The Mississippi State football team was informed by its head coach during a team meeting Tuesday of the unfortunate news – their teammate and friend Nick Bell had died that afternoon.
Bell, a redshirt sophomore defensive end along with being a Sports Studies and Kinesiology major, passed away at 2:20 p.m. that day when he was removed from life support after falling into a coma. Bell had underwent emergency surgery early Monday morning after his form of skin cancer had metastasized through his body.
The Bulldogs players and coaches were told of Bell’s likely passing during a 1 p.m. team meeting before its Tuesday afternoon practice and local clergymen and professionals from the university’s Student Counseling Services Office were brought in to meet with grieving members of the team.
At 3:30 p.m., Mullen informed his team Bell had passed away.
Mullen and his wife Megan had invited members of the football team over to his house for a dinner and get-together Tuesday night.
“Our football team is hurting right now and I’ve got a lot of 18 to 22 year-olds right now learning how to deal with grief like this for the first time," Mullen said. "Nick was a son and brother to everything in this football family.”
The Bulldogs football squad, which stands in a bye week following a six-game winning streak, conducted a short practice Tuesday in what Mullen called “our sanctuary” before Mullen met with reporters.
“It was very therapeutic for our guys,” Mullen said. “We told them there’s not a right or wrong way to act or feel. I know for them doing what they love for two hours was therapeutic for a lot of guys.”
The entire team had been told Monday that sophomore defensive end Nick Bell’s battle with his cancer has gotten much worse.
Mullen, who was visibly shaken when he met with the media Tuesday evening, said earlier in the week Bell’s cancer has “metastasized through his body” and he underwent emergency surgery early Monday morning was in intensive care at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital.
“We were going to go back (Tuesday morning) but I went over there during the day on Monday, then just decided that’s not fair – we couldn’t wait,” Mullen said. “Knowing how Nick was, he needed to be with his friends and family. A lot of our players got to see the situation and say their goodbyes.”
On October 1, an operation was performed by former Mississippi State graduate Dr. Allen Sills at Vanderbilt University to remove a mass on Bell’s brain.
"What it does is put into perspective what we do and this game we play," Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said on Oct. 19 when news of Bell's first surgery was released. "All we can do is pray for Nick and his family."
Mullen canceled an appearance at the Jackson Touchdown Club to visit Bell in Birmingham Monday evening and MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin took his place in that speaking engagement, informing the participants that Bell was "fighting for his life" and that Bell's illness is "really devastating" for all those involved in State's athletic department.
“Words can't express our sadness. Nick was a model student-athlete – special in the classroom, on the field and to those whose lives he touched,” Stricklin said in a university release Tuesday. “My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, his teammates and his coaches. He will be missed by the entire Mississippi State community and our athletic department family.”
MSU not to be fined for fan’s cowbell behavior Saturday
Stricklin said Monday he was given indication by officials at the Southeastern Conference office in Birmingham that the university would not be fined over its performance in regulating the cowbell legislation during Saturday’s victory over Kentucky.
“The term ‘marked improvement’ was used an awful lot in the dialogue today when I talked with them about how well we respected the bell,” Stricklin told The Starkville Daily News.
Stricklin cited student leadership involvement in a noticeably different sounding Davis-Wade Stadium where State fans showed a better recognition of ringing the cowbell at the agreed upon times (pre-game, halftime, stoppages of play and when MSU scores).
“The student section did a great job but what I think you saw was everybody in the stadium realizing they needed to take more pride in policing themselves,” Stricklin said.
Last week, The Starkville Daily News reported the SEC league office in Birmingham has informed MSU officials that the school will be fined but the extent of the dollar amount on the punishment will be determined by how State fans behave in its home games of the season.
Stricklin told The Starkville Daily News he felt like Saturday’s actions by State fans gave him and MSU president Mark Keenum much-needed evidence when they go back to the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., next summer to discuss what to the do with the one-year trial cowbell legislation.
“It was real encouraging for us and the tradition at this school that we love so much,” Stricklin said. “We can start with Saturday and go forward from there on how to even get better in respecting the bell and the rules of the Southeastern Conference – which we intend to comply with 100 percent.”
Mullen discussed his hope that the SEC doesn’t ban the cowbells from Davis-Wade Stadium in future years during his speech to The Monday Morning Quarterback Club in Birmingham Monday afternoon.
“The tragedy is we’re trying to hurt a great tradition in college football,” the Bulldogs second-year head coach said. “That’s like saying let’s not dot the I at Ohio State anymore. Let’s not touch Howard’s Rock coming out of Clemson. Let’s not do those things. Let’s take all the traditions out of college football. Then you become like the NFL. There’s no band. There’s no loyalty to your team. There’s free agency.”