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Local Mississippi State alumni OK with life after Mullen

When former Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen disembarked an airplane in Gainesville, Florida early Monday morning to become the new coach of the Gators, local MSU alumni were despondent.

Dispirited. Dejected. Downcast.

But not quite defeated.

“I was upset at first, I’ll be honest. But I think we’re in a good position compared to a lot of other (Southeastern Conference) schools looking for coaches,” said Sullivan Ford’s Will Thibodeaux, a member of the Mississippi State University Lincoln County Alumni Association. “Hopefully being in the position we’re in will help out with the coaching search.”

Mullen was announced as the new football coach of the University of Florida Sunday afternoon. He left Mississippi State as the second-longest tenured coach in the conference behind Alabama’s Nick Saban, and took the Bulldogs to great heights during his nine seasons in Starkville.

Mississippi State, historically a .500 team, went 69-46 under Mullen’s leadership, making him second in wins behind legendary coach Jackie Sherrill. This year the Bulldogs will play in their eighth consecutive bowl game, a streak begun in Mullen’s second year.

Additionally, MSU increased its recruiting prowess under Mullen, with the incoming 2018 class ranked 11th by Rivals.com.

“During Mullen’s tenure, we were the No. 1 team in the nation for five weeks in a row. No other school in Mississippi can say that,” said Brookhaven Ward 4 Alderman Jason Snider, vice president of the alumni association. “It’s been a good ride with him. We are on track to have a good recruiting class next year and we have a lot of good players returning. We’ll have a good team.”

Snider said MSU fans are still “numb” from the Thanksgiving holiday, which saw the Bulldogs’ star quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald, injured in a gruesome hit in the Egg Bowl, which the team went on to lose after being favored to win.

In the midst of their mourning, MSU fans spent Sunday refreshing Twitter to watch Mullen be hired away by Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, the former MSU AD.

“It’s a feel-good story to see Mullen and Stricklin rekindle, but from the eyes of a Bulldog fan it hurts to see Stricklin come into our backyard and take our coach,” Snider said.

Brookhaven Academy’s Brian Emory, president of the alumni association, said Bulldogs fans have faith in their new athletic director — former baseball coach John Cohen.

“I’m at peace with Mullen leaving, and the reason I’m OK with it is because of John Cohen,” he said. “He is such a professional administrator, I have no doubt he and MSU president Dr. Mark Keenum will find a great coach for the football program.”

Emory said Cohen proved he can hire great coaches when he hired Andy Cannizaro to lead the MSU baseball team last year. Cannizaro took the Bulldogs to the NCAA Super Regionals in his first year.

As of Monday afternoon, University of Alabama defensive coach Jeremy Pruitt appeared to be the leading candidate to take Mullen’s old job with the Bulldogs. Lincoln County Tax Appraiser Mason Smith would be accepting of Pruitt, as long as the decision is made thoroughly and quickly.

“My biggest fear is getting caught in this coaching carousel. That would be bad news for us,” he said. “But I’m optimistic we’ll get somebody good. Mullen preached on championships from the get-go and I believed him on that, heart and soul. Mississippi State can win a championship. Mullen brought us here — we need the next coach to raise it up another notch.”

DAN MULLEN