Posted: 8:00 a.m. Monday, April 22, 2013
Over the past five seasons, Mississippi State has made changes at the head coaching positions in several different sports. None of the changes, some of which date back to Greg Byrne, have had a high profile than the hirings of John Cohen, Dan Mullen, Rick Ray, and Vann Stuedeman. Each has found a way to show some progress in their program since their hiring, which raises the following question: Which coach has done the most for his or her program since taking over at Mississippi State?
Dan Mullen, hired in 2008 after a successful four-year stint as offensive coordinator at Florida, has drastically turned around the football fortunes of the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the 21st century.
If someone had forgotten how bad Mississippi State had become, a few numbers from the Croom Era should quickly remind them: ranked in triple digits offensively, 21-38 overall record, lost to Maine. To be fair, Croom was the 2007 SEC Coach of the Year, a season that saw the Bulldogs go 8-5, winning the Liberty Bowl over Central Florida.
Since arriving in Starkville, Mullen has posted winning seasons three out of four years (the only losing record (5-7) coming in his first season), and he has led the Bulldogs to two bowl wins (Gator vs. Michigan after 2010 and Music City vs. Wake Forest after 2011). The Bulldogs did drop the 2013 Gator Bowl to Northwestern.
Additionally, he has hauled in multiple top-20 recruiting classes, gone 3-1 in The Battle for the Golden Egg, and has seen the Bulldogs reach an AP ranking of No. 15.
After Patrick Murphy flip-flopped and returned to Alabama days after accepting a job as the headman for LSU Softball, he made a "business decision" in releasing Vann Stuedeman, opening the door for the former Alabama pitching coach to come to Mississippi State.
The opening in Starkville came about when Scott Stricklin declined to renew the contract of Jay Miller, who took the Bulldogs to five NCAA tournaments in nine years. A 78-89 record over his final three seasons spelled doom for Miller, a hall of fame coach, opening the door for Stuedeman.
Currently in her second season in Starkville, Studeman's squad seems a lock for a second NCAA tournament appearance. In 2012, the squad finished with a 33-24 record, going out in two games in the Eugene Regional in the NCAA tournament.
So far in 2013, the Bulldogs have picked up road victories at No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Alabama, and with a current record of 29-15, the squad looks poised to surpass last year's win total. In addition to these victories, Studeman has also seen two of her players, Jessica Cooley (2012) and Allison Owen (2013), pick up national player of the year honors. Only Iyhia McMichael had accomplished that feat previously.
Replacing a legend has often proved treacherous for most, and many coaches shy away from such a situation. However, in 2008, John Cohen left Kentucky, where he had compiled a 175-112-1 record and two NCAA regional appearances in five years, to follow in the footsteps of Ron Polk at Mississippi State.
Polk, who had completed his second run at Mississippi State, had taken the Bulldogs to the College World Series in 2007 before turning in a 23-33 mark in the 2009. That season proved to be his only losing season and his lowest win total in Starkville.
Cohen did not get the Bully Bombers turned around quickly, posting back to back losing seasons in his first two years in Starkville before guiding the Bulldogs to a NCAA Super Regional in 2011 and a post season birth in 2012.
Known for his squads second-half surges, Cohen survived early calls for his ousting during his first two seasons, though it many fans still have not given him the benefit of the doubt despite being only nine outs away from making a trip to Omaha.
After a rough first three weeks of SEC play in 2013, all signs point to the Bulldogs making a solid run in 2013 with many players such as Hunter Renfroe and Kendall Graveman making headlines for their performances.
Very few people can claim to have walked into as tough of a situation in major college basketball than Rick Ray, given the dumpster fire he inherited. After a frustrating 2011-2012 season came to a frustrating end against UMass in the NIT, Rick Stansbury "retired" paving the way for Ray to take the reigns in Starkville.
Within a week of his introduction, Ray had lost most of the 2011-2012 squad because of academics, graduation, the draft or a desire to leave. As if that was not enough, a lack of solid ACLs led to more players going down before the 2012-2013 campaign began.
In what may be considered a slight miracle, Ray, being forced to start walk-ons and backups, managed to guide Mississippi State to 10 wins and avoid a last place finish in 2012. While many fans felt uneasy with multiple 40-point losses, the Bulldogs finished on a relatively strong note to build some momentum going into the 2013-2014 season.