Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen wanted to talk about family at SEC Media Days yesterday, particularly when questions turned to five-star recruit Jeffrey Simmons. The freshman defensive end was hit with a one-game suspension in June, after video of him beating a woman emerged online.
When asked about whether he expected the public backlash to the one-game suspension, Mullen passed off the blame to the University and opted instead to talk about how he didn’t focus on the length of the suspension; rather, the 44-year old said he was thrilled to have Simmons become “part of our family.” He then waxed about how he puts it upon himself to coach not just football, but life for the members of his team:
“I wasn’t involved. It was a university decision. I was just thrilled that we’re having Jeffery as part of our family. As I said, I take a lot of pride as a coach on developing young men to be champions, not just on the field, but off the field and every part of their life to be successful in everything they do. And that’s not an easy process.
Coaches, we get judged a lot on a 60-minute game on Saturday, but our real job goes well beyond that. We have four to five years to make a positive impact on young people’s lives. Hopefully, they leave better men in our program then when they came.”
Throughout the line of questioning regarding Simmons, Mullen continuously referenced the Mississippi State family, speaking about how he and his wife enjoy acting as parents to the team; how the Bulldog family is held accountable for their actions; and how a negative story in the media is a learning moment for his son-players.
“We’ll have a lot of different players make mistakes. To be honest with you, I know for a lot of people, it’s a story or a blurb or a headline. For us, that’s a family member making a mistake that you’re trying to help them get through a tough time, help educate them and help them not make mistakes in the future and help them better themselves in life. And my wife and I take that very seriously.”
Mullen even went so far as to position himself as a father figure to Simmons:
“I would hate for anybody, for their life to be defined by only 10 seconds of video, and especially when you’re an 18-year-old. I would hate for that to be anybody, that that is now all you get to do in life. You don’t have an opportunity to get an education, you don’t have an opportunity to be mentored by father figures when you don’t have a father. I think you deserve the opportunity to be mentored by father figures. I think you deserve the opportunity to still get an education. I think you deserve an opportunity to better yourself and make something of yourself in life.”
This would all be relatively well and good if Mullen truly meant what he said. Simmons did something horrible, and could probably use the kind of mentorship necessary to make sure he becomes a better person and never does anything like it again.
But it’s hard to believe Mullen is being genuine here, particularly when he revealed his own hollow definition of the word “family” later in the press conference. A reporter asked Mullen how he would feel had it been a relative or child of his own blood involved in a beating like the one Simmons participated in, and Mullen suddenly rediscovered the boundary separating his real family from the Mississippi State family:
“I don’t know. I don’t think it would be my family. I don’t deal in hypotheticals, really, so, um – but anybody, I mean, in the video, I don’t know that my family would be in that situation, to be honest with you.”
Let’s not be confused: Jeffery Simmons is very good at football. Mississippi State wants to be very good at football. Mullen wants to keep getting paid by Mississippi State to field very good football teams.
Those three facts are the reason Mullen and the school elected to tag Simmons with a one-game suspension, and why they chose to bring him onto campus in the first place. It’s much harder to imagine Simmons receiving such a warm welcome if he were, say, just a two-star recruit with a very public and violent incident attached to his name.
There is no such thing as “family” in college football. The powerful and dishonest idea behind the word as it relates to sports is that a family member is an inseparable piece of the whole unit. This is especially untrue in the land of the NCAA, where all the power rests with the coaching and administrative class, and where players are only given a seat at the table for precisely as long as they can be productive on the field.
Simmons may put this incident behind him and become the community role model that Mississippi State’s PR team wants him to be (I don’t think anyone believes it was an accident someone leaked a positive story to CBS’ Dennis Dodd about Simmons helping some ladies change a flat tire), or maybe he’ll end up in another damning video. Whatever happens, his best shot at remaining in Mullen’s “family” is to play like a five-star recruit is supposed to play.