Winners: Mullen looks for more than physical part in quarterback

MSU's Nick Fitzgerald
Staff Writer

With two young children, odds are high that Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen has played a game or two of duck, duck, goose in his life.
Mullen got to branch out last Tuesday with a rousing game of Dak, Dak, Fitz.
One by one, the questions came at Mullen as he took his turn at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Alabama. Almost without fail, the queries centered around Mullen’s former player and current NFL star quarterback Dak Prescott, and Mullen’s most recent success story in current MSU signal caller Nick Fitzgerald.
It comes as no surprise that Mullen would get grilled about quarterback play. The veteran leader has developed quite the reputation for developing players at the position. Before Fitzgerald and Prescott, there was Tim Tebow at Florida and there was Alex Smith at Utah. Before leaving the program, Cam Newton spent a brief period under the Mullen learning tree at Florida as well.
So just how has Mullen developed such a knack for evaluating and teaching quarterbacks? It starts with picking out the right guys in the recruiting process, he says.
“There are things that you can coach and there are things that are harder to coach,” Mullen said. “You really want to look for guys that already have the traits that are hard to coach. You know, if they have some of the skill set and things like leadership and the mental, physical toughness and intelligence in processing information and decision making, those are some things that are sometimes harder to coach.
“You can coach someone to throw. Now there’s different levels of that, but you want to look at the things that are harder to coach. If they have certain parts of those skill sets, then they have the potential for the things that are coachable.”
The intangibles are what has set apart the successful quarterbacks that have played under Mullen. Sure, they have all been blessed physically, but Mullen points more towards those guys’ makeup than their skill set.
“All of them have tremendous mental and physical toughness,” Mullen said. “All of them are great leaders in their own way. All of them are great competitors in their own way.”
There’s one trait that Mullen values above all else when he goes out looking for a quarterback. As simple as it may sound, Mullen says he looks for winners.
“I know that might sound cliche, but one of the things NFL teams call and talk about Dak Prescott is that he won,” Mullen said. “He took (his high school, Haughton High in Louisiana) to levels they had not been to. He took Mississippi State to be the No. 1 team in the country. People are surprised he took the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs, but he’s a winner.”
So if anyone out there is looking to be Mullen’s next great quarterback, the checklist goes something like this. Be as strong mentally as you are physically. Love to fight and compete, and most of all – find ways to win.
“If you want to look at a quarterback, a big trait is does he win,” Mullen said. “All the guys that get talked about all had tremendous success at every level where they played football.”