Mullen preparing Gators for his return to Starkville, Miss.

Florida's Dan Mullen is just the ninth coach in SEC history to go from being head coach at one league school to another in back-to-back seasons. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Dan Mullen easily could have been treated as stranger, an outsider, when he first arrived in Starkville, Miss., at the start of 2009 to take over Mississippi State’s struggling football program.

He was from Vermont, which could have automatically made some around town suspicious. He was a man with no ties to MSU and the state of Mississippi, no ties to the South, and his accent, or lack of one, stood out. And, well, he was a Yankee, for gosh sakes.

But despite the cultural differences, Starkville didn’t shun Mullen, it embraced him.

“Being a Yankee and all, they were very accepting of me right from the beginning,” Mullen said Monday. “The people of Starkville were great to me and my family. The people in town were fabulous people. It’s a great place to have kids. Both my kids were born there. It’s a great community to live in. The fans are unbelievable.”

Since his very first days there, Mullen has always felt welcome and at home in Starkville.

But things are different now. Starkville might not seem the same.

When he returns to town with the Florida Gators, he’s probably going to be treated as an outsider. Maybe even an unwelcome one.

He might even get booed at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday night.

“What do you think?” Mullen said when asked about the possibility of being booed. “I think there will be a lot of passion on Saturday night with people there. But I think the majority of people and everybody that I knew in that fanbase. … When I think of the fans and I think of the former players and the people of the town of Starkville, I think for the most part they were appreciative in what we were able to accomplish in the nine years that we were there.

Up until Mullen took the job at Florida in late November, it would have been unfathomable to think that Mullen one day might actually get booed in Starkville.

For nine years, he was probably the most popular man in town. Because he took a downtrodden MSU football program and turned it into a winner, leading the Bulldogs to an unprecedented eight consecutive bowl games from 2011 to 2017.

And it wasn’t just about the wins. It also was the way Mullen reached out to the town and the fanbase early and the strong bond that formed immediately between coach and community, and only grew stronger over the course of his stay in Starkville.

“It was a place I went to and told them we need you to show up and sell out the stadium, and if you do that we can build a program here,” Mullen said. “And you know what, the fans believed in that. The fans bought into that. Heck, with selling out the stadium, my first year there, we went 2-5 at home and they sold out. You couldn’t get a seat for games.

“Then all of a sudden, they started seeing the results of the effort that all the fans put in. And then the players. You look at the community and the fans, and the players, so many great memories of the players that are there and the special bond that you have throughout the years of the guys that played for me.”

Once beloved, Mullen returns as an outsider Saturday, a coach standing on the opposing sideline who will be trying to beat the same team and the same school that were his for the past nine years.

Davis Wade Stadium certainly isn’t going to feel, or sound, like home to Mullen on Saturday night. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be intense, it’s going to be raucous. And all that negative energy is going to be directed at Mullen and the Gators.

He can only thank himself for the environment he and he is going to have to contend with Saturday.

“I spent nine years creating the atmosphere,” Mullen said. “So I get to see what it is like. I get to go back and see what it’s like to be on the other sideline.”

Mullen isn’t quite sure what the overall response from the fans will be. As for the players he coached last season, he’s anticipating two different kinds of receptions.

“I think it will be different before and during (the game) than it will be afterwards,” he said. “That would be my guess. I’d imagine before and during, the competitive is going to take over anything else and then afterwards it might be different.”

Mullen’s current players know what he’s stepping into Saturday night, but their focus does not seem to be on their coach’s much-anticipated homecoming.

“It would be great to give him a win against Mississippi State, the team he just came from,” junior wide receiver Freddie Swain said. “Just focus on it’s another game. Hopefully, we get a win. Just win.

“I didn’t really know too much about his time up there. I know he did great things there. I was very excited to have him come here.”


  1. i told you folks the VOLS were a joke. We are about to go Beast on some teams. Mullen knows what MSU has, so count this win also. 4-1 and in top 25. If it is possible to say this, the KY loss is looking more respectable. We’re gonna go into the OFF week 5-2 AT WORST…. and then it’s Cocktail Party….
    BRING IT !!!!!!!

  2. ’02 ME
    I live in North MS about two hours from Starkville. The people up here are ready to clang the bells and yell at Mullen, before Saturday it was as if the Cowboys had swapped defensive lines with MSU. They are understandably humbler now. That said, I will have earplugs on Saturday night at the game, those bells will ring your ears differently from the swamp student section. Make no mistake MSU will be extremely motivated to see Mullen. They are not the same team that didn’t expect to win in the past. They fully expect to whip the Gators. Before last week it was a foregone conclusion (to MSU fans) and a easy MSU victory game. I of course didn’t see it that way. The Boos and Bells are guaranteed. UF 34 MSU 31 in OT.

    • in the end, without being too disrespectful, Mississippi state does not have the resources, advantages, fan base, and traditions the gators have. I doubt MSU will win, and I expect the score to be low. upsets happen, but I like our chances. I think we have a coaching advantage, particularly on defense.

    • Our score wont be low at all! MsSt is last in the west for a good reason. They hadnt played anybody till UK. Anyone think they have a chance is uninformed or smoking something. Look who they played: SF Austin , K state , and La lafayette! Then they lose 28-7 to a team we would have beat if it werent for the refs illegally blowing the whistle after our touchdown play had started and clearly would have scored and then denying our made FG. still we were in it till the end. MsSt didnt even compete against UK! 28-7! Get real!

      • Daz….great points bro. I don’t know about the score next week, but I think a lot of people need to sit back and see how things transpire. It’s what…3-4 weeks…and after 2 weeks, we made some teams world beaters. K State has turned out to be not so good aof a team…and UK a better, physical team than expected.

