Why is this man smiling? He can think of $10.6 million reasons.
It is easy to think of the decision by Mississippi State to pay coach Dan Mullen more than $10.6 million as simply the ever-increasing desperation that smaller schools in the Southeastern Conference feel to keep up with the Alabamas and Floridas of college football's premier league. Supporters of this pact will say that it is a bargain which is justified by an eight-win regular season and a win in the Gator Bowl.
However, an objective analysis of exactly what Mullen has accomplished reveals that this is quite possibly the biggest ripoff of SEC school boosters since Phil Fulmer fleeced the Volunteer nation at the University of Tennessee for a substantially smaller $6.0 million just to take up a career at CBS College Sports network.
There is an understandable delirium which can be expected following an 8-4 season and a fifth place division finish (forget that the division is comprised of only six teams) for a school that has been to exactly 15 bowl games in 100 years.
Fourteen wins in two seasons is, in fact, an impressive feat in Starkville, despite the fact that four of those wins came against two SWAC members in Jackson State and Alcorn State, and other out-of- conference featherweights UAB and Middle Tennessee State. You can also throw in two wins against rival Mississippi, which clearly belonged in the same breath of the aforementioned four teams in 2010.
So, that covers six of the 14 wins during the Mullen regime, leaving eight more victories which must, in the eyes of MSU leadership, have warranted a goldmine.
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Of the eight victories in question, one of these came against Vanderbilt in 2009, which was 0-8 in SEC play for the season and two were against Kentucky, which has totaled 12 losses over the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
So that must mean there were five earth-shattering wins to make the Mississippi State wisemen throw the bank at a coach whose early success is a harbinger of induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, right? Not so fast, my friend, as Lee Corso might say.
These five wins came against Memphis, Houston, Georgia, Florida and Michigan. The combined record of this fearsome five, you ask? How about 27-36. And that was not your father's Florida and Georgia which accounted for more than half of the 27 wins.
Dan Mullen has certainly been an improvement over the Sylvester Croom era and the latter part of the tenure of Jackie Sherrill. Does he warrant a salary increase? Yes. Is he deserving of a Top 20 salary among college football coaches? Absolutely, not.
Long-time watchers of SEC football have seen this movie before. A good season every five or ten years and suddenly the Bulldogs are viewed by their fans as the dark horse for a conference title the following year. In fairness, they are not the only SEC school in the state subscribing to this same manner of delusional thinking.
Florida and Miami were clearly not buying the "Ready for Primetime" Dan Mullen act and understood that his record has largely been built on smoke and "Sisters of the Poor." The Bulldogs' coach wisely protested his interest in the two schools as he certainly did not expect an interview, let alone a job offer. Those will come in a year or so from some school who is willing to overpay for a coach who beefed up his resume on SWAC schools and SEC bottom feeders.
Still, Mullen and his agent were the big winners in the Great Heist of 2010. These men are outstanding salespeople. They sold the idea that January Bowl games will become as commonplace in Starkville as strip malls and ESPN U telecasts. They are selling recruits on the unlikely and highly improbable idea that Mullen will remain for the long-term. And the greatest sales job of all was used on the MSU brass. Mullen and Company glossed over the lack of quality wins and sold the idea that the greatest recruiter this side of Tuscaloosa was in their midst.
And he very well may be. Seriously.
After all, selling recruits on the Bulldog program should be a piece of cake compared to successfully selling the Mississippi State family a $10.6 million pipe dream.