By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen continues to be consistent in his denial that he has had no contact with any school regarding a head-coaching opening.
After doing some recruiting in Florida with defensive coordinator Manny Diaz the day before, Mullen returned to the Sunshine State Thursday for a Gator Bowl media conference where the first question was about the speculation he’s a top candidate to replace Urban Meyer at Florida.
“I haven’t had contact with anybody about a coaching position other than Mississippi State,” Mullen said Thursday.
The Miami Herald has been reporting all week that Mullen did have communication with University of Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt but is not likely a candidate for the Hurricanes opening any longer.
The Starkville Daily News reported Wednesday a source close to the situation received word from the Bulldogs head coach that he doesn’t plan to be the next head football at the University of Florida. The same source told the Starkville Daily News that Mullen, who was an assistant under Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida before accepting the job at Mississippi State in 2008, is a top candidate for the opening at Florida. Some of the names also pegged as early favorites include Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino and Boise State head coach Chris Petersen.
Mullen then used a similar refrain by pointing out the only person he says he’s had contact with about coaching college football when he mentioned his boss at the end of the banquet table.
“The only person I’ve talked to recently about coaching football is sitting right here at the end of the table (pointed to Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin),” Mullen said. “I have no plans on going anywhere. I haven't even thought about it except I sent him a message that said I hoped he was well….and he did look well but other than that I haven't considered or spent one second thinking about it.”
In the Wednesday afternoon news conference, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said the search to find Meyer’s replacement would begin immediately but stated UF officials haven’t contacted any candidate and suggested it would likely be a two-and-a-half week process.
Stricklin has had no public comments about such matters since telling the SDN that MSU officials and Mullen were working on a new four-year contract but did make a statement on his Twitter account attempting to ease the worries of the Bulldogs fan base.
“Everyone calm down, take deep breath, book hotel rooms in Jacksonville,” Stricklin tweeted. “Speculation of this nature is price of success.”
Mullen tried to explain what he called “annoying” reports and how it’s possible he hasn’t been affected in one way or another about the speculation of his name popping up everywhere for certain openings.
“I know there’s speculation everywhere but we coaches have to deal with reality,” Mullen said. “My reality is dealing with final exams, making sure 30 players return their books because today’s the last day they can do that, getting a practice schedule ready and trying to hold onto to recruits during this time of speculation. That’s the thing with speculation and I know a lot of media has to deal with but I deal with reality.”
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez attempted to have fun with Mullen’s situation by suggesting he’s been involved in some “silly season” reports when he brought his West Virginia teams to the Gator Bowl in past years.
“I think Dan should leave (MSU) tomorrow…and let Scott (Stricklin) take over the offense,” Rodriguez said with a laugh. “We’re in that silly season but when people only call you when you’ve had success. This coaching profession can wear on you but if people are calling on Dan, then they’ve earned that so stay tuned for further speculation.”
During the trip to Jacksonville Thursday, MSU officials toured the facilities at the University of North Florida that will serve as the practice headquarters for the MSU program when they make their way south for the 2011 Gator Bowl (12:30 p.m., ESPN2).
Even though the UNF athletics department doesn’t offer football, State will use the state-of-the-art soccer facilities and stadium to prepare for its matchup with Michigan (7-5).
Mississippi State opens its first week of on-campus Gator Bowl practices today at 4 p.m. with workouts following the next six days and a 5:30 p.m. scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium on Thursday evening.