Remembering the Josephs, honoring father and son


I see trees of green

Red roses too

I see them bloom

For me and you

And I think to myself

What a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue

And clouds of white

The bright blessed day

The dark sacred night

And I think to myself

What a wonderful world

There’s a tragic beauty to the father and son spending their last moments on earth together. Everything about it, from the fact they were on their way to see their former high school football team play to the fact that son was driving like his father in the seat next to him had shown him how to do a few short years before.

Sr. taught Jr. everything he knew, giving him his name, his talent, his passion, every great characteristic he had right down to his big bright smile.

They did everything together, or at the least, everything the same, just 25 years apart. Both were christened Keith Joseph at birth and each went on to graduate from Pascagoula High School, stars of the football team destined for greatness. From there, father and son both made the decision to join the Mississippi State football program, becoming members of a proud defensive unit. Where elder had already completed a career, youth was just beginning his own.

Sr. mapped the road; Jr. followed the path beaten so many years before, father behind son the whole way through.

As much as it seems unfair they had so little time together, the fact they had so much time together was the greatest fortune of either of their lives. It’s difficult to see someone’s time in this world end so early, and old or young, all lives are taken too soon to those they leave behind.

But those we love never truly leave us. The light from Keith Sr. and Keith Jr., each as bright as the other, shines so long as their memory lasts. Their impact on those around them ensures that neither will be forgotten, and neither ever really gone.

Families of the blood, football and spiritual types have lost a piece and grown stronger at the same time, a bond that can never be broken as each member shares the grief of the departed.

They were many things to many people; a husband, a father, a brother, a teammate, a friend and even a hero. Their lives alternated between being faces in the crowd and moments on the center stage, one watching the other or both being watched by many. Their influences were wide and great, cheering on their friends and family as passionately as all had cheered them on before.

The colors of the rainbow

So pretty in the sky

Are also on the faces

Of people going by

I see friends shaking hands

Saying, “How do you do?”

They’re really saying

“I love you”

 It’s nearly impossible to rationalize. The two should have had far more time together. They should have had far more time with everyone they knew and the people they would have eventually met. On the way to see their old team play, they should have made it to the game together. Junior should have been on football fields for years to come, Senior watching and cheering him on with the rest of the crowds.

Nothing about the ending of their lives is fair. But everything about the lives they had together is good and right.

They can never be replaced, and no one would try to do so, anyway. The loss in the physical life is replaced in guardian angels, in cherished memories and in lifelong reminders to live life the way the Joseph men did, with passion and integrity, laughter and commitment.

Like teams in a game, our loss is their gain, father and son leaving this world for the next together, the way they were always meant to.

I hear babies cry

I watch them grow

They’ll learn much more

Than I’ll ever know

And I think to myself

What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself

What a wonderful world.

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New pitching coach Wes Johnson fits in at Mississippi State

Racing the sunrise from Starkville to Dallas Saturday morning, Wes Johnson was on his second crack-of-dawn flight in as many days, using the time to watch video of some of his new players. Friday morning he had flown to Starkville to be named the new pitching coach of Mississippi State baseball. Saturday morning he was flying back to Dallas, less than 24 hours after his introductory press conference, because he had made the most serious and unbreakable of vows: the quadruple pinky promise.

“A death promise,” he elaborated.

unnamed-1For all the excitement over a new job, for all the people to meet, all the highlights to watch and recruits to call, Johnson had a commitment he couldn’t back out on. He’d promised his six-year-old daughter he’d take her trick-or-treating this year, no matter what.

The “what” turned out to be his new job at MSU, a possibility he hadn’t even thought of when he promised his little girl he’d take her around the neighborhood this year. Because of work as the pitching coach at Dallas Baptist University, he’d missed the last two Halloweens. So, despite how silly he felt doing it, Johnson had to explain the situation to his new boss when he was on his way to Starkville.

“I know this is kind of a crazy request,” Johnson told head coach John Cohen. “I’ll be right back, but I can’t miss this one. It would be a tough one to explain.”

Cohen, a man with daughters of his own, understood completely.

“Oh, absolutely,” he told Johnson. “Go. We’ll get you back after.”

Which he did, of course, when Johnson flew back Monday for his first real day on the job, working with his pitchers and putting plans into action for the 2016 season. After some trick-or-treating, that is.

The fact Johnson requested such a thing and the way Cohen supported his wish show why the hire was such a natural fit for both parties. Cohen runs a program based on the principles and values of family, and built on the support of a college town that approaches life the same way. Johnson is a family man whose philosophies line up similarly, born and raised in a small town outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas, taught to cherish and protect relationships.

He’s incredibly proud of his family, dependent on them to a degree, as he referred to his wife as his Director of Operations when introduced last Friday.

