Mullen talks defense as Bulldogs prepare for Orange Bowl without defensive coordinator

Dan Mullen, it appears, is adding linebackers coach to the many titles he’s held in his coaching career. Temporarily, at least, as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Geoff Collins has left to take a similar position at Florida and will not be coaching in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

NWSZWQITCBITPYR.20141123030535Mullen was seen working with Mississippi State’s linebackers in practice Tuesday morning, but in reality, graduate assistant John Haneline will be the primary coach for MSU’s linebackers, a man who Mullen considers a young up-and-comer in the world of college football coaching.

As for who will run the entire defense in the interim between now and the next coordinator, Mullen and his staff will discuss their options further this afternoon, as nothing has yet been decided. Assistant head coach and safeties coach Tony Hughes would seem a likely candidate to take on a larger role, but there’s no rush to make a decision.

Likewise, Mullen did not indicate he is in any immediate hurry to fill the position, one he believes will be a sought after spot.

“We’ve always had good defense at Mississippi State,” Mullen said. “Always will as long as I’m here.”

In that regard he is accurate, both historically and recently. MSU has been top five in scoring defense in the SEC four of the last five years, holding opponents under 20 points per game in three of those seasons. With bowl games left to play, State finished this regular season fourth in the SEC allowing 19.4 points per game.

Mullen’s last two defensive coordinators were promotions from within, but the last time he hired an outside person, he did so in January at the coaches convention when he hired co-coordinators Manny Diaz and Chris Wilson. Mullen has connections with at least a few defensive coaches currently looking for work, as well as plenty more among those who may be looking for a promotion from their current positions. It’s likely that Mullen will take his time.

The most important date for Mullen likely isn’t the Orange Bowl, but National Signing Day in early February.

Whoever Mullen does hire will inherit a fair bit of depth and talent, including four stars at every position group, as well as 10 projected starters who will be either juniors or seniors.

As for Collins’ departure, Mullen said new Florida coach Jim McElwain called him yesterday to ask about speaking with Collins, a gesture Mullen said he appreciated.

On Collins’ end, it’s a return to the state of Florida, where he and his wife spent three years before moving to Starkville. They love the state, a place where Collins is well-connected, and presumably liked the idea of returning and working with a friend in the coaching business in McElwain.

“I don’t like anybody leaving for what I would view as a lateral move,” Mullen said, continuing to say every man has a decision to make. Shortly after, he added, “Geoff did a great job here and we’re pleased with what he’s done … The psycho defense will continue to be the psycho defense. That’s who we are no matter who the defensive coordinator is.”

MSU continues practice for the Orange Bowl tomorrow evening.

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