STARKVILLE — Les Koenning returns to the Mississippi State football practice field Tuesday after a 20-year absence.
Koenning was the running backs and wide receivers coach at Mississippi State from 1986-89. He returned when Dan Mullen was hired to replace Sylvester Croom this past December.
Koenning welcomes the opportunity to work with Mullen and return to Mississippi State.
“I really enjoy Starkville, my daughter (Lana) was born here and we have very close friends,” Koenning said. “It was kind of like coming back home. It was a nice situation for ourselves and we hope to make it a little bit better.”
Koenning, who will be the offensive coordinator, begins to put the system to work Tuesday with the opening of spring practice.
With his primary focus being on the quarterbacks, Koenning said the evaluation process will be important during spring practice.
“We”ll learn a lot about our players and find out what they can do,” Koenning said. “So often in this game, you can say you are going to do one thing and you end up doing another. We”ve got to find out. It will be an interesting spring for them and us.”
Koenning shares the same ideas as Mullen as what purpose the spread offense will serve.
The key to winning football games in Koenning”s mind is spreading the field, moving the football and not turning the ball over.
Koenning said those are the things that helped make Mullen successful as an offensive coordinator at Florida.
“Coach Mullen has kind of shown what he can do at Utah and Florida and I”ve known Dan from those days,” Koenning said. “He”s got a great creative mind and we”ve talked football a lot and really enjoyed doing it.”
Mullen values those times of talking football with Koenning and plans to put that “innovative offensive mind” to work.
“Les and I have worked together in the offseason and have very similar philosophies,” Mullen said. “He was somebody always in the back of my mind and if I was to ever get an opportunity to become a head coach, he was somebody I wanted to surround myself with.”
Mullen said the Bulldogs were fortunate to get Koenning from South Alabama, where he was the offensive coordinator for a newly-developed program. The Jaguars begin playing football in the fall.
Prior to his one year at South Alabama, Koenning spent five seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M.
Koenning has called the offensive plays at various stops the past 10 years, including Duke (1998), Houston (1999), Texas Christian (2000) and Alabama (2001-03).
The Houston, Texas, native began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Texas and Alabama before getting a chance to coach wide receivers and handle recruiting at Louisiana-Lafayette in 1985.
It was after his stint with Louisiana-Lafayette that he joined Felker at MSU.
Koenning is happy to see that Felker is back with the program.
“You talk about a class individual,” Koenning said of Felker. “When you talk about Rocky Felker, he is truly class.”
Mullen didn”t even know about the Koenning-Felker connection when he first considered making the move, but likes both men and was happy to see the reunion work out, saying, “that makes it even better.”
Koenning was the wide receivers coach at Rice and Texas A&M (1990-96) after leaving Mississippi State, and even got some pro experience with the Miami Dolphins in 1997.
It was Koenning”s time at Alabama and MSU that interested Mullen because he saw the importance of having coordinators with experience in the Southeastern Conference.
With Koenning and defensive coordinator Carl Torbush, Mullen believes he has that.
“These guys had been in the Southeastern Conference before and been in a lot of big-time football,” Mullen said. “They came in and knew how to recruit.”