“I’m serious when I say this. It’s tough for a guy, I believe, to be in this position without a strong wife or somebody like that in your life,” Johnson said. “She’s awesome. She’s the best thing about me. I’m just real fortunate and I can’t thank her enough for what she does for me every day.”

His youngest daughter, the one who dressed as Supergirl for Halloween, now has “more candy than we know what to do with.” His oldest is a son, 22 years old, who is getting married next summer. His middle one is a high school junior, all at once a daughter, a basketball player and a baseball nut.

“She’ll know every guy on our team, where he’s from, what he does,” Johnson said. “When I get home from a game, she’ll want to talk. ‘Hey dad, why did this happen? Why’d y’all do this? Why’d you take this guy out?’”

unnamed-2Johnson’s father passed away in 2003, but the childhood he remembers was one with a close-knit family, a tight group who spent time together and cared about he each other. He always wants to provide the same for his kids.

When the opportunity to join MSU came, the conversations with his wife weren’t all about money or fame. He was able to look at her and say, “this is kind of like where we grew up. It’s that kind of town.

It’s not just his family, though. Johnson is all about relationships in general. Honesty, too, within those relationships. Just as his father inspired him to be the dad he is today, his former coaches inspired him to be the coach he is today.

Johnson’s approach is to be 100 percent honest with his players. He could lie and make them feel good, he knows, but he thinks being direct and open is the best approach. He’ll love them when they need it, he says, and go hard on them when they need that, too.

Johnson knows that when young men come to play college baseball, they see their coaches more than they see their own parents. It’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly. It’s also what made him want to be a coach in the first place.

“When people pour into you, you grow from it,” Johnson said as he reminisced on the coaches who helped mold him. “You get older and it’s kind of like, man, that’s what I want to do. I want to impact young men’s lives.”

It’s an approach he works hard on, too. One of the many happy moments he had in his first day was finding out he gets a staff discount at the bookstore on campus. He’s always reading books, specifically ones that will help him be a better coach, father, mentor and person. He reads about how to get the most out of people, how to get the most out of himself, and even books on sales, marketing and public relations. His job is to work with people, and specifically to help them. He takes it seriously.

As serious as he is, though, as many players as he’s helped send to into the pros, as much command as he’s taught and as much velocity as he’s developed in his pitchers, he still the softie who couldn’t miss trick-or-treating with his daughter, too.

“Pinky promises are real big,” he explained. “After the quadruple pinky promise that I would not miss Halloween this year, I had to get back.”

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Live thread: Dan Mullen press conference, Missouri week

At 1 p.m. today, Dan Mullen will meet with reporters for his weekly press conference. Mississippi State is 6-2 and plays at Missouri on Thursday night after an off week last weekend.

Live updates to follow.


NYYLMRSORAXGGJQ.20151010210138And he’s here.

“We’re excited to go back out there and play,” he opens.

Mullen said the chance for players to get some rest, have personal time and step away from the game for a quick breather was nice. That said, bye week was handled differently given the short week this week.

Yesterday, MSU had what they consider their Tuesday practice and today they will have Wednesday practice.

As for Missouri, Mullen said the big challenge is getting ready for a strong defense.

“Statistically, the best defense in the entire conference,” Mullen says. “Going to be a huge challenge for us … They play hard. They’ve got explosive pass-rushers off the edge. They’ve got really big, physical guys on the inside.”

Offensively, Mullen said Mizzou not having veteran QB Maty Mauk doesn’t change MSU’s approach to preparing for them.

“They’re gonna run their system,” Mullen said. “They’re gonna do what they do. It’s not like they completely changed their system when they went to the freshman.”

Time for the big questions, talking about punter Logan Cooke, who is on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award. Mullen considers him a veteran player and says he never gets nervous. Has a lot of confidence in him.

As for the team as a whole, Mullen says MSU is starting to find its identity, especially as younger players are learning what it takes and getting comfortable.

“We want to peak at the end of the season, not the beginning or the middle,” he says. “Schematically, we’ve settled in to what we’re doing well.”


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Robson, MSU baseball players, enjoy college life off the field

I like Rich Eisen’s saying “Punters are people, too.” The phrase, really, could be expanded to all who are in sports, as it can be easy to forget that the people on fields and courts don’t just live there. Players are people, too. They’re real humans with real lives, real concerns, real hobbies and real thoughts.

unnamed-1Dak Prescott doesn’t just have some underground tunnel connecting the practice facility to Davis Wade Stadium so he can never leave. It’s a particularly true thing for college athletes whose livelihood is likely not going to be dependent on sports in a few years. At the very least, while they consider their sports to be something of a job, they’re not getting paid for it. They’re still college kids who have to study for tests and are interested in making friends and sometimes making more than friends.

