Lots of news in 12 hours last Sunday

The problem with writing this syndicated column is often timing. It must be written for distribution by mid-morning on Monday and doesn’t appear in most publications until Wednesday or Thursday.

Much can happen in the interim that can make what was typed on Monday seem like old news two days later.

Just look what happened in a 12-hour period Sunday, normally the slowest news day when it comes to college football. Mississippi State lost its football coach, Dan Mullen, to Florida. Ole Miss elevated Matt Luke to permanent head coach, eliminating the interim tag. Tennessee apparently agreed to terms to hire Greg Schiano, only then Tennessee reneged. Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher agreed to terms with Texas A & M. Or did he?

As this is written, the angry, dark clouds of the NCAA investigation still hang over Ole Miss, but those could have cleared – or stormed heavily – before you read this commentary. That’s not to say I don’t have some comments.

What follow are some questions people have asked and what I believe to be true...

Q. What do you think of all the Mississippi State people lashing out at Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin for his hiring of Mullen?

A. I understand the bruised feelings, but I think it’s silly. Here’s the deal: If Stricklin didn’t hire Mullen, Tennessee would have. I know Stricklin well enough to know he didn’t enjoy hiring his alma mater’s football coach, but he also didn’t want to be playing against him in the Eastern Division of the SEC. It was a good, solid hire for Florida, which probably should have done it a year earlier. Scott Stricklin was just doing his job.

Q. What is Mullen’s legacy at Mississippi State?

A. He – and the athletic directors he served under – changed the way outsiders look at Mississippi State football, and – more importantly – the way State people look at themselves. He left the State football program better than he found it, and the same can be said for what Stricklin did with the athletic department. The guy John Cohen hires as Mullen’s successor inherits a program filled with talented players who expect to win. They play in some of the best facilities around. The same could not have been said for Mullen nine years ago. What he achieved is amazing in retrospect, including the fact that he had Mississippi State ranked No. 1 in the nation for five consecutive weeks in 2014.

Q. Best win of the Mullen Era?

A. Plenty to choose from, but I’d still go with the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2011. State outscored Michigan 42-0 over the final three quarters to win 52-14. People talk all the time about Mullen’s development of quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald. Reminder: The guy who quarterbacked State that day, and the MVP of that game, was Chris Relf, an unheralded two-star recruit.

Q. Any idea what direction Cohen might go to find the new coach?

A. Don’t forget Cohen was on the State team that interviewed and hired Mullen nine years ago. While many experts would tell you that State no longer has to take a chance on an unproven head coach, you must admit it worked out pretty well last time. I would bet Cohen’s short list includes both head coaches and coordinators.

Q. Were you surprised that Ole Miss hired Luke as the permanent head coach?

A. I was surprised with the timing, not the hire. I have thought all along – and written as much – that this might happen. And then, when so many other jobs opened up in recent days, that made Luke’s hiring even more probable. It was clear Ole Miss, with the NCAA sanctions hanging over the program, was going to be far down in the pecking order in its coach search.

Luke? His players not only play hard for him, they respect him. Had Ole Miss brought in someone from the outside and the NCAA added to the sanctions Ole Miss has already self-imposed there could have been an exodus of talent.

Luke has worked his tail off for a school he truly loves. He’s solid. He’s loyal. Right now, Ole Miss needs both.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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