There is a quarterback guru lurking among the hot seats in the SEC, and his name is Dan Mullen. Mullen, the head coach at Mississippi State has had an uncanny ability to develop quarterback talent at a high level. The Pennsylvania native has worked with all sorts of quarterbacks at many different levels of Division I football.
While at Utah, under the watchful eye of his mentor Urban Meyer, he served as the quarterbacks coach. Meyer and Mullen were quite the tandem, they would meet up again in Gainesville at the University of Florida, this time with Mullen as the offensive coordinator.
In 2004, the Utes posted an undefeated season behind the arm of Alex Smith and a high-powered passing offense partially directed by Mullen. The signal caller also had a hand in developing another QB at Utah in Brian Johnson, who led Utah in making a Sugar Bowl run in 2010. The Utes demolished the heavily-favored Alabama Crimson Tide, 31-17 in New Orleans.
At Florida, Mullen also had remarkable success with play calling and developing quarterbacks. Under his tutelage as quarterback coach and offensive coordinator in Gainesville, the likes of Chris Leak and eventual Heisman winner Tim Tebow flourished under the signal calling of Mullen.
Earlier in his career with quarterbacks Brian Johnson, Alex Smith and Chris Leak, Mullen primarily had an air-raid, passing philosophy with offensive playing calling. After the advent of Tim Tebow, everything changed for Mullen.
Tim Tebow was becoming a folk hero in Gainesville even with the relatively consistent play of Chris Leak. Mullen had to find a way to get Tim Tebow on the field, therefore Mullen curtailed his offensive play calling to cater to quarterbacks with the ability to run between the tackles. The rest was history, as Tim Tebow was gaining accolades with his play many were forgetting the man putting Tebow in the position to succeed, Dan Mullen.
Mullen became a hot commodity on the coaching market and finally, in December of 2008, took the head coaching gig in Starkvillle, Mississippi at Mississippi State University. Mullen, after that rocky start, hit his stride in 2014, posting one of the best seasons in school history. The team went 10-2, reaching a No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll early in the season and beating three Top 10 teams. All this success fell on the back of Dak Prescott, a dual-threat, game-breaking quarterback. Prescott, under the watchful eye of Mullen, improved his play every year he was at school.
Mullen has now developed another talent, a big bruising football player in the form of Nick Fitzgerald, a native of South Georgia. Fitzgerald ran a triple offense in high school and only threw the ball 78 times his senior season. This is evident through his playing style, the 6’5” gunslinger is not afraid to take contact as he recorded over 1000 yards on the ground last season.
Although, the Bulldogs had a tough time in Athens this past weekend, look for Fitzgerald and Mullen to press the Auburn front seven to adjust to the pragmatic, run-first approach that defines Mississippi State football.