So yeah, of course athletes have interests outside of their sport. Some athletes like to hunt. They are people, after all. Some enjoy cooking, designing or building things. They like romantic comedies or mafia dramas. They watch re-runs of The Office just like the rest of us.

And many of them, especially the current ones who grew up on it, love Harry Potter. As they should.

I found out early on in his baseball career at MSU that outfielder Jacob Robson is into all things Potter. Being of like mind, I naturally gravitated toward him. In fact, we did an entire interview one day talking purely about The Boy Who Lived and the qualities that make Robson a perfect member of the Gryffindor House. If none of this makes sense, that’s perfectly fine.

unnamed-2Robson, however, understands it fully, which is why we joined together Tuesday night as the Mississippi State Student Association put on a Harry Potter trivia night. It was what we were born to do. Robson could’ve joined the group of his baseball teammates who formed their own trivia team, but he was kind enough to be the fourth member of my group.

“They’re not real competition, anyway,” Robson told me as he looked over at them. “They won’t even place.”

However, he did confess there was one possible advantage the team of baseball players could have. Jack Kruger, a new player who had tremendous numbers in fall ball for MSU, is also a speed-reader, Robson told me. It’s entirely possible he read through all seven of the Harry Potter books over the weekend and has them fresh on his mind. Pair Kruger with sophomore infielder Ryan Gridley who has seen the movies several times each, and it was possible the group could become a formidable foe.

They did not, it turned out, but as we waited for the trivia to start, I pointed out a group across the room who was. That trio over there, I told Robson, was our biggest competition. I grew up with two of the members and have memories of one of them standing in the middle of the theater before the premier of one of the Harry Potter movies and asking for everyone’s silence as, dressed in full Hogwarts regalia, she made a toast to Albus Dumbledore, “the greatest wizard who ever lived.

Fair to say, they’re into it. One of them saw me and came over to talk, saying she didn’t know I was there and that she’s nervous because she’s rusty on her Potter trivia.

After she wished us luck, she walked away and the competitiveness of an SEC athlete came out in Robson.

“She knew you were here the whole time,” he told me. “And she’s not rusty.”

Again, Robson was right. At least about the rust part.

unnamed-3His baseball teammates proved no threat, while the trio across the room stayed tied with us for first place through several of the seven rounds.

But, as should have been expected, our team – The Supreme Mugwumps – rose to the top. Third place was announced after the tabulations were through, the trio across the room. Second place, another unworthy opponent. Then as first place was announced, our fists went into the air and our team of four erupted in cheers. We were the Triwizard Trivia Champions, just as we had been destined to become.

And Robson’s teammates, in a show of sportsmanship, were even kind enough to wait on him while he picked up his prizes – a brand new wand, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans and a glass bottle of cold butterbeer.

His primary focus is to win on the baseball field, but it’s nice to get a victory in regular life, too.

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Taveze Calhoun earns national recognition as scholar-athlete

Six years ago, Taveze Calhoun was a skinny high school kid with the respect of his peers on the football team and his teachers at school, but with little-to-no fanfare anywhere outside the bubble of the small town of Morton, Mississippi. He was hardly being recruited by anyone on the FBS level at all, let alone in the Southeastern Conference.

QBWZCHKHKBKGACR.20150920001014Luckily, one of his teammates had the interest of nearly every school around the country, including Mississippi State. It’s for that reason Dan Mullen found himself in the principal’s office of Morton High School. While there to talk about the five-star prospect on the team, the principal told MSU’s head coach about the player she thought he should sign – Calhoun.

“This is the guy you want,” she told Mullen. “Just take a look at him. He’s our hardest worker, our best leader. He may not jump off the tape when you watch, but if you take him, you won’t regret it.”

Today, we know Mullen did take Calhoun. He took both players, as a matter of fact, but it’s Calhoun who became the star, just as his principal predicted, and it was her praise that foreshadowed the honors now being bestowed upon Calhoun. Not football honors. Not directly, anyway. But academic honors.

This week, Calhoun was named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete, one of only 12 players in the country to earn such a distinction and the only one in the SEC. As a result, Calhoun is also a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, often referred to as the academic Heisman.

Asked about his reaction to the honor, Calhoun first said he was grateful and happy to see that hard work in the classroom paid off. Then, of course, he’s excited for the trip to New York for the ceremony. A country boy from Mississippi, he’s never been to the Big Apple.

However, it’s those roots that got him to this point. His time in Morton made him who he is and high school is where his dedication to bettering himself and his determination to be a leader began. He may not have known the impact he was having at the time, but looking back, Calhoun can see why his principal campaigned for him when coaches came to visit.

