ATLANTA — No matter how much Mississippi State and new coach Joe Moorhead try, there’s seemingly no ducking and dodging questions regarding Dan Mullen and his approaching return to Starkville this season.
But Wednesday’s appearance at SEC Media Days was intended to highlight the team coming back and Moorhead’s new regime rather than dwell on the past and Mullen’s departure for Florida after nine seasons at the helm of MSU.
Moorhead didn’t mention his predecessor’s name in his appearance on the main floor at the College Football Hall of Fame, despite being asked about the group Mullen left behind and the job he did, and the Bulldogs players downplayed the importance of the showdown with the Gators on Sept. 29
“It was great to play for Mullen,” senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald said, “but I’m really excited to play for coach Moorhead.”
Although Fitzgerald did later give Mullen credit, because he “really taught me the game of football,” the two other Bulldogs in attendance didn’t heap praise on the 46-year-old Mullen, choosing instead to focus on the here and now.
“Right now our team mindset is just getting ready for Fall camp. The leaders on the team have just been preaching one game at time, you know, we can’t get too far ahead in the schedule,” senior outside linebacker Gerri Green said. “When that game comes it’s going to be an exciting game, it’s going to be a fun game. It’s an SEC opponent so you know it’s a game we want to win, but this is our mindset towards them all.”
Asked if there’s any additional excitement regarding Mullen’s return, Green acknowledged there will be, but that it’s because Florida is an SEC Eastern Division opponent, and one that doesn’t make the rounds often in Starkville.
However, Green is unsure on how the MSU fans and the city of Starkville will receive Mullen upon his return, but he stressed Mullen’s nearly decade-long tenure at the university and the accomplishments that came with it should be celebrated rather than jeered.
“I don’t know (how Mullen will be received). He was a great coach, he did a lot of great things for Mississippi State University, so I think the fans will probably cheer him on,” Green said. “It’s football, things like coaches changing happens all the time.”
It’s a sentiment safety Mark McLaurin echoed, saying he won’t have a better grasp of the emotions involved in the matchup until that day arrives. Until then, McLaurin and Co. are stressing the company motto: handle what’s in front and don’t look ahead or back.
“We just are all processing everything, just taking it one game at a time,” McLaurin said. “We know it’s a big-time SEC game, and we’re just going to have to wait until that game comes.”