June 22, 2009
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen is satisfied with how involved the members of his coaching staff are in the lives of the players.
Mullen realizes neither he nor his assistant coaches can watch their players 24 hours a day, and that''s when self-discipline has to kick in.
Mullen tries to instill in the Bulldogs every day the importance of being champions on and off the field.
"It''s not just a sometimes-thing but an all-of-the-time thing," Mullen said. "We spend a lot of time talking to the team about decision-making and that every decision you make in life is going to have a consequence.
"When you make those decisions, think about how that decision is going to affect you, your family, and your teammates. If you think about those things before you make a decision, chances are you''ll make the right decision."
That''s why it disappoints Mullen when players like defensive back Maurice Langston, wide receiver Arceto Clark, and defensive back Dennis Thames get in trouble.
Clark was arrested and charged with petty larceny in March. Langston was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute in February. Thames was arrested in May for public intoxication.
As much as Mullen would like to get to know his players on a personal basis, he knows the position coaches have the chance to get closer. The coaches monitor how players spend their time, who they are with, and who their friends and girlfriends are.
"It''s good for me as the head coach to build relationships with them, but it is not as intimate as a relationship you would have as a position coach and when you are dealing with your small groups," Mullen said. "You monitor everything from their work ethic and class attendance."
In an effort to encourage the development of character in his program, Mullen instituted the Champions Club, which is made up of players who excel on and off the field and meet the standards by position groups.
The number of players in the Champions Club has more than doubled from 16 to 38 after spring practice. Included in that group ate offensive linemen Derek Sherrod, of Caledonia, and Tobias Smith and quarterback Tyson Lee, of Columbus.
Mullen would like to think players like Lee, Sherrod and Smith can keep the other Bulldogs in line.
"You are going to be a much better team if the team disciplines itself rather than the coaches having to discipline you," Mullen said. "That''s showing leadership from within. If all of the leadership comes from the coaches, it''s hard to be a great team. I think they do try to do a good job with that stuff."
Even though he tries to have faith in his players to do what is right, it still gives Mullen jitters when the phone rings in the middle of the night.
"It scares you with the thought of what''s going on," Mullen said.
Mullen said he won''t set a curfew for the entire team, but might for individuals if the situation calls for it.
If an incident warrants discipline, Mullen said it will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
"There''s not an exact discipline structure," Mullen said. "We try to make sure the punishment fits the crime."
Mullen said Clark is back in school and is working out with the team, but won''t be academically eligible to compete this season. He can be considered a redshirt.
Langston was enrolled in both summer terms at MSU, but remains suspended from practice and games. He has been cleared to do some team-related activity.
"We''ll see about his situation when we get to the bottom of all the legal issues," Mullen said.
Mississippi State Athletic Director Greg Byrne has noticed Mullen uses a hands-on approach when it comes to disciplining players and believes he takes his responsibility seriously.
"He tries to be proactive on the front end to prevent negative situations from happening," Byrne said. "Coach Mullen has enthusiasm and passion for working with our kids. He cares about them not only as football players, but there is a genuine interest there on who they are as people. His expectation level is very high. That type of mind-set is very high, and that''s what we need."
Whether people perceive his measures as too strict or not harsh enough, Mullen plans to do whatever it takes to make sure he and his coaches do everything they can to mold the players into people who will represent themselves well.
"Our players are going to be disciplined football players and people," Mullen said. "They are going to be better in society, graduate, and get a degree. If you want that, this is the place for you."
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