“I always wanted to be different,” Calhoun said. “I didn’t want to be the average kid in high school who was a good football player and didn’t do well in school. I wanted to make a difference in my community and in my life. I worked hard in everything I did and, fortunately, having the pedestal of being a good football player made me stand out even more. That made me a great leader in my school and that’s probably why she pushed me so hard.”

GTJECOVLLUWKTEF.20151024223551High school was also where he found another of his loves, one outside of football – history classes.

“Probably one of the greatest teachers I ever had, Mr. Smith, made me fall in love with history,” Calhoun remembered. “I like learning how we got to this point.”

When he got to MSU, Calhoun picked history classes for every elective his advisor allowed. He saw college as another opportunity to learn, another chance to take advantage of what was in front of him. Now in graduate school for community college education with an emphasis in nutrition, Calhoun got his undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies, trying to take in as much as he could in his years on campus.

He’s never been the student who didn’t have to work for good grades, he admits, but he’s always had a natural eagerness to learn, a willingness to work hard and a memory to help him retain information from the variety of subjects he’s studied.

“Football is not forever,” Calhoun said. “I just want to make the best of my opportunities. I don’t want to be the guy to come back and say, ‘I wish I would have done this.’ I want to give 100 percent in everything I do in my time at Mississippi State, because it is limited. I don’t want to have any regrets. I gave it all in the classroom and on the football field.”

The patience to listen and learn has paid off in football, too, he says, where coaches have been amazed to teach him something once and see him put into practice immediately and consistently. In classes, Calhoun has always taken pride in his ability to take good notes, pay close attention and retain information. The same principle applies in the film and meeting rooms in football.

IREKQCBDXYCWJKA.20150920001014Even today, he said, he remembers things his position coach told him his freshman year five years ago. He still heeds the tips and pointers current NFL and former MSU cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay gave him when they were the stud seniors and he was the young one working behind them.

He’s not just an eager learner, he’s a good one. Once he hears something, Calhoun says, he doesn’t forget it.

For all he’s learned, his dream is to one day give that back to those coming behind him. The NFL is his immediate plan following his career at MSU, but long term, he wants be as great an influence to others as his coaches, teachers and mentors have been to him.

“I’ve had a lot of coaches throughout my high school and college career who were important in my life and made a difference in my life,” Calhoun said. “They encouraged me to do good in school and in football. I want to give the same thing to some kids. A lot of people I know, they lack that and kind of go down their own path. If I could reach one or two people like somebody reached me – I think the greatest thing you can do for somebody is impact their life in a positive way. That’s something I want to do after football.”

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Live thread: men’s basketball media day

At 1:30 today, Mississippi State basketball will host its preseason media day. Ben Howland and several players will be speaking to reporters as the Bulldogs prepare for their season-opener on November 13th.

We will have live updates here as events and interviews unfold, beginning with Howland.


And he’s here!

Update from Howland on injuries, Malik Newman has turf toe, Fallou Ndoye broke his nose and sprained his ankle, then Travis Daniels had his wisdom teeth removed.

“We have a lot to do and a long way to go,” Howland says of the upcoming season.

The injuries have slowed things, but MSU has been able to go five-on-five for the most part. The last dozen practices they’ve been able to do so. Howland says having a good group of walk-ons has made that easier.

“It’s been a challenge,” he says.

Asked about the guards, Howland is confident in the group he has and the rotation of five guys he has for those three spots. With so much depth, they’re even playing Demetrius Houston some at the four, who has been one of MSU’s best rebounders

“I like our guards,” Howland says. “That’s where our depth is.”

Getting into the team as a whole, Howland says the seniors are the guys who drive the team. There are five of them and he has that group lead drills every practice. Said he’s pleased with their attitude as leaders and the way their embracing things.

Those older guys, Howland says, are adjusting to a new system, but they have experience playing college basketball and that makes a big difference as they try to lead and help the younger guys. He says the jump from high school to SEC is bigger than most young guys realize and that will be the biggest adjustment they have to make.

Asked about his expectations for freshmen guards Malik Newman and Quindarry Weatherspoon, Howland says, “to play really good.” Went on to say the biggest thing they have to learn and improve on is defense. Says they can’t gamble too much and have to learn to play responsible defense.

“They’re going to have big roles and we expect big things,” he said.

In the post, Howland says he’s asking Gavin Ware to be an inside scoring threat and get more buckets around the basket. Howland said Ware has been one of MSU’s best and most consistent scorers in practice.

“He’s critical to us offensively,” Howland said of Ware. “He’s gotta get better defensively.”

Howland says, at one point, Ware shot 58 of 75 from the field in a streak of four practices.