    • Trenton and anyone else able to make the game in person – Make up signs that read: Every time a bell sounds a GATOR gets their rings. A word play from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I have too many medical issues to ever see a live game again, but I will ALWAYS be watching on my 75 in. TV. GO GATORS!!!

  3. Mullen went into a coaching graveyard when generations of coaches had failed and he won, even getting MSU all the way to #1 for a time. He left the program strong, loaded with talent and expected to win. Of course, MSU wants to win, but i would be surprised in the end if most of the fans don’t feel good about what he did for them.

    They do have a mobile QB who can throw the ball, so he will present problems similar to Kentucky. We’ll see what happens. I still don’t feel I know our team well enough to make any predictions. Hopefully, the Sun writers will pick the Gators to lose, though.

    • It’s got to be awkward for Mullen and his former players at MSU, more or less akin to suddenly walking into a room full of ducks smoking cigars, and being at a loss for quite what to say. However, the real question is what sort of disadvantage does this occasion entail, and for whom? As unbiased as I can be, I’d say disadvantage MSU: They’re going to try too hard to prove that it doesn’t bother them, or else they’re going to be so bothered by it that they try too hard to prove their grit. Either way, I have not been all that impressed with MSU since the start of the season, and don’t see any reason why we won’t beat them at home as long as we prepare properly for the game, keep our heads, and execute.

      • I hear you. I think keeping heads is a big question. Mullen preaches never get too up or too down, but human nature being what it is and with young people you never know if a big win can throw them off kilter. Hopefully, they put it behind them and get focused on this week’s game. It should be interesting.

        As much as I have joked about the Sun’s writers I wonder if we can get Tenow to tell them they aren’t good again. I think that may have helped fire them up!

        Go Gators!

  4. Mullen left Mississippi State a lot of talent at the beginning of the season I said this was probably a loss but now I feel like this is a toss up now i live in southern Louisiana and am making the trip to starkvegas never been there before really excited about going there for the game this Saturday.

    Mullen recruited most of these players knows how they play and there strengths and weaknesses but also these players know let’s hope that translates in to a gator win because with the purple and canary yellow coonasses looming whom I can not stand by the way the gators need to go at least 1-1 the next 2 games 0-2 would be tragic 2-0 would be great so let’s work’em silly gators

  5. I hope Coach Mullen will preach to them about being disciplined and using their energy toward carrying out their assignments. I know they will be protective of him once they get there. MSU has already had a pregame dust up with UK. The last thing we need is having players ejected before the game. They have to be mentally disciplined so they are not side tracked by some macho foolishness. I look for a close game. They are much better than UT. Hard to tell how much since they obviously didn’t have a competitive game against UK. Our Gators just need to go there and take care of business and move on. Should be a good one.

  6. This is a crazy game coming up. I will be in attendance at the game and can’t wait. It will be strange. My daughter graduated from MSU last year and I have on many occasions been a bell ringing fan for them. However, as I shared with my daughter I would pull for them in any game except when they play Florida. So I will be decked out in Florida gear, but sitting in the middle of MSU fans. It should be interesting and I will try to be on my best behavior. I asked my wife if I could paint one of our cowbells orange and blue for the game. She didn’t seem to keen on that idea. I like Dan Mullen will be seeing a different side of MSU.

  7. MSU has one win over a decent opponent in Kansas State, but they got man-handled worse by UK than we did, and we were still in a position to win against the ‘Cats even with all the pathetic tackling, dropped passes, and a bad FG call.

    I am not saying UK didn’t deserve their win against us, because they out-played us for it. Matter of fact, when you think about it, UK did us a favor by waking this team up and forcing them to focus a lot more.

    Yet, as a comparison game, it makes you look and think about this weekend’s match-up. MSU is Nick Fitzgerald. It’s all about him and his comfort zone behind center. His accuracy has gone way down on the passing end and his OL is giving up lots of pressure at times. He is mostly more of a running threat than anything. You can tell from his passing this season that he misses having Mullen and Johnson coaching him.

    I would be a whole lot more scared of MSU if Mullen was still there with his current staff.

    But overall, my point is this… Last year’s Miss. St. team would not have been man-handled in the trenches by this year’s UK team as they were last Saturday night. This is not last year’s Miss. St. team imo. Mullen came to UF with a lot of the core of the MSU coaching staff, and these coaches know the MSU roster and it’s players’ strengths and weaknesses, especially the behavior and tendancies of QB Nick Fitzgerald.

    Don’t think that won’t play a major factor in this game this coming weekend.

  8. Florida’s improved every week if this still young season. We saw a dramatic jump in performance by our special teams unit, then after the rush defense debacle against Kentuvky our tackling notably improved. It helps that we’ve added Adam Shuler and David Reese to the line-up. Last Saturday our secondary came up big, a la “DBU”, against some good receivers, especially Marquez Callowsy and Juwan Jennings. Our running game seems to have found its legs, our quarterback is improved and developing, making good decisions under pressure and working with an impressive array of receivers. You can see how the offensive line is a little better but perhaps will make the necessary steps to become a solid group.

    As for Mississippi State, the biggest unanswered question to me is the new head coach. It’s a huge jump from leading Fordham to coaching in the SEC. even being coordinator of a high-powered Penn State offense featuring the best running back in the country doesn’t guarantee success as a head coach in our conference. MSU dominated three weak sister opponents and was crushed by Kentucky. I believe Florida handles the challenge this weekend.

    • I really do too, Clyde, unless MSU has been holding something back for some reason. My only pause is the depth of our secondary, but I think the Gators come out with a victory — which the media will of course change tunes on and start telling us how bad MSU really is and how they knew it all along!