Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is now short one defensive coordinator, with the news today that his incumbent, Geoff Collins, has taken the same position at Florida.
He is also, to be fair, saying the exact sort of thing that the head coach at Mississippi State should say when one of the bullies of the block poaches his defensive coordinator.
Mullen says he sees Collins' move to Florida as a lateral move— Steve Robertson (@ScoutSteveR) December 16, 2014
Mullen calls Geoff Collins going from Mississippi State to Florida "A lateral move."— Brandon Walker (@BWonStateBeat) December 16, 2014
Mullen on DC Geoff Collins to Florida: "I don't like anybody leaving for what I would view a lateral move, to be perfectly honest."— Brandon Walker (@BWonStateBeat) December 16, 2014
But while Mullen sort of has to assess a coordinator leaving his staff for the same position at another school as lateral, and did qualify his comments as being about wanting his assistants to leave for head coaching jobs, he's wrong on the transition from Mississippi State DC to Florida DC being lateral.
So, so very wrong.
First, there's the matter of money. We don't know what Collins will make at Florida, but he made, per the USA TODAY database of assistant salaries, $575,000 at Mississippi State this year. We do know that Florida's offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, hired to counterbalance Will Muschamp, its defensive head coach — as Collins is being hired to counterbalance offensive head coach Jim McElwain — made $700,000. If Collins makes just what Roper made, and nothing more, he'll be getting a salary bump — even before considering that Florida has no state income tax.
Second, there's the idea of career advancement. Florida's last big-time, longtime standalone defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong, is the head coach at Texas. Its current defensive coordinator and interim head coach, Durkin, who was sort of a second-in-command of the Florida defense under Muschamp, appears poised to leap to a defensive coordinator position at North Carolina or Texas A&M or elsewhere. Other coaches who have served as Florida defensive coordinators since 2005 include, chronologically, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards, and Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
Mississippi State's last defensive coordinator to leave Starkville for a promotion, Manny Diaz, left for Texas after the 2010 season — replacing Muschamp as the Longhorns' defensive coordinator, ironically; oddly, I can't find Mullen's thoughts on Diaz's departure — and was fired midseason by the Longhorns in 2013; he is now Skip Holtz's defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech. Chris Wilson, who served as co-defensive coordinator with Collins in 2011 and 2012, but was essentially demoted in 2012, left for Georgia, where he served as the defensive line coach in 2013, and then left Georgia for USC, where he served this season at the same position.
I'm stacking the deck a bit by including all of Florida's DCs dating back to Urban Meyer's hiring, but there isn't one of them, not even Edwards — who was Florida's DC for, quite literally, a month, and only worked as a recruiter — who is in a position that I (or most impartial fans) would consider a true lateral move from Florida defensive coordinator. And while defensive coordinator at Texas is arguably truly lateral to the same position at Florida, neither position currently held by MSU's last two departing DCs can even be rationally compared.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, there is the matter of talent. Mississisppi State has had some excellent defenses under Diaz (especially in 2010) and Collins (especially this year, per advanced stats). But the Bulldogs recruit as the less-successful school in Mississippi, and in the dragon-eat-dragon world of the SEC West: Not to belabor a point made earlier, but Chris Jones is the only consensus 247Sports Composite five-star player the Bulldogs have landed during Collins's stint in Starkville.
Florida has two such players — Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor — absolutely returning in 2015, and might have a third if Jonathan Bullard stays for his senior season. The fourth such player from Florida's 2014 roster, Dante Fowler, Jr., will enter the 2015 NFL Draft, and will almost assuredly be a first-round selection.
And the Gators could well land two more players of the same caliber in the 2015 class, if CeCe Jefferson and Byron Cowart choose Florida. And defensive end Gerald Willis, should he stay with Florida's program after an ugly shoving incident at Florida State, was the highest-ranked player to not be a consensus five-star player in the 2014 class.
And it's not like the state of Florida's inherent recruiting advantages, especially relative to those in the state of Mississippi, are changing in the near future. Schematic brilliance helps on defense, but getting fantastic athletes helps far more, and, without question, that's far easier at Florida than Mississippi State.
Mullen can say what he wants, of course, and he's right to want assistants to extend his coaching tree as head coaches. And he's probably truly just returning fire on Florida after the school seemed to make it rather clear — through well-publicized reporting from trusted ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy, which probably came from within the program or a close intermediary — that Mullen would not even be considered for its vacant head coaching job in the wake of Will Muschamp's firing-in-everything-but-name.
The bad blood between Mullen and Jeremy Foley dates back to 2008, when Mullen departed for Mississippi State, and got sniffed at in much the same fashion that Mullen is sniffing at Collins today. (There's plenty more recapping of that feud over here, if you're curious.)
But the number of people who would truly, honestly say that "Florida defensive coordinator" is a position on the same level with "Mississippi State defensive coordinator" might be countable with fingers and toes. Even one of the editors-in-chief of Mississippi State blog From Whom the Cowbell Tolls disagrees with Mullen on the merits:
Disagree but I can appreciate the shade RT @BWonStateBeat: Mullen calls Collins going from Mississippi State to Florida "A lateral move."— cristilmethod (@cristilmethod) December 16, 2014
So take Mullen's assessment of Collins's departure for what it is: A partisan, subjective opinion that happens to also be factually incorrect. And lament with me that we'll have to wait until 2018 to see Florida match up with Mullen.
At least, that is, if he remains at Mississippi State.