“He has great touch for his size.”

As for the possibilities of this season, Howland says the goal of every team is to be in the field of 68 and make the NCAA Tournament, but adds the team doesn’t talk about that. Plan is to take games as they come and hope the results add up by the end of the season.

Who will be MSU’s starting five when the season starts? “I have an idea, but I’m not ready to share it with you,” he says with a smile.

And that’s it for Howland.

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Schaefer, MSU basketball assume new role among SEC’s elite

Mississippi State isn’t an underdog anymore.

Vic Schaefer wanted to be here, worked hard to get here, but now that he actually is here, he has to figure out what to do here. His first three years as the head coach at MSU were marked by obvious improvement and development. By the end of year three, his Bulldogs were in the NCAA Tournament, the Top 15 and far past the point of being overlooked.

unnamedThey used to be the dogs at the back of the pack, nipping at the heels of those in front of them as they worked their way forward. It happened faster than maybe some expected, but already, Schaefer’s women have overtaken their quarry and become the lead dogs themselves. Now that they got there, they have to keep their spot.

Luckily, Schaefer has a plan. It’s the same one he had the day he started at MSU.

“We still have to embrace that ‘hunter’ mentality,” he said. “We have to remain aggressive.”

Schaefer was at the ESPN studios in Charlotte, North Carolina for women’s basketball media day in the SEC this week. The first time he attended such an event, he was a new coach in a conference of legends, a first-year head coach trying to find where he and his team fit into the best conference in the country, the next step below the WNBA. Neither he nor his program is the big-eyed puppy anymore.

Throughout the day in Charlotte, that was made perfectly clear. When discussing the upper echelon of the league, MSU was in the conversation. Tennessee, South Carolina, and … Mississippi State. The first two are among the best programs in basketball, considered title contenders on a yearly basis almost regardless of the roster. In a few short years, Schaefer’s Bulldogs have entrenched themselves in that elite group.

“People across the country have respect for Mississippi State basketball,” Schaefer told ESPN host Maria Taylor.

It’s true. He said those words during his time on a panel of SEC coaches discussing the state of the conference and the state of college basketball. As he talked, and as he always does, Schaefer wore a big, shiny ring on one finger – a National Championship ring he won at Texas A&M. He was an assistant then and the head coach he won it with sat at the end of the line of coaches in the studio.

Gary Blair is the elder statesman of the SEC, one of the most accomplished, experienced and respected coaches in the conference. He didn’t teach Schaefer everything he knows, but Blair imparted at least a good chunk of it. Blair has happily watched from College Station as his former assistant has built a contender in Starkville.

“You used to go to Mississippi State and hear crickets,” Blair said when asked about the toughest road games in the SEC. “Now, that place is packed and loud.”

ETWCNVTJXZDMRPA.20150923152051Again, a true statement from the coach. A solid half dozen of the best crowds in MSU history have been under Schaefer’s watch the last couple years. MSU surpassed its record in season ticket sales over two months before the 2015-16 season began. There are three weeks to go until the season-opener and tickets are still flying out the door.

“They’ve really won the hearts of our fans and our community,” Schaefer said of his team. “Coming to watch women’s basketball has become the thing to do in Starkville.”

MSU hosts both South Carolina and Tennessee in Starkville this season, and Schaefer said his goal is to get 10,000 people in Humphrey Coliseum for each game. It might just happen, too.

He’s earned the support as recognition for the job he’s done. MSU’s preseason Top-10 ranking reflects that, as well. The key, now that they’re there, is to stay there. Oddly enough, for a team picked third in the SEC, with All-SEC players and Parade All-Americans on the roster, MSU still has a bit of a chip on their shoulder.

Going into the year, State’s last game is, naturally, the freshest on their mind – a loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Duke, a game they feel they should have won.

“We’re good enough,” Schaefer replied when asked what he learned from the loss. “It left a bad taste in our mouth and creates a hunger and a desire to get back there.”

The attention and accolades are nice, he says. Humbling, for sure, and something he appreciates. But the emotions from the court, not the papers, are the ones driving his team.

MSU will have the proverbial target on its back this year and likely for years to come, but Schaefer’s plan is to turn the attention right back on those giving it to him. Underdog or favorite, Mississippi State remains The Hunter.

“It’s really been fun building what we’ve built to this point,” Schaefer said, “and we’ve still got a long way to go.”

