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SEC newcomers look to improve teams


Danny P Smith



Dan Mullen, Lane Kiffin, and Gene Chizik all have been assigned the same task. 


The men are in charge of returning three Southeastern Conference football teams to winning ways. 


Mississippi State, Auburn, and Tennessee all participated in and won bowl games in 2007, but failed in its quests to record winning seasons in 2008. 


Mississippi State won the Liberty Bowl in 2007, but went 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the SEC last season. 


Mullen, a former University of Florida assistant coach, has replaced Sylvester Croom and is trying to set a foundation in the spring to recover from last year''s disappointment. 


Getting a jump on recruiting, putting a staff together, and getting the players familiar with his system has taken up all of Mullen''s three months on the job. 


"It was probably similar to what I expected," Mullen said. "I knew we''d have an awful lot of work to do. We wanted our staff to get to know the state and get our players familiar with the on-the-field, off-the-field expectations and with academics." 


Mullen has used several tools throughout the spring to help his team identify with many aspects of the campus and community. 


It is a process that continues into the summer. 


"It''s been hard getting that instilled in them, into our coaches, and support staff to make sure we''re up and running in the direction I want this program to go in the future," Mullen said. 


Tennessee reached the SEC Championship Game and won the Outback Bowl in 2007 but slipped to 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the SEC in Phillip Fulmer''s final season after 17 years at the school. 


Kiffin is targeting areas of emphasis. He said it is important to identify with the fan base, including the state of Tennessee, the players, staff, and recruits. 


"We want to get our fans extremely excited about what was going on and have a lot of energy around the program," Kiffin said. "We feel like we''ve done that and they feel good about what''s going on. 


"We want to let our players and staff know we have confidence in them. We needed to drive them to work extremely hard for the spring, and they have done that. As far as recruits, we wanted to make sure they were seeing the ''T'' and were familiar with Tennessee and our coaching staff." 


Auburn capped a successful 2007 season by beating Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but couldn''t keep that momentum going last season. A 5-7 finish (2-6 in the SEC) cost Tommy Tuberville his job. 


Chizik has tried this spring to instill some passion and energy back into the Tigers. 


Although he wanted to move quicker, Chizik saw progress. 


"When you are trying to incorporate so many new ideas, it''s baby steps," Chizik said. "I''m really proud of our guys in terms of the effort they have given, them trying to play physical, and to do the things we''re asking them to do. 


"We are asking them to learn so many things. When you do that, it can slow you down as a football player. What we''ve tried to instill in them is let''s learn, but learn and move fast while we''re trying to do it. We''ve tried to move fast in installing all three phases of our game."



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