After a 1-5 finish in the 2012 football season, critics have come out of the woodwork to blast Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, and for almost seven months, the mantras have stayed the same. It's been either Mullen cannot recruit or Mullen cannot coach. Some have even suggested Mullen is on the hot seat and must go.
Mullen finds himself in a very peculiar situation at Mississippi State heading into the 2013 college football season and, honestly, at an unfair crossroads.
Mississippi State has long been considered an SEC doormat in football. Minus a 1998 SEC Championship Game appearance and one SEC football title, there just isn't much to hang your hat on when talking about Bulldog football.
When talking about football success in Starkville, Jackie Sherrill instantly comes to mind. Remember the brash coach who was in Starkville for 13 seasons and is currently the school's all-time winningest coach? Sherrill ended his career with the Bulldogs with a very modest 75-75-2 record.
Yes, Sherrill took his teams to six bowl games, an SEC Championship Game appearance and beat rival Mississippi seven times before ultimately stepping down due to NCAA sanctions. But let's look at Sherrill in his first four years in Starkville and even into his fifth—the same exact spot Mullen is in today.
In Sherrill's first four years in Starkville, he won 26 ballgames, lost 19 and had two tie games. Sherrill's teams had three bowl appearances and lost all three. In that stretch, Sherrill's bowl teams had not played in a New Year's Day bowl game either. In Sherrill's first four years, he had a losing season in year three.
Year five brought another losing season—a 3-8 campaign—and year six brought a 5-6 record. It was not until after year six that fans started to grumble and wonder if the coach had overextended his stay in Starkville, MS.
Following Sherrill was Sylvester Croom and the monumental hire by the university to hire the league's first African-American head coach. For that, I applaud the university and the league.
When it came to on-the-field success though, Croom was abysmal. After four years, Croom had one winning season and an overall record of 17-30. Even after suffering losses to Maine, Troy and others, people still clamored that Croom needed more time.
It wasn't until after a 4-8 finish in 2008—a year that saw attendance dip to basically nothing and rival Mississippi beat the Dawgs as badly as they wanted—that Croom was let go.
This brings us back to Mullen. In four years, Mullen has accumulated a 29-22 record, made it to three straight bowl games, winning two, and his teams have played in two New Year's Day games. Mullen also holds a 3-1 edge over his rival in the state.
Mullen has also placed 12 Bulldogs into the ranks of the NFL and has more on the current roster that could garner attention from the professional ranks. Mississippi State has also seen a four-year stretch where its football home games were all sold out. This four-year run heading into year five is nothing short of amazing, considering the history of the program and the nature of today's SEC.
Yet many—including some of his own fans—are claiming "Mullen cannot recruit good players," Mullen cannot coach and it may be time for him to go.
In the world we live in today, it has truly become a "What have you done for me lately?" type of society. People tend to forget quickly about the good, harp on the bad and dream about the future. What Dan Mullen has done while in Starkville is an amazing feat regardless of what anyone writes or says.
Mullen's Bulldogs are again picked close to the bottom of the SEC West for the 2013 season and many in the media have written his team off, saying if he doesn't win this year, it's time for a change in Starkville.
Jackie Sherrill, Sylvester Croom and other coaches before them never accomplished what Mullen has done in the same time frame, and never had near the criticism Mullen has had to endure. It truly is an unfair crossroad for Mullen heading into the 2013 football season. It is a crossroad he brought upon himself due to winning, success and consistency.
Mullen has built a consistent winner, and if he stays consistent or drops off a step, it could be to his demise. If that is in fact the case, those in Starkville who have forgotten their history may be forced to relive it—all because of the unfair crossroad Dan Mullen faces in 2013.
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