Dan Mullen’s appearance on the Media Days dais (Media Day-is?) was interesting for any number of reasons — his response to Steve Spurrier’s observation about Mississippi State’s free-spending taste in airplanes (“But I’ve never played at Augusta National, so”), his vow to not just pursue but “relentlessly pursue” an SEC championship.
But after only a few minutes, it became clear Dan Mullen loves him some Starkville. Man oh man, does he love the absolute poo out of it. The conversation in the Wynfrey ballroom frequently found itself circling back to the city’s status as a “hidden gem” off the beaten path; its natural beauty; its great people; the support the community has given the football program; and the fact that “When [people] leave Starkville on a Saturday, they’re looking forward to coming back.” Basically, Leslie Knope : Pawnee, Indiana :: Dan Mullen : Starkville, Mississippi. If this coaching thing doesn’t end up panning out for Mullen, he has a job waiting for him at the Greater Starkville Tourism Bureau.
In the midst of this inspiring travelogue, actual football was discussed. Mullen gushed about running back Vick Ballard and praised the progress of QB Chris Relf, about whom he admitted he “initially had doubts about whether he could play quarterback in the SEC.” But Relf “gained confidence” after Mullen’s first year, “he understood he had to take a bigger role, he understood the offense better . . . and he’s been making better and better decisions every day.”
Contrary to some assumptions, Mullen didn’t come to Starkville with the express goal of installing a simulacrum of his prolific Tebow-led Florida offense. “The offense that I ran at Utah with Alex Smith was very different from the offense I ran at Florida with Chris Leak, and the offense I ran with Tim Tebow at Florida was different from the one I ran with Chris Leak,” he explained. “We’re building around the strengths of our players. I don’t need Chris Relf to be an Alex Smith or a Tim Tebow; I need Chris Relf to be Chris Relf and make the plays that help our team win, and as a coach I need to put him in a position to do those things.”
As befitting a guy who is now 2-0 against his program’s hated in-state rival, Mullen got a big smile on his face when someone asked him about the “This Is Our State” marketing campaign that’s been tweaking the crap out of Ole Miss fans across the Magnolia State. “That was something our PR department worked on,” he said. “We’re the people’s university, and it’s really important for us and for me to get out there and say that. . . . I’d love to win a championship for the people of Mississippi. They deserve to be champions.”
OK, it’s one thing to proclaim your love for your state, that’s fine. But then: “When you come to Starkville on a Saturday, it is an event. It’s the place to be in Mississippi.” Starkville? And not Oxford, the home of all that is pastoral and bucolic and genteelly, collegiately drunk? An entire nation of Faulkner fans is coming for you, Dan Mullen, and hell (and red Solo cups) is coming with ’em.