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Arkansas’ Bielema Reached Out To MSU’s Mullen After Tragic Player Death

writing-centerIt was a little more than three years ago when Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell passed away from brain cancer.  The 20-year-old declined quickly after being diagnosed with the disease in September.  At the time, MSU’s Dan Mullen had this to say:


“Nick was a son and he was a brother to everyone in this football family.  I know he’s looking down on us right now and I’m sure he’s already been picked for a team up in heaven to play football again — the game that he loved.”


Mullen’s team lost its next two games to Alabama and Arkansas (by seven), but rebounded to beat Ole Miss and then routed Michigan in the Gator Bowl.

Mullen — whose team faces Arkansas on Saturday — remembers that new Razorback coach Bret Bielema reached out to him after Bell’s death.  At the time, Bielema was at Wisconsin and the two men had never met.


“You are surprised because you get a lot of calls and you have things that go on.  You get a call from Nick (Saban) and Les (Miles), but they’re in the conference wishing you the best.  To take time out and write a full letter out and send another thing with it, was a really neat deal… He probably doesn’t remember writing the letter but it did have an impact on me and that just shows the character he has as a coach and how all of us try to live our lives.”


Bielema does remember the letter he wrote.  Asked about it this week he said:


“I think as a coach you just always look for people that you admire the way they do things.  I remember watching (the Bell story on Television) and I’m like, ‘Man, that’s pretty impressive,’ and I just reached out to him.”


It’s good to hear these kinds of stories about SEC coaches, no?

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Some AU Folks Ticked At Mullen For Cowbell-Oaks Comparison

Last week at the SEC spring meetings, Dan Mullen successfully lobbied for Mississippi State to keep its cowbells.  In one setting he told the story of deceased player Nick Bell’s mother ringing a cowbell as her son’s coffin was lowered into the ground.  In another, he said he could “empathize with Auburn” because “somebody came in and tried to hurt one of their traditions.”

Naturally, in a society where everyone’s looking to be outraged, Mullen’s silly comparison between MSU’s cowbells and Auburn’s oaks at Toomer’s Corner has resulted in — wait for it — outrage.

Some Auburn fans are apparently upset because their trees are more important than State’s bells.  Of course they are.  Because they’re their trees.  Flip the objects and the bells would be of greater importance. 

Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News — who’s one of the best writers in the South, by the way — goes so far as to say Mullen “has insulted Auburn.” 

Because he tried to compare two traditions that might be lost?

“It’s wonderful that Mullen has embraced the bell, but he should know that all ‘attacks’ on tradition aren’t created equal.  There’s a big difference between enforcing an SEC rule that passed three decades ago and breaking the law.”

And if I thought Mullen had spent several days studying the finer parts of the law and was attempting to provide a full compare-and-contrast explanation of The Case of the Bells and versus The Case of the Trees I would agree with Scarbinsky.  But Mullen is a football coach, not a lawyer.  And he was making an off-hand comment in defense of his school’s biggest tradition.  I take it for what it is — a poor comparison.  And for all the anger, Mullen was actually trying to show that he could “empathize” with Auburn.

So let’s get this straight: A person can’t say “oh, they’re just trees” without insulting Auburn… but he’d better not say, “I can see how important those trees are,” either?

We took heat on this site for trying to explain the importance of the Toomer’s Corners’ oaks.  We get it.  But if Auburn backers and sportswriters are going to get their hackles up every time the trees are mentioned, then maybe some of those folks are just looking to be upset.

Ditto Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel who over the weekend took Nick Saban to task for saying “we lost a fine comrade” when he was asked about Jim Tressel last week.  “Soldiers die for the love of their country,” Bianchi wrote (no doubt with his heart thumping cartoon-style through his chest and shirt).

So Bianchi thinks Saban really believes Tressel losing his job is equal to a soldier losing his life for his country?  Please.

Coaches sometimes say dumb things because 1) most of them aren’t qualified to build rockets for NASA and 2) they’re giving off-the-cuff answers to hit-and-run questions.  If these guys were running for president, it would be one thing.  But they’re not even as important as the presidents at their own schools as we learned last week.

There will be times when we too are shocked and chagrined — thank you, Jackie Chiles — by coaches’ comments.  In fact, we have repeatedly said that Mullen’s barbs and boasts have made him the closest thing to a Lane Kiffin remaining in the SEC.

But to be angered or insulted by what Mullen (or Saban) said last week?  Sorry.  We think some folks are just looking for reasons to be upset.

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SEC Headlines – 6/1/11 Part Six

1.  Georgia’s Mark Fox says SEC basketball coaches had a “very active,” “heated,” and “excellent” dialogue regarding the possible dumping of divisions in basketball.

