December 4, 2013 8:29:04 AM
STARKVILLE -- The college football career for Mississippi State safety Nickoe Whitley ended with a forced fumble that helped clinch a victory against Ole Miss in the Battle for the Golden Egg.
MSU coach Dan Mullen confirmed on the Head to Head radio show Monday that the MSU senior will have season-ending surgery this week that will force him to miss any bowl game the Bulldogs play in.
"About Week three of the season, the doctors came and said, 'Hey, he's going to have to have knee surgery,' " Mullen said.
Instead of having surgery earlier so he'd be healthier for the NFL combine, Whitley opted to postpone the procedure to help the team, which lost starting strong safety Jay Hughes to an Achilles' injury in the season opener against Oklahoma State.
"He said, 'I'm not giving up on the team. I'm going to play it out, and I'll (have surgery) after the last regular-season game,' " Mullen said.
Since suffering the ACL tear, Whitley intercepted three passes, including a one-handed grab against Ole Miss. He also forced two fumbles, including a strip of quarterback Bo Wallace that was recovered in the end zone by former Aberdeen High School standout Jamerson Love to preserve the 17-10 overtime victory.
"I'm going to tell you what, what a long way that young man has come from," Mullen said. "Talk about a guy that has ups and downs in his career and life but believes in the program. That's Nickoe Whitley."
For his effort against Ole Miss, Whitley earned Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
"In some of our most memorable wins here, there's Nickoe Whitley creating a turnover to ensure we win the game," Mullen said. "He won the Georgia game here (in 2010) and completely turned our program around. He beat Arkansas, beats the School Up North, so he's a special player in my book."
Whitley ends his career with 15 interceptions, one shy of the program record shared by Johnthan Banks and Walt Harris.
Stricklin fully supports Mullen after 6-6 regular season
MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin heard all the talk that Mullen would be in trouble if MSU didn't receive a bowl berth in 2013.
To him and the rest of the MSU administration, it was nonsense.
"Dan has had just as much success as any coach we've had since World War II," Stricklin said after the Ole Miss game. "I think Dan has got a chance to put us in position to be very good in the next few years."
Some national pundits and analysts, including Southeastern Conference correspondent Barrett Sallee, said Mullen needed to be fired with or without a victory on Thanksgiving night that ensured bowl eligibility for the program.
Mullen addressed being on the hot seat a few weeks before the Egg Bowl game, and said he expected to be at MSU "for a very long time."
"You always have to completely block that out," Mullen said in a news conference Nov. 17. "Like one question is always, 'Are you on the hot seat?' Well, I hate to break it to you, but if you're coaching in the Southeastern Conference, I've been on the hot seat here for five years. You're either on the way out of the door because you're winning or you're on the way out of the door because you're losing. With people's opinions of me around here, I've had both and I'll take the winning. I'm still here and plan on being here for a long time."
The victory against Ole Miss, which clinched helped the program become bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season for the first time, four straight bowl games, earned a vote of confidence from Stricklin.
"When we weren't playing the way people thought we should, it would've been easy to try and pinpoint one problem," Stricklin said. "I saw kids working hard, going to class, and the attitudes were high. That's a credit to Dan and the foundation we've built here."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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