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 heâ€™s a top candidate to replace Urban Meyer at Florida.
â€śI havenâ€™t had contact with anybody about a coaching position other than Mississippi State,â€ť 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 doesnâ€™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 heâ€™s had contact with about coaching college football when he mentioned his boss at the end of the banquet table.
â€śThe only person Iâ€™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),â€ť Mullen said. â€śI 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 wellâ€¦.and he did look well but other than that IÂ haven't considered or spent one second thinking about it.â€ť
In the Wednesday afternoon news conference, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said the search to find Meyerâ€™s replacement would begin immediately but stated UF officials havenâ€™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.
â€śEveryone calm down, take deep breath, book hotel rooms in Jacksonville,â€ť Stricklin tweeted. â€śSpeculation of this nature is price of success.â€ť
Mullen tried to explain what he called â€śannoyingâ€ť reports and how itâ€™s possible he hasnâ€™t been affected in one way or another about the speculation of his name popping up everywhere for certain openings.
â€śI know thereâ€™s speculation everywhere but we coaches have to deal with reality,â€ť Mullen said. â€śMy reality is dealing with final exams, making sure 30 players return their books because todayâ€™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. Thatâ€™s the thing with speculation and I know a lot of media has to deal with but I deal with reality.â€ť
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez attempted to have fun with Mullenâ€™s situation by suggesting heâ€™s been involved in some â€śsilly seasonâ€ť reports when he brought his West Virginia teams to the Gator Bowl in past years.
â€śI think Dan should leave (MSU) tomorrowâ€¦and let Scott (Stricklin) take over the offense,â€ť Rodriguez said with a laugh. â€śWeâ€™re in that silly season but when people only call you when youâ€™ve had success. This coaching profession can wear on you but if people are calling on Dan, then theyâ€™ve earned that so stay tuned for further speculation.â€ť
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 doesnâ€™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.