STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen might have been forgiven for basking in the moment during Monday’s appearance at the Starkville Rotary Club.
Fresh off an historic 10-win regular season and a fifth consecutive trip to a bowl game, Mullen is a week into a contract extension that will pay him $4.275 million each year.
Instead, Mullen used his 30-minute address to the Rotarians to talk more about the “how” than the “what,” drawing parallels between his football program and the city of Starkville.
“I hope we’ve been a small part of the unbelievable change that has occurred here,” Mullen said. “Stark-vegas is kind of an ‘in’ thing now. It used to be that when people thought of Starkville, they thought, ‘small town, small school, nothing very exciting.’ When you think of Starkville now, you don’t think that anymore. That ‘Welcome to Fabulous Stark-vegas’ sign is everywhere — you see it on shirts and shoes. It’s just amazing. What you see is the growth and excitement of a great college town. And I think that was here all along, just waiting to be discovered.”
In six seasons at MSU, Mullen, 42, has a 46-32 record, and is already third on the school’s all-time list for wins. In addition to the 10-win regular season (MSU finished 10-3), the Bulldogs third best in school history, the Bulldogs earned their school-record fifth consecutive bowl trip. For the first time in school history, MSU reached No. 1 in the polls, a spot it occupied for five weeks in October and November.
Mullen reflected on how it came to be, outlining a four-step process beginning with a change in how those within the football program thought, which led to a change in what the program believed, which led to a change in expectations finally leading to results.
“The first thing we had to do is be willing to change,” Mullen said. “With change comes a great deal of discomfort. But if you want to change, you have to change the way you think. That’s really hard. As a whole group, we decided to change the way we thought about things. They had to change what they thought was hard work, what they thought was doing the right thing.”
Mullen said change in how the Bulldogs defined hard work led to a change in what the team believed.
“If you change what you think, you’re going to change what you believe,” Mullen said. “I can’t tell you how many times someone would walk up to me and say, ‘Coach, I used to come to the games to support the team. Now I come because I believe we are actually going to win.'”
Finally, Mullen said, the expectations lead to results, something he says he has seen not only with the MSU football team, but the overall athletic department, the university and the community.
“We’ve seen great changes in how we think, what we believe, what we expect and now we see the results,” he said. “I think that’s true of the entire community of Starkville. There’s a huge buzz and huge growth in our community and that’s great for all of us. It’s great to be a small part of the excitement and growth of a great college town.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.