Florida coach Dan Mullen remembers his last nine years spent in Starkville, Mississippi.
The community that welcomed his family. The thrilling atmosphere of Davis Wade Stadium. The image of the passionate fans swinging those infamous cowbells above their heads.
Mullen spent nearly a decade cultivating that same atmosphere that he will have to face when he and his Florida Gators take on the Bulldogs this weekend.
Mullen remembers all of his meetings with Mississippi State’s marketing personnel to figure out ways to make each game at Davis Wade Stadium a distinguishable experience for fans and opponents.
“It was a place I went to and asked [the fans] on day one, told them we need you to show up and sell out the stadium,” Mullen said. “And if you do that we can build a program here. And you know what? The fans believed in that.”
Mullen formulated everything from what his players would see as they ran through the tunnel to the type of music they would hear on the field.
He made sure the hit song “Don’t Stop Believing” would blast through the stadium’s speakers as the fourth quarter arrived.
And as for the cowbells, they had been outlawed for years.
Mullen and his staff worked out a rule that would allow Bulldogs’ fans to ring their cowbells as they wished, as long as it’s not during game play.
It’s through those efforts that Mullen turned Mississippi State into one of the most ferocious environments in the SEC, and it’s why his return to Starkville will create so much attention.
“I get to go back and see what it’s like to be on the other sideline with the tradition we created, Mullen told reporters.
But those efforts may prove to be to his detriment upon his return as Bulldogs’ fans will be sure to greet him with extra ringing of their maroon and white cowbells.
When asked if there’s a chance he will meet a crowd of booing in his return, “What do you think?” was the coach’s reply.
Mullen told reporters he’d like to think that MSU fans and the people of Starkville are grateful for everything he was able to accomplish during his tenure, despite his recent departure.
He did compile a 69-46 record with an all-time winning percentage of .600, even after he went 2-5 during his first season in 2009.
He remembers his emotions ahead of his first game in Starkville and imagines this won’t be much different.
“It was a big game because you’re trying to build a program,” he said. “It was a pretty raucous environment. It was a battle right down to the end. I think it was a game that really helped turn the program even though it was a loss … Our guys realized we’re not going to back down to anybody, we’re going to compete against whoever shows up here.”
Mullen will take on a daunting task as one of few head coaches to return to face their former team on the road in less than a year’s time.
Though he knows his return will be likely be the storyline of the game, Mullen remains optimistic.
“Our guys have a lot going on and a lot to worry about,” he said. “So I guess if any other outside focus is on me, it takes it off our guys and lets them prepare for the game.”