March 7, 2013 10:44:13 AM
STARKVILLE -- After not having any coaching changes on its staff prior to last season, the Mississippi State University football team has returned to the wild world of coaching changes.
Three new coaches have joined Dan Mullen's coaching staff in the offseason, and Geoff Collins was promoted to defensive coordinator since MSU's appearance in the 2013 Gator Bowl.
The hirings were the result of two assistant coaches leaving MSU to pursue the same jobs at schools in the Southeastern Conference. The moves have resulted in discussion about Mullen's ability to keep staff members from making lateral moves to other schools.
"I think I'm more relaxed, worrying about things I can control and not worrying about things you can't control," Mullen said last July when asked about what he's learned after four years as head coach. "I think there's a lot less people walking on eggshells even though I like to keep everybody on edge a little bit around the facility. Everybody involved in the program, they know with the retention we've had there is a plan in place."
Mullen, who was the offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at the University of Florida prior to coming to Starkville, led MSU to an 8-5 record in 2012 in his fourth season at the school. Mullen has a 29-22 record in that time and has led the Bulldogs to three consecutive bowl appearances. In a age when college coaches often are vagabonds, jumping from job to job after only a few years at an institution, MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said the coaching turnover on Mullen's staff in the offseason is normal.
"I think when you look at coaching resumes and bios, there's a lot of stops, and I just think that's where we are in college athletics regardless of the sport," Stricklin said.
Last winter, MSU was among a handful of Football Bowl Subdivision schools to bring back the same staff to start summer workouts. MSU's only coaching move came when Tim Brewster was hired in August less than two weeks before the season opener against Jackson State University after the forced resignation of wide receivers coach Angelo Mirando.
Stricklin, who has referred to Mullen as the CEO for MSU football, just like any other executive at a high profile company, understands college coaches often will move from job to job. He also knows Mullen's name has been mentioned several times in the past couple of years when big-time coaching positions have come open.
"I think Dan does a really good job of hiring quality people to his staff, and there's no question that's a major part of being a coach at this level," Stricklin said. "One of the things that goes unnoticed is the fact he has done it responsibly from a budgetary standpoint in terms of salary."
Hours before kickoff of MSU's game against Northwestern University on New Year's Day, Mullen announced Collins would replace Chris Wilson and be the defensive play-caller for the first time in his two seasons with the MSU staff. Four days later, Wilson, who was the defensive coordinator for the past two seasons and had been the defensive play-caller, took a job as the defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia. The school announced his hiring Jan. 9.
A day after leaving MSU, Wilson said in a interview with 98.3 The Zone in Atlanta that his transition was a good one for him and his family because it was "nice to be at a place where the head coach really wants you to be there."
He also said he was excited to work with Mark Richt, who hasn't had a lot of coaching turnover in his 12 years at Georgia.
"Coach Mark Richt is a awesome guy to work for," Wilson said in the same interview.
On Dec. 25, Auburn University announced that Melvin Smith, who was cornerbacks coach at MSU, had joined new head coach Gus Malzahn's staff.
When presented with the idea Mullen has had four assistants, including three defensive coordinators, leave his program for lateral moves because of his personality, Stricklin dismissed that claim as ridiculous.
Before National Signing Day on Feb. 6, Mullen filled the vacancy on his staff with defensive line coach David Turner and cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend. Former MSU coach Sylvester Croom hired Turner in 2007 and placed him in charge of the defensive line. Turner remained at MSU until 2009, and was one of the few coaches Mullen kept when he arrived for his first season. As a 13-year NFL veteran with Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts, Townsend won two Super Bowls as a player with the Steelers in 2006 and 2009. He spent last season as an assistant coach with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals before the team dismissed head coach Ken Whisenhunt and the coaching staff.
MSU has had three coaches -- running backs coach Greg Knox, offensive line coach John Hevesy, and secondary coach Tony Hughes -- with Mullen for his tenure at MSU. Hughes was promoted to assistant head coach Feb. 14.
"I don't think that is accurate or, quite frankly, based in any form of reality," Stricklin said about Mullen being difficult to work with. "I think that gets unproven immediately by the people who have stayed with him throughout his time here."
The college coaching carousel in Starkville took another turn after National Signing Day when Brewster left MSU to become the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Florida State University. Just 15 days before Brewster made the move, Mullen announced the restructuring of his staff and the hiring of wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales from the University of Illinois.
"Just about everywhere (Gonzales) has gone, his receivers have broke records," Mullen said. "When we had this opportunity to make this and put this staff together this way, it was kind of a no-brainer."
The movement included transferring Brewster from wide receivers coach to tight ends coach. He also received an assistant head coaching title. Two weeks later, Brewster left to go to FSU.
"I spent nine years coaching at the University of North Carolina and the only team we didn't beat while I was at North Carolina was Florida State," Brewster told The Clarion-Ledger in an interview Friday. "I had a very strong appreciation for Florida State and the type of teams they had and the tradition and history here."
Mullen, who was unavailable for this story, has said he has seen SEC schools increase the number of their off-the-field staff. With the new NCAA recruiting rules allowing for fewer restrictions to those staff members, Mullen moved former tight ends coach Scott Sallach into an administrative role to handle the increase in recruiting responsibilities.
One way or another, MSU fans can anticipate turnover being a given every college football season.
"It's just a fact of the matter that coaches move on at almost all of the 120-plus FBS schools," Stricklin said. "I think everybody has gotten used to that fact."