Nearly three years have passed since Dan Mullen walked out of the door in Starkville. And while many Mississippi State fans still hold a grudge against Mullen for the way it all ended with the Bulldogs, there's no denying Mullen put together maybe the best run of any football coach in Mississippi State history.
Part of Mullen's successful tenure was his winning record in games against instate rival Ole Miss. Mullen went 5-4 in the Battle for the Golden Egg, and of course needled the Rebels every chance he got, always referring to them as The School Up North.
Well this coming Saturday, now as head coach of the Florida Gators, Mullen returns to The School Up North – only now, they're simply Ole Miss to him. On Monday, Mullen met with reporters ahead of this weekend's game and a big topic of discussion was Mullen's history against the Rebels when he was the leader at MSU. Here are some highlights from what Mullen said, including his favorite memories and why he no longer refers to Ole Miss as The School Up North:
ON FAVORITE MEMORIES OF HIS BATTLES AGAINST OLE MISS WHILE AT MISSISSIPPI STATE: "Oh wow, a bunch. You’re talking the Mississippi State-Ole Miss game is one of the great rivalries in sports. So to be involved in that is such a huge, huge deal. So, yeah, I have five great memories and four terrible memories, I think of that game, of playing against them. Any time you win, I mean, holding that trophy up when you win that Egg Bowl trophy, something that’s really, really, really special. Rivalries are one of the things, look at the rivalries, look the traditions. Those are the things that make college football so great and so special - the passion of the fans. You have the instate rivalries. You’re talking neighbor against neighbor. I have a bunch of good ones, I have a couple bad ones, too, in that game. But it’s different now. Everyone’s like, you know, I don’t think I said Ole Miss for nine years, but now I say it. That was all just part of the rivalry. You know, it became a pretty big deal, you know what I mean. Early on it was kind of, when I first got there, the teams were kind of fighting for their identity. Then all of the sudden when I was there, both teams became Top-10, national programs. So I think that kind of also, I don’t know if it helped bring it to that level or the rivalry brought it to that level or the intensity got both teams to that level of playing. But it certainly became a big deal and it became a huge game.”
ON WHY HE NEVER WOULD CALL THEM OLE MISS: “I didn’t give them credit for that. We were the state university of Mississippi. And, you know, there was Southern Miss. I didn’t call them Northern Miss, you know. That'd get people all worked up too. No, it’s just one of those things you do. To be honest with you, it sparks the rivalry. It’s something about your kids. It was always something that made that game so different than every other game because that was your big rivalry game of the year. So it was always just little things we would do to make that game different and feel different and kind of stand alone in a uniqueness of being a big game in our rivalry. So that was just one of the things we did for them.”
ON LAST YEAR'S EGG BOWL AND OLE MISS RECEIVER ELIJAH MOORE PRETENDING TO URINATE LIKE A DOG, COSTING OLE MISS THE GAME: "I saw that last year. That was a tough deal, you know what I mean? It’s such a big game. I don’t know, that was such an intense game, so, you know, in those deals and to see…that was a crazy ending to that game last year. I remember watching that one. I was a big proponent of that game being played on Thanksgiving, and then now I’m not there to play it. So we get to go up to Oxford and play Ole Miss on a regular deal. I don’t know, I remember going to a high school once and the lady - hopefully Ole Miss (fans), they’re cheering, they like me now - I had a lady come up and say, ‘Coach I pray for you every day.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s so nice of you.’ She goes, “I’m an Ole Miss fan. I pray somebody comes hires and gets you heck out of this state as soon as possible.’ So that was fun. Just the intensity of the rivalry. So now I left so maybe they like me a little bit.”
ON LANE KIFFIN AND BUILDING A PROGRAM IN THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI: "I think this, I went to Mississippi as a northerner going into Mississippi, I think there were a lot of questions about me. I won a bunch of football games at Mississippi State, so they accepted me. My kids were local. They were born there, so they were OK. Megan and I, we won a bunch of games so we got accepted. So they started to like us. I think one of the really unique things about coaching is you get to experience a bunch of different things. I’ve gotten to go to a lot of different places around the country, experience different cultures, experience different people. I think Lane will do a great job. I think Lane’s a good coach, brings a lot of energy, brings confidence, and kind of a swagger to a team. I think that’s something that will be really good for Ole Miss, to have a guy like that at the helm and to help give that confidence. I know this. In Mississippi they love their football. They love their college football. They love their teams. I think Lane will do great because I loved living in Mississippi. There are great people, great sense of community, great family values in the state. Have a lot of close friends that we made in our time there. If you ask a lot of guys on our coaching staff, they’ll tell you it was their favorite place they ever lived. Some of our coaches, their kids are going back there to go to college. That just speaks highly of the sense of community. I didn’t spend time in Oxford much, but in Starkville, the sense of community, the sense of people, and the quality of people that are in Mississippi, I can’t say enough. The best thing about the state of Mississippi are the people and the Mississippians are a great people. I really enjoyed the time there and I’m sure Lane will too. To be honest with you, I think he’ll have a great time too.”
ON HIS FAVORITE WIN AT OLE MISS: “I won twice there. They were both really good, to be honest with you.”
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