2.  Houston Nutt has nothing but good things to say about Jeremiah Masoli.

3.  Former Florida coach Urban Meyer says firmer punishments are needed to clean up college athletics.

4.  Dan Mullen says that after watching Nick Bell’s mother ring a cowbell as her son’s coffin was lowered into the ground, he realized how important MSU’s cowbell tradition is.  (A good read from’s Edward Aschoff.)

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Bulldog Trio Named To Coaches’ All-SEC Team; Bell Recognized On Team

STARKVILLE, Miss. – Three Mississippi State football players – Derek Sherrod, Pernell McPhee and Chris White – were named All-Southeastern Conference and Bulldog defensive end Nick Bell was named the team's honorary captain, the league office announced today.

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SEC Coaches Name Their All-SEC Squad

The SEC coaches have spoken and Alabama and LSU — not Auburn — led the way in all-conference players in 2010.

The Crimson Tide landed 12 members on the All-SEC team while Les Miles’ squad grabbed eight slots.  Undefeated and top-ranked Auburn put just four players on the coaches’ All-SEC team.

Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell — who passed away during the season due to cancer — was named the squad’s “honorary captain.”

You can read the full list here, but the team-by-team breakdown is as follows:

First-Team Picks
Second-Team Picks
Total All-SEC Picks
Miss. State
Ole Miss
S. Carolina

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#17 MSU vs #11 Bama: Preview & Prediction

Mississippi State
Content provided by All Things Maroon – A MSU and SEC blog.

MSU-UH_040You could say that MSU and Alabama are thinking the same thing right now. That very thought, is that neither expected to be 7-2 at this point in the season. For MSU, 2010 was viewed by many as a stepping stone year. Most in the media, forecasted that Mullen and the Bulldogs would still be another season away from tasting success. Alabama was picked to pretty much repeat, or finish amongst the nation’s top 5. Here we are, deep in College Football’s 11th week of the season, and it appears that Bama will have to wait, but MSU appears ahead of schedule. With that said though, #17 MSU heads into possibly it’s toughest test of the season. Though #11 Bama is banged up, and a year removed from their National Title, a lot of the same pieces remain. Both the Bulldogs and the Tide are coming off a difficult stretch, but losing a teammate trumps all circumstances in sports. Bama had their post season title hopes crushed in Baton Rouge, while Mississippi State’s Nick Bell lost his short battle with cancer. What was supposed to be a week of ‘cleaning’ up various aspects of their game, turned out to be a week of grieving for the Dawgs. The fact is, Saturday’s match up is going to come down to one thing, and that’s ‘mindset’.

With that said, I figured·that we’d take a look at what the experts at College Gameday Stats have to say. Just a reminder that you can get their weekly insight and newsletter, by emailing them at

  • MSU Scoring vs Bama Opponent’s Scoring- Advantage Bama
  • MSU Pass Off. vs Bama Pass Def.- Advantage Bama
  • MSU Rush Off. vs Bama Rush Def.- Advantage MSU
  • Bama Scoring vs MSU Opponent’s Scoring- Advanatage MSU
  • Bama Pass Off. vs MSU Pass Def.- Advantage Bama
  • Bama Rush Off. vs MSU Rush Def.- No Advantage
  • Odds- Bama 13.5 pt Favorites
  • College Gameday Stats’ Pick to Win- MSU
  • Edge: MSU’s Defense

