Posted: 12:27 a.m. Thursday, July 18, 2013
By Brandon Larrabee
Whatever you think about Dan Mullen and his presentations at SEC Media Days, they've always been ... something else. Whether he's incredibly excited or waxing eloquent about the beauty of Starkville, Mullen's sessions in Hoover have always been a mixture of energy and unyielding self-confidence.
But a 1-5 skid to end the season, with a loss to your in-state arch-rival for the first time in four years helping to cap it off, will take a lot of both out of you. Especially if you've built part of your reputation on needling that arch-rival, claiming "THIS IS OUR STATE" and refusing to address it by name. This year, there was no needling to be done, unless it was going to be Hugh Freeze needling Dan Mullen.
So when Mullen took the podium on Wednesday, he seemed almost subdued. The bombast was gone, though the excitement was still there in the words of the presentation, popping up a few times in Mullen's opening statement. But even when he was asked a question that all but begged for a swipe at Ole Miss -- or "the other school in our state," as Mullen called them Wednesday -- he demurred, essentially welcoming the Rebels back to the rivalry after a three-game stretch that the Bulldogs won by a combined 103-53.
They come up, are starting to create some stir. I think certainly when you go around the state of Mississippi, it will make Thanksgiving night this fall a pretty important day throughout the whole state. Not that it hasn't been before, but I think it is going to draw a lot more attention to it nationally, how important and big that rivalry is for everybody in our state.
Not that toning it down is necessarily a bad thing for the Mississippi State head coach -- a Google search for "dan mullen arrogant" turns up 39,700 results, and he reportedly struck a University of Miami (FL) trustee as too arrogant. Think about the last part of that sentence for a moment. Perhaps Mullen is arrogant or perhaps he just comes across that way -- but being measured in his comments at SEC Media Days is one way to help keep that narrative from getting out of hand.
Besides, Mullen might just be following the template of the original coach who set the standard for needling rivals in a way that was widely seen as arrogant. When he landed at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier largely avoided his usual routine until he started winning again, at which point the jab-o-matic was put back into operation. Maybe, just maybe, Mullen has decided its wiser to back up the talk before you start talking.
Sure, that means that he needs to beat Ole Miss if he's going to start claiming the state once again. In which case a return to the braggadocio of the past would indeed be music to the ears of Mississippi State fans.