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Behind-the-scenes with an honest Ben Howland at SEC Basketball Media Day

8:15 a.m., Ballantyne Hotel lobby, Charlotte, North Carolina

Ben Howland asked the bellhop for a copy of the USA Today as soon as he got down to the lobby from his room. He had a few minutes to spare before taking a shuttle to ESPN’s studios down the street and wanted to get in as much of his morning ritual as he could before going through the marathon that is SEC basketball media day.

unnamed-3Reading the paper is part of that, but not just the sports section. In fact, that morning, it wasn’t the sports section at all, but the money section. Howland, to a certain level, is a business man. As Mississippi State’s head coach sat down in an armchair next to his video coordinator Michael Moynihan, he scanned the headlines for stories that caught his eye while quickly but succinctly breaking down the Republican and Democratic fields for the Presidential nomination in casual conversation with Moynihan.

“Where’s the money coming from for that?” he asked of one candidate’s particular idea.

At least twice over the course of the day, Howland found himself in conversation about the exponential spike in the value of homes in Santa Barbara, California, where he himself has a house. He had a similar conversation with new Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes, espousing the low cost of living in Starkville, while also explaining the headaches of trying to build a home in this particular neighborhood.

Shortly after, ESPN personality Maria Taylor half-jokingly asked the two if they would consider donating to a charity she works with. Howland was quick to respond, “This is the guy you need to ask. Rick’s been living in Texas, he hasn’t paid state income tax in 20 years!”

On a lighter level, Howland was twice asked during his trip what his favorite movie is. Both times, he offered two films as his one favorite: Godfather 1 and 2.

“But I’m a movie buff,” he says. “I could go on for days. There are so many that I love.”

Howland didn’t end up getting very far into the money section of the paper before the shuttle arrived to take him away, but he asked his media relations director Gregg Ellis to hold it in his backpack, if he wouldn’t mind, so Howland could read it later.

When they left the bus for interviews to begin, Howland asked if Ellis would hold on to his wallet, too, please.

“Don’t let it get stolen,” he said with a hint of comedy to his tone. “It’s got a lot of money in it.”

Ellis responded with a laugh.

“I’m serious,” Howland deadpanned.

Noon, ESPN Charlotte cafeteria

“I’m not going to lie,” Howland said.

unnamed-1He was reviewing the morning he’d had going from studio-to-studio and room-to-room doing various interviews for television and online ESPN platforms. And no, he didn’t lie, as was obvious to those who watched and listened to him that morning.

Coaches in general so consistently offer little-to-no substance or information in their answers to questions, that they’ve earned their own term, coachspeak, to refer to the way in which they avoid questions whether they needed to or not.

Howland, at least on most subjects, isn’t a coachspeak kind of guy, which may have taken those around him by surprise in the ESPN studio when he was part of a panel of new SEC coaches with host Dari Nowkah. Reporters in Starkville were a little surprised the first time Howland referred to freshman point guard Malik Newman as a one-and-done guy (something he’s done pointedly and repeatedly), because though they all knew and expected the same, they surely didn’t think MSU’s coach would come out and say it.

When the topic was broached in Charlotte, Howland offered the same refrain and took his belief one verse farther as Nowkah asked him about recruiting big-time players.

“Kids want a great experience in college, but they also have the hope and dream of being a pro,” he said as he finished talking about Newman’s NBA expectations as well as the previous players of Howland’s to advance to the highest level. “Kids can see that and say, ‘I can go play for Coach Howland at Mississippi State and he can make me a pro.’”

It’s not just grandstanding, either. Howland does have a history of doing it, over 20 of his former players having littered the NBA over recent years. Point guards, forwards, five-stars and no-stars, Howland’s track record is impressive. That’s why MSU was so excited to hire him in the first place.

It’s important for the Bulldogs that Howland bring in good players, and it’s just as important to Howland that he develop those players while they’re in his care, be it for a single year or the maximum allowable by the NCAA. After all, he said, it’s the SEC. Every player who comes to play in this conference believes they will be a professional one day, whether they end up making it or not.

“That’s a big selling point for Mississippi State,” Howland continued. “I have a track record of getting people to the league.”

Plus, he added as one more touch to the unplanned recruiting pitch, “there’s automatic playing time if you come here.

Howland’s belief in what he can do for players and what he can do for MSU basketball is the same. He will occasionally mention the many players he’s coached to go on to pro careers, but more often in Charlotte he bragged on the history of Mississippi State basketball, reviewing the successes of Richard Williams and Rick Stansbury in recent memory, and even successes of the past from Babe McCarthy and the many great players he coached.

“Where you’ve had success before,” Howland told ESPN’s Paul Finebaum, “you know you can have it again.”

3:30 p.m., Sirius/XM interview room, Ballantyne Hotel

Howland was in Charlotte for basketball. He’s a basketball coach who lives and works in the southeast, the land where pigskin is king and everyone else is just fighting for runner-up. The whole point of his trip was to promote the basketball team, despite that other sport being in the middle of its season.

unnamed-2But off the air, all Howland could talk about was football. Even on the air he made sure to bring it up a few times. Some coaches shy away from talking about football, Nowkah had told him earlier in the day, but not Howland, Nowkah noticed.

He sat there during his Sirius/XM interview and went on about how much he loves football. Perhaps because it’s a sport he gets to watch as a fan, not always with the coach part of him nagging in the back of his brain like with basketball.

When MSU hosted LSU back in September, it was the first time in his 58 years on earth that he’d been to a real, live SEC football game, a match-up he took his wife to see, too.

“Our ears were ringing the whole game,” Howland said of MSU’s traditional cowbells. “I loved it.”

He went on to say, first, what an impressive atmosphere it was and how helpful that is when bringing recruits into town. Second, he expressed his hope and belief that MSU fans will do the same for basketball in Humphrey Coliseum.

“If you bring a kid to a football game at Mississippi State,” he said, “that’s an incredible experience.”

Even on the shuttle that morning, Howland got into a conversation with Missouri coach Kim Anderson about their football teams who play each other in a couple weeks. Howland said he thinks MSU has looked better than their 1-2 conference record indicates, and he also revealed his true colors as a basketball coach when telling Anderson that MSU lost “at the buzzer” to LSU.

It’s not just football, though. Howland seems to genuinely love Starkville, too. Even if he hated it, he wouldn’t say so on camera, but Howland is preaching the gospel of StarkVegas to anyone who will listen, whether it’s on the record or not. It’s a place he believes in and truly appears to enjoy.

“Being in a college town is so much fun,” he said. “Everything revolves around the university.”

He used to work in Los Angeles, but Howland was raised in a town of 10,000. Starkville is the big city to him in some ways, but it certainly has the benefits of being a college town.

“No traffic. You get to know people,” he listed off. “And we have great restaurants!”

4 p.m., Ballantyne Hotel lobby

Finally done with interviews and waiting on the shuttle to the airport for the short flight home, Howland’s mind clicked back to one of the things he never got to do that morning.

“Gregg, do you still have the newspaper I gave you earlier?”

Always, to some degree, a business man, Howland remembers. He pays attention.

Earlier that day while walking through the ESPN complex, Howland passed through the hallway where the football helmets of every major school hang on the wall in three rows and dozens of columns.

Howland found the maroon and white helmet he was looking for, disappointed to see that it was on the bottom row, tough to see for anyone passing by. Not even checking to make sure no one was looking, Howland removed a helmet from the top row and set the MSU one its place.

“Gotta get Mississippi State in a prominent spot,” he explained.

If Howland’s tenure in Starkville goes like he expects, he’ll do just that.

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Live thread: Dan Mullen press conference, Kentucky week

At 1 p.m. today, Dan Mullen will meet with reporters for his weekly press conference. Mississippi State beat Louisiana Tech 45-20 last weekend and hosts Kentucky on Saturday night in Davis Wade Stadium.

Live updates to follow.


GTSEFWBBYZFDBTD.20150913031107And he’s here.

Mullen says the game this weekend is important because the team talked about needing to sweep the three-game homestand they’re in the middle of now. Won the first two, now they’ve got UK before an off week and traveling to Missouri.

As for UK QB Patrick Towles, Mullen calls him a “total-package player” who showed last year against MSU how good he is.

Mullen said Towles is comparable to Louisiana Tech QB Jeff Driskel in terms of skill-set, so it perhaps helps a little to play those guys in back-to-back weeks. He said they both have strong arms that make you think they can stand in the pocket and deliver, but then they are able to move and be mobile, too. Presents a tough challenge.

On defense, Mullen said UK lost some players from last year’s team but that it doesn’t show. New guys have stepped right in and kept making plays.

Mullen echoing sentiments from last year, saying a little bit of a rivalry develops with your permanent SEC East crossover opponent. Mentions some “close, exciting games that seem to come down to the wire every year.”

“You know that team,” he said. “You know each other. It brings a little different edge.”

Injuries: WR Fred Ross is “good to go.” TE Gus Walley will be a late-week decision. WR Gabe Myles, RB Ashton Shumpert, S Jamal Peters and WR Joe Morrow “should be available” this week, Mullen says.

The bad news comes in linebacker Dez Harris who tore his ACL, his second-season ending injury in as many years.

As for development of the team this year, Mullen says MSU is “a lot different” now compared to where they were going into LSU back in week two. Specifically, Mullen says players are much more comfortable, particularly the young players who are on the field a lot.

“I think we have a little bit more identity of what our team is this year at this point,” he says.

Mullen says freshmen running backs Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams are starting to learn what it takes to be an SEC running back.

“Protect the quarterback and protect the football. Those are the two most important things to do,” he says.

