Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen joined Pat Fitzgerald at Wrigley Field in 2010 when the Northwestern coach guest-conducted "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
How did Fitzgerald do?
"He was great," Mullen said Friday in a telephone interview. "He gets everyone fired up."
The fired up part? That's believable.
But great? Consider that compliment an obvious sign that these two are pals.
"Danny and I are great friends," Fitzgerald said. "He's in my small group of head coaches where, if I have a thought or a tweak, I might send him a text or give him a call."
That camaraderie has made for an interesting dynamic while the NU and Mississippi State coaches prepare for the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl.
Asked if he's even more eager to beat a friend, Mullen replied: "I want to win against anybody, no matter who it is. And I know (Fitzgerald) is ultra-ultracompetitive too.
"This is a fun deal. Games can be more tense when you're in conference. I view bowls as a reward for a great season. It's the first time the schools have played, and we don't recruit against them very often. So it's more of a fun rivalry than a nasty rivalry."
Fitzgerald ally and former NU assistant coach Gregg Brandon is the common link. He and Mullen worked under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green in 2001 and 2002.
Mullen followed Meyer to Utah and Florida, coordinating a Tim Tebow-led offense that was tops in the SEC in 2007 and 2008.
Both Mullen and Fitzgerald recruited the Houston area, bumping into one another at high schools and in hotel lobbies.
When Mississippi State hired Mullen after the 2008 season, he was 36. Fitzgerald, two years younger, could relate.
"I called right when I got the job to get some advice on different aspects of the program," Mullen said. "Since then, we have bounced ideas off each other."
Mullen is a Red Sox fan from Manchester, N.H., who played tight end at Division III Ursinus College near Philadelphia. He grew up rooting for Penn State, his father's alma mater, and some deemed him a candidate before the school hired Bill O'Brien. Mississippi State pays him a reported $2.55 million a year.
"Having lived all over the country, I guess I'm like a chameleon," he said. "I can adapt. I have two small kids who were born in Mississippi, so they're Southerners. But down here, I'm still considered a damn Yankee. The regular Yankees come and leave. A damn Yankee stays."
Fitzgerald praised Mullen as a coach who "does a terrific job schematically."
"There are not a lot of tips as to what they are doing," Fitzgerald said. "And in their kicking game, they have enough wrinkles to make you turn gray."
Mullen returned the favor -- and then some.
"If you watch the film, it's really a team that should have won the Big Ten title this year," he said of the 9-3 Wildcats. "A couple of plays here or there, and they'd be in the Rose Bowl."
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