My Thoughts: Alabama is still Alabama. Tuscaloosa is still Tuscaloosa. If MSU is going to have any shot to win·at Bryant-Denny, not only will they have to channel their emotions related to losing Nick Bell, but they’ll have to take the crowd out of the game as much as possible. Hopefully, Mullen has prepared the Bulldogs the same way he did for the Florida game, and State will come out and make a statement early. Rumor has it that Tide RB Trent Richardson may not see action on Saturday, but that still leaves a ‘banged-up’ Heisman in Ingram, in the Bama back field. With Richardson out, or seeing limited playing time, look for Freshman Eddie Lacy to fill in. Lacy is dangerous for a youngster, posting a 6+ yd average, and 3 TDs on the year. As far as Bama’s passing game, WR Julio Jones brings the size and experience needed to dominate in the SEC, while Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks are just a step away from hurting you deep. QB Greg McElroy hadn’t lost since the 8th grade before this season started, but has lost twice this season already. McElroy is a consistent leader though, and manages games very well. The Rhodes Scholar also enjoys hitting his TE Preston Dial, and his RBs in dump-off or emergency outlet situations. Richardson’s absence could be felt just as much in this area, as it is in Bama’s run game. As far as Bama’s D is concerned, they are strong amongst the front 7, and rank17th in the country as a whole (307 ypg). If the group has one weakness, it has to be their Secondary, who allows just over 180 passing ypg. The Bulldogs boast the nation’s 14th ranked Rushing attack, with 3 capable ball handlers. QB Chris Relf, RBs Vick Ballard, and LaDarius Perkins, have a knack for finding running lanes, and the second level with ease. Coming off of a bye week, should mean that the Dawgs are healthy on the OL, and the RB’s legs should be rested and fresh. One negative for the Dawgs, is their passing game, which ranks 101st in the nation (164 ypg). I’m sure Mullen will be looking for ways to loosen up Bama’s front 7 through the air, and will have to do so to win. As effective as MSU’s Running game has been this season, the Dawg OL will see the most aggressive defense that they have seen, since LSU’s. If a team plans on being one dimensional vs Saban’s D, that pretty much means you should not get off the bus. Mullen noted that Chris Relf’s passing game was sharpened some during the bye week, and even Relf mentioned his need for a bigger role in this week’s game. On defense, Mullen, as well as fans, have used the term bend but don’t break, to refer to the D’s consistent performances. Diaz’s group, does just that. Limiting big plays, focusing on Bama’s strengths, and holding them to FGs, is what I expect the Dawg D to do. I also wonder if Mullen will use QB Tyler Russell in some passing situations? Even though, I have complete faith in Relf to lead.

KEYS to VICTORY? (1) Win the Trenches- I think this is probably the oldest football cliche’, but it’s simply the key to winning any and every football game. On D, DLs Fletcher Cox, Josh Boyd, Sean Fergeson, James Carmon, Shane McCardell, and Pernell McPhee have to disrupt Bama’s back field with penetration. And, as I always note, they must also open up the blitzing lanes for incoming Bulldogs to make plays. Not only could they slow down Ingram and Co., but McElroy has struggled the past couple of weeks when facing pressure. The DL will have a lot do with whether or not those two focuses become a reality. Penetrate, disrupt, and free-up. (2) Mix it Up- Non-predictable play-calling. I seriously think that this is the best coaching staff that the Bulldogs will face off against in 2010. So, with that said, MSU will have to attack Bama in various ways, not just with the Run game. Battling not just on the field, but over the headsets as well, means that Mullen and his staff, will have to have timely play-calling that attacks Bama in vulnerable moments. I look for some forms of trickery for State, but nothing excessive. Rather, different variations and extensions of Bulldog Pass and Run game. RB screens (please), option reverses, etc. On D, Diaz will have to dial up multiple looks to confuse a smart QB. (3) Win the Turnover Battle- State’s offense has not turned the ball over since the Alcorn State game (5 weeks ago), and Relf hasn’t thrown an INT since the LSU game (Week 3). Relf must play smart, throw the ball away at times, and keep the ball away from Dre Kirkpatrick and Robert Lester (8 INTs total). If I’m not mistaken, Ingram and Richardson have 3 fumbles total over their careers. So, it’s pretty clear that State is going to have to pressure McElroy in order to force Bama to turn the ball over. This game will be a Time of Possession battle, and protecting the ball keeps the clock on your side. The last few games, State’s opponents have taken the Dawgs somewhat out of their element in this facet, turning their own strength against them. If Bama holds the ball, and forces MSU into desperate possessions, then the Dawgs will be in trouble. State’s best chance, is to force Bama into the kind of game they forced UF into, earlier in the year. (4) Solid Special Teams-If Richardson plays, State must crack down on his big play abilities in the return game, and keep Bama from establishing themselves with good field position.·For MSU, Chad Bumphis, Mo Langston, and LaDarius Perkins must create· big plays in the return game. And, State’s kickers must shine when called on. On a sidenote, MSU’s D must keep Bama out of chip-shot range on FG tries, since the Tide has 2 capable kickers. (5) Frustrate the Bama Run Game- MSU and Bama, do one thing really well, and that’s wear down opposing D’s with their run game. The same way that MSU runs the read option until they bust off a long one, is the same thing Bama does with Ingram and Richardson out of their pro-set. Diaz has done an excellent job of taking away a team’s strength, and with Bama the Run will be the key. Take away the rhythm they seek on the ground, try to force them to be one dimensional, and pressure McElroy when he drops back.

