February 8, 2009
Danny P Smith -
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen said the challenges of recruiting in the Southeastern Conference are real.
Mullen, who was the offensive coordinator at the University of Florida before coming to MSU, said it is not easy to be one of the league''s 12 programs competing for the nation''s best prep and junior college prospects.
"Being in the conference the last four years, this is the toughest conference you are going to recruit in the United States," Mullen said. "All you have to do is go on-line and see where everyone''s recruiting class ranks in the Southeastern Conference. You realize why it is such a great conference. Most years it seems like everybody in the Southeastern Conference has a top-25 recruiting class, and that translates to the players you have to play against in this league on Saturdays."
Despite that daunting reality, Mullen and his assistant coaches culled the state of Mississippi in a short amount of time to convince recruits to stick with their verbal commitments to the Bulldogs.
For the players who hadn''t committed, Mullen and his coaches worked hard to introduce and to sell themselves and a new spread offense that the Bulldogs will run.
It''s difficult to deny that the results were impressive.
Rivals.com ranked MSU''s class No. 22 in the nation, while Scout.com rated the class No. 18.
The rankings put MSU in the middle of the SEC, which placed 10 teams -- Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Florida -- in the nation''s top 25, according to assessments by Scout.com and Rivals.com of 2009 National Signing Day.
"It''s not just when three schools have top recruiting classes, but 12 schools that have top recruiting classes," Mullen said. "I think that''s what makes the depth of this league so tough. Every day you are going out on the road out there, you are recruiting against the best recruiters in the United States.
"As a head coach, I''m recruiting against it and our position and recruiting coaches are going against the best recruiters in the United States and are going after the best players in the best league, so you''d better come ready to work."
After Mullen was hired to replace Sylvester Croom on Dec. 11, 2008, he relied heavily on his assistant coaches to maintain contact with recruits through the transition.
Mullen credited the coaches from Croom''s staff -- David Turner, Reed Stringer, Rockey Felker and Melvin Smith - who remained at MSU and the ones he brought in -- Carl Torbush, Les Koenning, Mark Hudspeth, John Hevesy, Greg Knox, Tony Hughes, and Scott Sallach -- for helping the Bulldogs sign 27 players, 19 from the state of Mississippi.
"They held the bulk of this class together," Mullen said. "As a staff, we sat in a room, called every one of those prospects, and everybody felt pretty comfortable with our position."
Torbush, the new defensive coordinator, has been in coaching for more than 30 years. He said the recruiting process has changed dramatically through the years.
"When you''ve got talk radio, media scrutiny, and these recruiting Web sites, the game has changed," Torbush said. "There is a lot more pressure and a lot more stress, not so much on the coaches, but basically on the kids. It''s a different ballgame in that respect. I think that has been a big change."
Felker, the director of player personnel and high school relations, knows there is no rest for the weary when it comes to recruiting.
"Recruiting is a year-long process going back to last February, and we feel like we''ve done a good job identifying the kind of players we''re looking for," Felker said. "Anytime you have a coaching change, it''s always a challenge. That always seems to make a difference in recruiting, but the new staff has come in, hit the road running, and has done a good job of building some relationships."
Mullen said Mississippi State must have a plan in place each season to meet the needs for that class.
"We don''t want to stay the same. We want to continue to improve," Mullen said. "That''s off the whole evaluation process and then we''ll rate our players one through whatever we need at each position and what our order of take will be. You are worried about covering every possible angle to make sure these guys will be coming to play for the Bulldogs."
Mullen and Torbush agree the Bulldogs must find a way to get the best Mississippi high school players.
"We''ve got to do a great job at home," Torbush said. "When I say home, I mean the state of Mississippi. The states that surround Mississippi are the second-most important. You are basically getting in that 200-mile radius."
Mullen said there''s a good talent pool inside and not far out of the Golden Triangle.
"We have a great local area and that keeps the budget down," Mullen said. "If we have a young man from Meridian coming up here on a visit, he can drive up. If we were recruiting a bunch of guys from California, we''d have to fly them in. We''re not flying all over the country to find them. We have fine players right here locally."
Even with the emphasis of staying home, Mullen doesn''t want to leave an impression he''s worried about spending money on recruiting purposes.
"We''ll follow a budget, but, to me, there is no budget for recruiting," Mullen said. "Whatever we need to do, we do to get the best players to come here to play for us."
Mullen said his staff has not wasted any time and already is working on next year''s class.
"The coaches are already talking to some of the juniors in the state," Mullen said. "We want to make sure every year that the majority of our players are from high schools from the state of Mississippi. That''s very important.
"We''ve got (all assistants) assigned finally in recruiting areas. We''ll start evaluating tape and get ready to roll on next year''s class. Recruiting is something you have to do every single day. If you''re not, you are going to fall behind, especially in this conference. We''re going to try and get a jumpstart."
In the quest to get the best in-state talent, Torbush believes Mullen has the best staff to do it.
"I know that excites coach Mullen and excites me," Torbush said. "There are a lot of Mississippi connections, whether they are from here, coached in the state, or recruited here. We have a coaching staff that is very well respected. Coach Mullen has done a great job of putting together a staff and getting out and meeting a lot of high school coaches and seeing all of the prospects we are on right now. I feel high school coaches know us and appreciate the way we recruit with honesty and integrity."
Honesty is the best policy for Mullen.
"I want to make sure they know what they are going to get from the university and what they are going to get from our football program and what we promise to them within this program," Mullen said. "If they come play for us, they are going to get a degree and they are going to reach their potential on and off the field. They are going to become great men. That''s our obligation to these young people."