It has been 10 years since former Mississippi State University quarterback Tyson Lee stepped off of the field one last time, following a 41-27 victory over The University of Mississippi in the 2009 egg bowl.
Since then, MSU Athletics has grown and improved as they have competed in three NCAA championships (One in baseball and two in women’s basketball) and even reached No. 1 in college football after beating Auburn in 2014. Lee said he feels the main thing that has changed in those 10 years are the expectations for success.
"I think expectations across the board for all sports," Lee said. "I think football did that in 13 or 14 when they really had their run. I don’t remember (the tipping point) but I do remember some teams because of creating some success and sustaining that success now it is an expectation across the board."
In addition to expectations for success, there is also a higher expectation for student athletes to be successful. With this also comes the excitement of fans as the Bulldogs continue to compete at such a high level. Lee said the overall MSU culture has changed.
"Not only will we have great students and great GPAs, but we want to compete and recruit at a high level," Lee said. "When you look at the athletic department as a whole, I would say the expectations have changed there. The culture as a MSU fan base has changed too, there is a lot of excitement there."
Lee said all of the programs from football, baseball, soccer, tennis and women’s basketball are starting to get to that point of high expectations being sustained. Lee said while it may be simple to achieve such success, it is usually pretty hard to continue to win every single year.
"You are always wanting to aim high, you always want to try and make it to the next level," Lee said. "When it comes to growing pains, when you look at where Mississippi State has been and kind of where they are now, there has been a lot of success. I think most people will tell you it is easy to have early success, but to sustain that success and get to the next level it is pretty difficult."
In the past 14 months, MSU has won five SEC Championships in either the regular season or tournament play. Athletic director John Cohen said it is the second most in that span. That success does not come easy, as the SEC top to bottom is very competitive.
Lee said the hardest thing about the SEC is the quality of all the teams and sports is so high and a team may be really good, but there can only be one champion. This is why it is truly a long and grueling season for every team.
"The SEC is just a hard place to do it week in and week out," Lee said. "It doesn’t make it an excuse, but the reality of the situation is that there is only one champion. There is a lot of good talent and a lot of good coaches in this conference and it is just a grind."
Ten years removed, Lee said he thinks a turn in the program to go from not very good at sports to one that is competing in every sport at such a high level came about sometime in 2009, when Sylvester Croom’s football program transitioned into Dan Mullen’s football program.
"I think 2009 was a turning point in culture setting and expectations," Lee said. "We didn’t win, but I think the next year they went to a bowl game and won. I think coach Mullen was able to build off of a foundation that coach Croom had set."
The foundation Croom set was one that Lee said was beneficial to Mullen in his early success, which ultimately sustained a winning football program. Cohen said he thinks how Croom ran his football program in a way that really put the student athletes first.
"There is no question that Sylvester Croom recruited some outstanding players," Cohen said. "Sylvester Croom did an incredible job of really focusing in on the student athletes as people. He really stressed the academic side and really stressed the development of them as men. I think he really set the stage for what was going to happen down the road."
That down the road from the stage that came in 2014 when Mullen lead the Bulldogs to a first place ranking for the first time in school history. Since 2014, MSU has seen some amazing moments in athletics—from Morgan Williams hitting a buzzer beater to upset the University of Connecticut to Elijah MacNamee hitting a walk off home run to defeat Florida State University, advancing the Diamond Dawgs to the super regionals and ultimately The College World Series.
In Mullen's last season at MSU, he lead the Bulldogs to a win over Louisiana State University for the first time at home since 1999. Now, football head coach Joe Moorhead has already taken his team to a bowl game in his first year at MSU and he has mirrored the successes of baseball head coach Chris Lemonis and women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer, who both have teams that possess the potential to win MSU's first national championship. Additionally, tennis head coach Matt Roberts also has a Men’s Tennis program that just won an SEC championship and has the potential to win a national title.
When Moorhead was named head coach, he said, at his opening press conference, his goal was to get a bowl game, win the SEC West, win the SEC Championship and then win a national title.
"We’re going to do everything we can here to bring an SEC championship and be a program that competes for the national championship on a yearly basis," Moorhead said. 'You don’t build your reputation on what you’re going to do,' Henry Ford said that. So we’ve got to make sure that we understand that we don’t get what we wish for, we get what we work for."
Cohen said he doesn't think the athletic department is far away from reaching those goals of finally getting a national title. As Baseball and Tennis will have an opportunity to compete for both this summer. Cohen said that is because of how well the coaches do in recruiting and development.
"I don’t think we are really that far away from getting to that next level and winning a national title," Cohen said. "You do that with great coaches, you do that with great recruiting and you do that with great development. I think we are improving in all of those areas every single year."
With three coaches who just finished their first year and new soccer coach Josh Armstrong, MSU athletics has a lot of young energy in its coaches. However, Cohen said they were looking for more than just energy in their coaches, as they strive to become the best.
"We are looking for someone who is wanting to live the lifestyle of constant improvement," Cohen said. "That is not an easy thing to find. I’m really confident in our coaches and I think we are just now starting to scratch the surface of how good our athletic department can be."