My Prediction: MSU 23  Bama 20. I think it’s clear that MSU has turned the corner, and I seriously think they want more. Being bowl eligible, and surpassing last year’s win total, is not where this team·wants to stop. State will play with more heart and emotion this week, playing in Nick Bell’s memory. Not only that, but Mullen has this team ‘expecting to win’ these games now. The Bulldogs seem to be catching Bama at the perfect time, and in an unfamiliar situation for the Tide. Who are not used to bouncing back from losses. I can see State running the ball with success, and passing for the needed yards and balance. I am predicting that State picks of McElroy twice (KJ Wright & Corey Broomfield), and Derek DePasquale boots the game winning FG, early in the 4th quarter. Diaz’s D comes through with a stop to close the game.

_______SEC Weekend_______nickbellcartoon

TSUN @ UT  28-24

Vandy @ UK  41-20

UGA @ Auburn  23-21

South Car @ UF  31-17

*Latest on the Cam Newton SAGA! Link

*MSU’s Charles Mitchell will honor Nick Bell, by wearing Bell’s #36 jersey on Saturday.

Your Picks?

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Bama, Dareus To Remember MSU’s Bell

Alabama’s Marcell Dareus grew up in Birmingham with Nick Bell, the Mississippi State defensive lineman who died of cancer last week.  Dareus was actually with Bell on the Friday before he died.

“He was with me all day Friday (October 29th).  That Friday, he stayed with me all day.  He rode around with me all day.  He said he wasn’t feeling good and he just wanted to ride with me.  He rode with me all day.  We went out later on that night.  We just had a good time.”

Dareus says he’s dedicating the rest of his season to his fallen friend.  That will begin on Saturday when he faces Bell’s MSU teammates.

Saturday’s game will mark the first contest for State since Bell’s death.  The Bulldogs will wear patches to honor Bell.  Some players will wear his jersey as well.

“For our guys, you play with a little heavy heart,” Dan Mullen said this week.  “They’re going to move on a little bit every day.  They’ll put it behind them, but it’s certainly not going to be out of their minds.  In a situation like that, I don’t know how it becomes motivating to anybody except for the fact maybe the lessons Nick taught you in life and trying to live your life to the fullest.”

In honor of Bell, there will be a moment of silence at Bryant-Denny Stadium prior to kickoff. 

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Lady Bulldogs Complete Round One Of Pac-10/SEC Challenge

Carrying mini cowbells adorned with the number 36 in honor of Nick Bell, Mississippi State's women's golf team battled their toughest tournament field yet this season in the Pac-10/SEC Challenge at the Stanford Golf Course in Stanford, Calif.

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SEC Headlines – 11/5/10 Part Three

1.  In case you’ve missed the other 400 stories on this topic this week — Julio Jones and Patrick Peterson are ready for Round Three of their battle.

2.  Tomorrow’s Alabama-LSU game might as well be a “turn back the clock” game with its tough defenses and tailback-first offenses.

3.  LSU receiver Terrence Toliver is looking forward to challenging Bama’s man coverage.

4.  Mike Slive and an overflow crowd showed up for a memorial service to honor Nick Bell last night.  (Nice touch for the SEC’s commissioner to go to Starkville for the event.  Very nice.)

5.  Georgia Tech faced MSU and Bell the last two years and — in case you missed it — they wore an MSU logo on the backs of their helmets last night against Virginia Tech.  (A tip of the hat to Tech’s Paul Johnson.)

6.  “The strongest emotion there is is love.  And when you feel the love that I know I felt, that our team felt, our community felt for Nick, that emotion can overwhelm you.” — Dan Mullen at Bell’s memorial service.

7.  Ole Miss will be looking to snap a three-game slide when they host Louisiana-Lafayette tomorrow.

8.  After receiving a raise to stay in Oxford last offseason, Tyrone Nix picked a heckuva time to have an historically bad Rebel defense.

9.  Linebacker Jonathan Cornell — UM’s leading tackler — might be back from a hip injury tomorrow.

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SEC Headlines – 11/4/10 Part Four

1.  Auburn’s deception got the better of LSU’s defense… but Alabama won’t be quite so tricky.

2.  Les Miles says the Tigers’ passing game is looking better in practice.  Again.

3.  LSU’s receivers haven’t been helping their quarterbacks (or running backs) recently.

4.  The fact that Ole Miss is battling for bowl eligibility makes Saturday’s game with Louisiana-Lafayette big.

5.  Of course, the Rebels could possibly go bowling with a 5-7 record, too.

6.  Andy Kennedy’s basketball team opens its season with an exhibition against Delta State tomorrow.

7.  Nick Bell’s tragic death has led to an outpouring of support for his family and the MSU football team.

8.  Dan Mullen is leaning on Jackie Sherrill for advice on how to deal with a player’s death.

9.  MSU’s coach is trying to keep his team’s routine as normal as possible.

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