot of big‑time games. They know what they're going to do. They've played against SEC‑type teams. They understand the passion that's involved.
If they didn't, when you walk out of the door after your first Media Days, you understand then exactly what type of passion you're walking into as a football conference.
Q. You're happy with Tyler. What do you think of the lineup of quarterbacks throughout the SEC this year?
COACH MULLEN: You look at that lineup, it's a pretty good lineup of quarterbacks. There's experience. There's also a lot of talent out there in the league. I think the one thing that quarterbacks sometimes can get overlooked in this league at times is the quality defenses they're going against week in and week out, the talent on the defensive side of the ball that they face. It always makes it challenging at the quarterback position in this league.
When you have guys like Clowney sitting over there coming off that edge, you're thinking, I might want to get rid of this ball pretty quick. The great thing in the SEC, there's not one, there's one of those just about on every team you play. I think that does add a lot of pressure to those positions.
When you look at guys, the experience that A.J. McCarron has, national championship rings on his finger, Aaron Murray that's coming back. I've known Aaron since he was a freshman in high school, the talent that he has, the ability he has, all of those quarterbacks, there's so much talent.
Johnny Football, I guess I heard he was here today. Caused some excitement (smiling). A guy that's won a Heisman Trophy coming back.
The depth of quarterbacks in this league, to be honest with you, it could turn the tide to more of an offensive league than a defensive league this season.
Q. Could you talk about where you think Tyler is at this point in his career. How big a plus is it in this league to have quarterback experience like that?
COACH MULLEN: Well, you know, the experience is very good. The experience as a player is fantastic. He understands our offense, understands what we're trying to accomplish, can help as a leader out there on the field.
When you look at learning, a lot of guys, they got to learn what to do, then they got to learn how to do it, then finally they learn why we do it. When you get to Tyler's age and the experience within our program, you're dealing with the why's we're doing things, it allows him to help a lot of the younger players on the field of what to do and how to do it as they're going through the learning process. So I think that helps.
Also I think the experience of being an older guy, the stages you get put on in this league, the expectations that are around you as a starting quarterback, the pressures you deal with, not just at Media Days, not just the pressures from the quality of teams you have to play, the pressures from your student bodies, from the passion of your fan bases, alumni, people in your hometown, all of those pressures, that weighs a lot on young men.
I think a lot of people forget these are 18‑ to 22‑year‑old college kids. They're here on Media Days, on national TV every week, but they're still regular college kids and got to go to class on Monday morning.
I think being an older guy, understanding the pressures that come along with being a starting quarterback in the SEC certainly helps to have that experience.
Q. As you enter fall camp, compared to last year when you were ramping up for Jackson State, you effectively have a bowl game at a neutral site, NFL stadium, against a big‑time foe in Oklahoma State, how do you prepare differently in fall camp knowing you have a big‑time foe? Do you prefer that or would you rather have a lesser opponent the first week?
COACH MULLEN: Boy, I probably better answer that question on September the 1st, the day after that game, to see how we prefer it better.
You know what, I think it gets the attention of the players a lot more. I think during training camp a lot of times, they're looking at the season as a whole, how it's coming, how they're preparing the season as a whole. I think the sense of urgency starting with a big‑time game like we're going to have to start the year off, I think that really draws that urgency right from day one that the clock is ticking to kickoff.
I want to see how that will affect us in training camp this year compared to last year with our guys, to have that, knowing this is a very critical game for our season on opening kick right from day one. You don't have the opportunity to make a mistake or to start slow. You have to come out and play a great game right from the opening kickoff of the season.
Q. What is Bernardrick McKinney's role, how it might expand, especially with what Geoff wants to do with the 'defensive chaos'?
COACH MULLEN: Bernardrick is a guy that earned all freshman honors for us, really bought into our program, really developed from where he was. He was a two‑star, whatever everybody had him ranked, coming out of high school. Not a high‑profile guy coming out of high school. Bought into our program. Has a lot of athletic ability.
On the defensive side of the ball, he can help create different mismatches with his size. Not only is he a big guy in the 240s, he also has a lot of length, is athletic out on the field.
I know he plays Mike linebacker for us, but in different situations, we get into different nickel‑and‑dime packages, we'll move him around a little bit and try to create some mismatches with him on the defensive side of the ball.
Q. Wondered with the in‑state dynamic going on. When you came in, you had a winning streak going, momentum in your favor. They had a big recruiting class.
COACH MULLEN: I think it's certainly sparking the rivalry even more. I think it's going to make Thanksgiving night an even bigger game.
When I got hired, the other school in our state, they'd gone to the Cotton Bowl, won the Cotton Bowl. We came up from a team that wasn't doing very well and won a couple in a row. Now we've been going to the New Year's Day bowl games the last couple years.
They come up, are starting to create some stir. I think certainly when you go around the state of Mississippi, it will make Thanksgiving night this fall a pretty important day throughout the whole state. Not that it hasn't been before, but I think it is going to draw a lot more attention to it nationally, how important and big that rivalry is for everybody in our state.
Q. What has Tyler Russell done in this off‑season to instill confidence in you that he's going to continue to improve as he has in his career at Mississippi State?
COACH MULLEN: I think just his maturity on how he's handled everything. He shows up every day now with a very businesslike, mature attitude. Again, he's still a young kid. He's a little goofy at times, does some funny, goofy things, tells a lot of jokes. Most of his jokes are bad jokes, too, which makes him even goofier.
But he comes in and understands what has to get accomplished. He understands the work ethic that needs to go in. Like I said, he's understanding why we're doing what we're doing, not just within plays, but why we're doing what we're doing as a football program.
When the guy up front, the guy that is the leader of your team, when he understands that, that message gets portrayed throughout the team. When Tyler walks into huddle to speak, stands up in front of team, everyone is going to listen to exactly every word he says. When he understands the message and the direction as a whole that the program is going in, why we're trying to go in that direction, it certainly helps you.
Q. How has Tyler reacted to the more pro style under‑center things you wanted to do with him this spring?
COACH MULLEN: For him, it's that adjustment. Here is a guy that played in the shotgun all through high school. Then you go and you make that adjustment, working the fundamentals of having to do some more things under‑center, I think it does take time.
It gets you out of your comfort zone at times. But you know what, I think it's really important not just for this season, and the more comfortable he gets with it this season, but also for his long‑term future, if he's going to have a career in football after this year. The little things we're doing, the development he continues to make, be comfortable in those positions, is going to help him in the future.
KEVIN TRAINOR: Thank you for your time, Coach Mullen.
COACH MULLEN: Thank you for having me. Everybody have a great day.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports