Sep 16, 2011

Why Dan Mullen Would be a Bad Choice for UGA (for now)

The Mullen lovers are out there.  They are few, but they are loud, and they lurk on message boards and comment sections, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Dan Mullen was a very successful offensive coordinator at Florida during part of their recent glory years, before he took over the head coaching job at a struggling Mississippi State program.  In his first season (2009), the little Bulldogs went 5-7.  In 2010, they had a surprisingly good year, going 9-4 (a mediocre 4-4 in the SEC), but with no wins versus the SEC West other than Ole Miss, a team which has taken the same spot as Vanderbilt but in the West as division punching bag.

Yes, his recruiting was outstanding, as he managed to get the #25 and #19 class in the nation according to Rivals and Scout, respectively.

But should we be so excited by 5-7 and 9-4 that we're ready to hand the reigns over to this guy after only two seasons under his belt?

First of all, Mark Richt isn't done yet, despite what some media pundits and strangely interested Alabama fans are saying.  We still have 10 games left to play and who knows what will happen.

Second, if you watched last night's ESPN game of LSU at Mississippi State, you might have noticed some very questionable coaching decisions.  Actually, look back before that to last week's game against Auburn.

Last week, when the Bulldogs had a 2nd and goal against Auburn with 10 seconds left in the game, Mullen decided to have his QB try to run the ball into the end zone.  He was stopped just short, and time ran out.  The game was over.  Anyone with basic knowledge of clock management in football was scratching their heads.  Why not attempt a pass first?  With 10 seconds, you have ample time to make a pass attempt, and if that doesn't work, the clock stops and you still have time to run the ball once more.

Here was Mullen's post-game explanation of the choice:
"You could go pass-pass, pass-run, or just run."

Yes, we are aware Coach Mullen.  You can either have 2 chances to score, or 1 chance to score.  You insanely chose 1 chance, essentially leaving a play on the field at the goal line to win the game.

He says he gave the choice to his quarterback, Chris Relf, who said he was confident he could get it in on just a run.  So he listened to the player, called the play, and they lost the game.

Skip to last night versus LSU.  With the Bulldogs down only 16-6 in the 4th quarter and 10 minutes left in the game, Mullen decides to pull his starting QB who everyone has raved about and put in his backup.  Although this is a surprising and confusing move, maybe Mullen had good reason to believe that Relf wasn't effective all night and that the backup might have more success.

But the real shocking decision came minutes later, when LSU tacked on an extra field goal to be up 19-6, and Mississippi State gets the ball with 2:53 on the clock and all 3 timeouts remaining.  The Bulldogs were still down by only 2 scores.  They would need to score a quick TD, kick a successful onside kick, and then score another TD.  It's extremely unlikely, but it's been done time and time again in college football (see Auburn vs. Utah State two weeks ago).

But Mullen decides to run the ball multiple times on this last drive, letting the clock run and refusing to take timeouts.  It was clear to anyone watching that he had given up; either he had no faith that his team could actually assemble a worthwhile offensive drive, or he just didn't care.  So he quit.  He let the game end without using his timeouts, and let his team go down without a fight.

A sad part was watching the backup QB and rest of the team running desperately to get in formation to run their final play with time running out, despite it being clear that their head coach wasn't going to call a timeout and didn't really care what they were doing out there.  He was just going to let it end, despite still having a chance to win.  What do you have to lose?  You're going to lose anyway, right?  If you turn it over and LSU gets the ball, they will take a knee and run out the clock anyway.  No harm done.

Now I don't want to say that these decisions should define the rest of Mullen's career.  He's still a decent coach who has recruited very well and had one good season at a struggling Mississippi State.  He could still do great things there, or at another school.  But decisions like those shouldn't earn you a job at a program like Georgia.  If anything, they should be warning signs that jumping on the Mullen-bandwagon might be a bit of a rushed decision.

Mark Richt may be done soon at Georgia.  None of us really know.  But I don't think I've ever seen Mark Richt give up on his team when down only two scores in an important SEC game, or any game for that matter.  And whether Mark Richt is good for the future of UGA or not, I'd rather have a coach who is smart enough and cares enough to give his team a chance to win, all other things aside.

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