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Bulldogs still looking at options to complete football staff

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE - Two distinctly different directions could be taken by the Mississippi State football program with its open assistant coaching position.  

 

It's been nine days since a school release stated "contract adjustments for the remainder of the MSU coaching staff are expected to be announced in the near future" and therefore, allowing for the assumption that staff promotions could be in effect.  

 

A combination of three noteworthy offensive assistants could likely be promoted to replace the offensive coordinator tag left by Les Koenning. Koenning headed to Texas to become the Longhorns new wide receivers coach on Jan. 15. Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, offensive line coach John Hevesy and/or running backs coach Greg Knox could all be in the running for a new title but not much more responsibility in terms of play calling on Saturdays in the fall.  

 

During the final two seasons of Koenning's tenure as offensive coordinator, MSU head coach Dan Mullen began to be seen on the sidelines with the lamented play sheet and made not so subtle comments that the offensive play calling duties were his responsibility.  

 

"I always take responsibility for all the play calling on offense," Mullen said on Sept. 2. "I'm a offensive oriented coach. To me that all falls on my shoulders." 

 

Hevesy is currently what the program calls the running game coordinator and In 2009, the Bulldogs have eclipsed the 200-yard rushing mark in half of Hevesy's 51 games on the sideline in Starkville. 

 

Gonzales is somebody Mullen has a trust and chemistry with in handing over his offensive philosophy during the week of preparation after working with him for eight combined seasons. Mullen has been on the same staff as the current MSU receivers coach during stops at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida before bringing him to Starkville last year.  

 

"Just about everywhere (Gonzales) has gone, his receivers have broke records," Mullen said last March. "When we had this opportunity to make this happen, it was kind of a no brainer." 

 

Gonzales came to MSU after a one-year stint as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Illinois where the Illini had the worst total offense numbers in the Big Ten Conference by nearly 15 yards per game. Gonzales also served as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach at LSU under Les Miles. During his time in Baton Rouge, Gonzales helped the Tigers to the 2012 BCS National Championship game. 

 

However, sources inside the program are suggesting the open position will likely not be filled internally by a graduate assistant and therefore leaves two likely scenarios: quarterback coach or special teams coach.  

 

Currently MSU is without a designated special teams coach with the entire staff contributing to that unit in some way and Mullen taking full responsibility of the kicking game. Gonzales was the special teams coach at Utah where he led the Utes to the nation's best 28.2 yards per kickoff return in 2003. Utah was also third in the country in net punting yards (40.8) and fifth in kickoff returns during the 2004 season (26.2). 

 

Many MSU fans expressed displeasure with the kicking game last season after the combination of Devon Bell and Evan Sobiesk combined to go 9 of 20 on field goals during the 2013 campaign.  

 

"Kicking field goals is a skill. It's not an effort-based thing," Mullen said last season. "You look and you can't say, 'let's go harder', because we have to fix the skill of kicking the field goal. It's not something that effort fixes, it's skill fixes." 

 

If Mullen decides to go with a quarterbacks coach, the name that emerged as top speculation is Utah quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. Johnson served as the Utes offensive coordinator last season for a disappointing 5-7 season that saw his offense average 29.2 points per game, good for just ninth in the Pac-12 Conference. Subsequently, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham hired former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen as its new offensive coordinator and reassigned Johnson back to just coaching the Utes' signal callers. Johnson was recruited to Utah by Mullen but the MSU coach never got to coach Johnson personally as Urban Meyer brought Mullen from Utah to Florida in that offseason.  

 

With National Signing Day less than two weeks away, it's unknown whether MSU will make staff changes announcements until after the 2014 recruiting class is complete. Howerver, it shouldn't be long after the first week of February before the Bulldogs complete their 2014 coaching staff in preparation for spring practices.  

 

Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.

 

 

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