His key for them is that it’s OK to make mistakes, but also they have to learn from them and not make the same mistake again.

Asked about the slow starts defensively, Mullen says he and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz have talked about. They think part of the problem is the young guys struggling to immediately adjust to the speed of the game and get into the flow of the game.

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Prescott, MSU play with anger in 45-20 win over Tech

Ten minutes and 33 seconds in, Dak Prescott was disgusted. He had just watched Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel throw a 16 yard pass to Trent Taylor, putting Tech up 14-0 over Prescott’s Mississippi State team.

LCGRCJCKJPGOKOK.20151017201106Prescott was P.O.’ed, to paraphrase his own words. Typically, State’s quarterback is the happy-go-lucky, upbeat, brush-it-off-your-shoulders kind of guy. But not in that moment, not when some other team had come into his stadium and passed up and down the field on his defense and twice kept him from reaching the endzone he considers to be his.

“It actually made him angry,” head coach Dan Mullen said.

It made the whole team angry, as matter of fact. While Tech was on their sideline celebrating after the extra point, MSU’s defense was on its own sideline giving itself an ultimatum.

“Everything has to change,” one player said to his defensive teammates. “They don’t get in our endzone after this.”

Meanwhile, Prescott was preparing to rally the offense, a look in his eye Mullen had never seen before.

“I don’t know if you wanted to get in front of him at that point,” Mullen later remarked.

Unfortunately, Tech’s defense had to. Those 11 players were on the receiving end of Prescott and MSU’s offense unloading a season full of frustrations on the field. Prescott has made big plays before, had impressive game performances, led comebacks and driven his team to victory, but there was something a little different about that drive when he took the field. There was no stopping him. It wasn’t a moment of panic, and MSU was in no way fighting the clock with almost 19 minutes left in the half.

YMBUURZSHEPRCPP.20151017201106But Prescott was angry, and Tech, they learned, didn’t like him when he was angry. In one minute and 49 seconds, Prescott pushed his team, willed his offense 82 yards down the field for the score. A six yard pass followed by a six yard run. A 19 yard pass for another first down followed by a four yard rush. Back-to-back passes of 27 and 18 yards put MSU at the two-yard line where the ball was immediately punched in on a quick run. Methodical, precise and perfect. Not one thing wrong.

In under two minutes, the game completely changed, and really, despite the score, it was over.

Starting with those points, MSU went on a 45-6 run, winning the game by a final score of 45-20. Tech never did get into the endzone again, just as State’s defense had promised itself they wouldn’t. MSU’s offense, with only 39 yards to its name before that drive, went on to rack up 440 yards before the final second ticked off the clock.

Even the special teams got in on the action when a blocked punt by wide receiver Donald Gray set MSU up for the go-ahead score with less than one minute left in the first half.

“After the 3:51 mark of the first quarter, absolutely it was our most complete game,” Mullen said.

“I was trying to just go out there and set the tone,” Prescott said, telling reporters he personally took the blame for MSU’s early deficit. “We didn’t want to let them hang around and think that they had a shot against us. We had to take over immediately.”

The defense was inspired, freshman safety Brandon Bryant saying they took the field “with fire” the next drive, and it showed as Tech’s offense, which had looked unstoppable its first two possessions, managed only 24 yards on four plays.

Most importantly, it was a fire they kept for the entire game.

“For the first time,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said, “I saw some players really start to grab a hold of things. Guys in the huddle really started to take ownership of this deal. We talked all year about the demeanor of our football team and you started to see a different look in their eye from that point on.”

NSUHGJBWZXATXTJ.20151017201106Against a good team, too, Diaz was quick to point out – a team likely to contend for its conference title and a team that took the Big XII’s Kansas State to overtime just a few weeks ago.

In 2010, Diaz said after the game, MSU would have won that game by three. He pointed to that team’s five-point Homecoming win over UAB as an example.

But in 2015, State won the game by 25.

“That shows the maturity of our program,” Diaz said.

It also shows how good MSU can be this year. MSU suffered a couple early losses, looking out of sorts for most of the first half of the season, despite tallying a 4-2 record in the first six games of the year. 5-2 is only one game better, but what came out of that fifth win made a world of difference for a team full of talent but that had been trying to find itself.

For the first time all year, really, MSU was consistently dominant, doing it for more than just a quarter or a half, and they did it in all three phases of the game.

“It was just a good feeling in the locker room with all the boys,” Bryant said, “everybody smiling all around because you know you completely dominated.”

“We know we’re dominating when we get things going in our favor and when we get some tempo on offense,” Prescott said. “That was the team we know we can be.”

With five conference games coming up, Prescott will have plenty of chances to show it again.

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