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Penn State Coaching Search: Dan Mullen

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 10:  Coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs looks on against the Auburn Tigers in the first quarter on September 10, 2011 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 10: Coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs looks on against the Auburn Tigers in the first quarter on September 10, 2011 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
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Now that the season is over, it's time to think about the future. First and foremost, that means a new head football coach. Over the next few weeks, we'll be taking a closer look at the likely candidates for the job. Today, we have current Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen.

Head Coaching Record

Year Record In Conference
2009 5-7 3-5
2010 9-4 4-4
2011 6-6 2-6
Overall 20-17 9-15

Having an above-.500 record while cleaning up the mess that Sylvester Croom left is no small feat, but the sub-.500 conference record raises an eyebrow. Granted, MSU plays in the same division as Alabama and LSU so it's not exactly a red flag, but it's still a point of concern.

Coaching Experience

Mullen's coaching career (post-GA positions) began as Urban Meyer's QB coach at Bowling Green. He followed Meyer to Utah as his QB coach, where he helped develop Alex Smith. From there, Mullen went to Florida and became the offensive coordinator for one of the most prolific offenses in college football history. The offense completely collapsed when Mullen left in 2009 to become the head coach at Mississippi State, but it was also the same year Tim Tebow left. I'm sure the offensive problems were more to do with Tebow's departure than Mullen's, but going from Mullen to Steve Addazio is an undeniably large step down in quality.

Coaching Philosophy

Mullen's offense is a run-heavy spread option attack, designed to spread defenses and make them defend the entire field. The entire thing is predicated on a mobile quarterback that can handle a considerable workload running the ball, primarily out of the shotgun. There usually is only one running back on the field, but a multitude of wide receiver/running back combos. These are the kind of players that can make a good spread option offense into a great one. The prototype for this position is Percy Harvin.

The rankings of Mullen's offenses at Mississippi State are as follows. For an explanation of S&P+, please see here.

Year Total Offense (yds/game) Rank Scoring Offense (pts/game) Rank Offensive S&P+ Rank
2009 357.7 69 25.6 72 110.9 38
2010 401.3 42 29.0 48 99.8 68
2011 355.1 87 25.5 72 102.4 58

Fit - Cultural, Personnel, Etc.

Dan Mullen was born in Philadelphia, raised in the northeast, and went to college at Ursinus. Besides either A) Having direct Penn State ties, or B) Direct ties to other major programs in Pennsylvania, that's about as good a personal/cultural fit as we'll find. Mullen hasn't been connected to any major NCAA violations, and the only blemishes on his record as a head coach are in the form of a few secondary violations that seem more like administrative missteps and miscommunications than anything nefarious. Another point to be considered: Mullen is a longtime friend of Urban Meyer. He may relish the opportunity to compete head to head with his mentor every year.

The question is whether he'd leave the SEC to come up north. I think he would. Penn State is a step up from Mississippi State in terms of resources, facilities and support - even in spite of recent events. I think at this point, Mullen has to look at the teams he's competing against in the SEC West in Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Auburn, and think that he'll never have the same amount of ammunition as them. The ceiling in Starkville is low, and at some point soon he's going to try to move up the ladder. Penn State may very well be that move.

Personnel-wise, the fit is so-so with the current roster. The obvious problem is quarterback, as there isn't anyone on the roster right now that could play it within the structure of the offense. It would seem that Paul Jones would be the best fit, but having never seen him take the field against live competition, coming to a conclusion about him is risky. The problem with the spread option is if you don't have a quarterback that can run it effectively, it gets repetitive and predictable in a hurry. However, once you get past quarterback, the pieces look like they fit. Silas Redd would fill the running back slot (a la current MSU running back Vick Ballard), and Curtis Drake, Bill Belton and Devon Smith can easily transition into WR/RB combos that each get 5-10 carries a game. This system also uses the tight end, which may or may not be an issue. Penn State uses their tight ends so little that I honestly can't tell if they're good or not.

A point of concern I've heard regarding Dan Mullen is that he's strictly an offensive coach, and would need to hire a strong defensive coordinator to be successful. While I think there's some validity to this, Mullen has shown that he can hire good coordinating talent, as his first hire at MSU was Manny Diaz. Diaz's defensive in Starkville was so successful that he got hired away to take over for Will Muschamp at Texas, and he is now widely considered one of the rising stars in the coaching world.

Speaking personally, Mullen has been a coach I've had my eye on for several years now. However, I'm concerned that a switch to the spread right now would be a move that's already behind the times. The spread offense was at its most effective in the mid-2000s, and the trend away from it has already started. Switching to it now would be akin to NFL teams switching to the 3-4 defense next year. Also, it's hard to not think about the difficulties both Meyer and Mullen had once Tim Tebow left Gainesville. MSU's offense is, at best, still a work in progress, and at worst it was predictable and bland. Balanced, pro-style offense may not be the most exciting to watch, but when it's run properly it's effective, no matter the date. We're seeing that at places like Alabama and Stanford right now, and if I had my druthers, that's the kind of offense would run. It may not be as flashy as a well oiled spread machine, but usually the meatgrinder approach wins.

I think when it comes down to it regarding Dan Mullen, my official stance is positive, but approach with caution. So... What do y'all think?

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