WVU’s Mullen: Never Saw Firing Coming

MORGANTOWN – Jeff Mullen stood inside the Caperton Indoor Facility on Tuesday afternoon and answered the kinds of questions he’d never had to in his life.

Hand-picked from Wake Forest to come to West Virginia by Bill Stewart to be WVU’s offensive coordinator, Mullen had never had to interview for a job. His growing reputation as a young coach with a solid offensive mind had preceded him to every position he ever held.

Until now.

Mullen, who will be let go from West Virginia after the Dec. 29 Champ Sports Bowl, talked about how he won’t give up on the Mountaineers in that game, his relationship with his players, his flirtation with Kent State, how being a football coach doesn’t define him, and while he had no idea what his future holds, he’s hoping the show ‘House Hunters’ is somehow a part of it.

“Call somebody on that show because I want to be on an episode,” he said. “My wife will be picking it.”

Of course, he was joking through that last part, but all the while, he looked and sounded like a man who just had a significant part of his life suddenly ripped from under his feet.

“I didn’t see this coming,” he said.

On one hand, it’s easy to see why he didn’t. Most play callers who win 70 percent of the time don’t lose jobs. And no one might ever know if Mullen was doing all the play-calling or what percentage.

Who could forget Stewart saying after the Rutgers game that he ordered one specific play and sometimes ”the head coach takes precedent?”

Still, after three years, there are few who can definitively say what offensive identity the Mountaineers have had and on what type of plays do they hang their hat at crunch time? To be fair, adapting to three different quarterbacks in three years is going to make it difficult for any coach to fully get everything he needs.

Either way, West Virginia Athletics Director Oliver Luck was the man who had to make the decision, and he’s ultimately the one who did.

Quarterback Geno Smith was saying next-to-nothing about the coaching situation Tuesday, offering up the word “pass” so many times, you’d think he was in the coach’s room where they were asking his advice on the play calls.

But he didn’t take a minute to talk about the relationship he’d formed with Mullen.

“People don’t see what he’s done for me off the camera,” Smith said. “He took me from a boy who came in not knowing anything about college and a guy who had made a lot of mistakes early in my career and molded me into a man with a lot of responsibilities. I’m able to say that I can take care of my business because of him.

“As far as life goes, he teaches me life lessons on a daily basis. He’s not a guy who’s all about the Xs and Os. He’s genuinely here for the players. I appreciate him for that. He was there for me when I was struggling with my foot injury and going through things and he really uplifted me.”

Mullen, who said he’d probably miss his relationship with Smith the most, agreed about one part there. Football isn’t the only thing in his life.

“It doesn’t define me,” Mullen said. “My identity is not football coach. It’s my job. I get I’m in the public eye, but it doesn’t define who I am by any stretch. You don’t allow it to. It will just eat you up. The good and the bad.”

So what does?

“Faith, family. These kids,” he said, speaking of the Mountaineers players.

Mullen said he “was one of a handful of guys on the front end,” of the Kent State coaching search, which represented the first time he’s ever sat down for a formal job interview.

Now, he’ll move forward, presumably with that second one coming soon.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have been here,” he said. “Extremely grateful for the football or the life lessons. I don’t want to diminish that in any way. I’d do it all over again. Without hesitation.

“West Virginia will be fine. It was way before I got here and it’ll be here way after I’m gone. Same with every other coach that comes through here. The school, the place, is bigger than any one person, as it should be.”