Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a 20-17 record and soon-to-be two bowl appearances during his three seasons in Starkville after leaving his post as offensive coordinator at Florida with a pair of national championship rings earned in 2006 and 2008.
The success might seem modest to outsiders, especially those in Pennsylvania eying him as a potential replacement for Joe Paterno as Penn State's head coach after a report surfaced Tuesday saying he's among the leading candidates for the job.
Consider, though, that Mississippi State boasted just one bowl appearance since 2000 before his arrival and that his teams regularly compete in the rugged SEC West division against traditional powers like Alabama, Auburn and LSU, and suddenly it's easy to understand why he's become popular with Bulldog fans.
Today, we take a look at the job Mullen has done in Starkville with Jeremy (aka The Bruce Dickinson), manager of SB Nation's Mississippi State Bulldogs blog, For Whom the Cowbell Tolls. Be sure to check out our interview with Alligator Army's Andy Hutchins for a look at Mullen's tenure at Florida, too.
AB: Generally, how do Mississippi State fans feel about the job Dan Mullen has done? Is there a consensus, or are there competing opinions?
J: State fans, in general, love Dan Mullen. He really brought a spark back to the program with all the jabs at Ole Miss, the offensive play-calling, and so on. Of course there are always fans who will never be happy, but those are few and far between.
AB: What has his team's offensive identity been at Mississippi State?
J: Mullen's base scheme is a spread, but he has always been able to build it around available personnel. For instance, when he first started, we were low on recievers (according to his needs), so he built a spread offense with Anthony Dixon as the feature weapon. Last year, he built the offense as a power running game with heavy option reads.
AB: What has his team's defensive philosophy been with the Bulldogs?
J: I think Mullen puts trust in his defensive staff and does not really meddle in that side of the game too much.
AB: How would you rate Mullen's quarterback development in Starkville and why?
J: Chris Relf was a QB who languished under [Sylvester] Croom's attempts at installing a pro-style offense in Starkville. Most fans had written him off. Mullen was able to see his potential as a scramble-style QB and really help build his confidence in that area, while also working with him on his passing ability.
AB: What is Mullen's approach to recruiting and how would you rate his efforts?
J: He has always emphasized keeping kids in Mississippi. This has been probably a sore point with some fans, who would like to see him go after bigger targets outside the state.
AB: What kind of fit would you see Mullen being with the Big Ten?
J: I guess he would fit well. He has coached all over as an assistant. I think you would get big play from the media with [Urban] Meyer at Ohio State now - the same sort of master/apprentice attention our game with Florida got in his first season.
AB: How does Mullen handle off-field team issues (i.e. academics, legal issues, NCAA rules)?
J: We have had some issues with players, and he has not hesitated to bench someone for missing class or whatever. A prime example was leaving five players in Starkville for our season opener in Memphis - including key players like Fletcher Cox.
AB: Any general thoughts about Dan Mullen and Penn State?
He has job security and a pretty good salary ($2.6 million) in Starkville and I think he will stick around for at least a few more seasons.