Peter Sirmon was at a coaches convention in San Antonio earlier this year when he saw an unfamiliar number pop up in his voicemail box.
“I wasn’t expecting any calls from a 662 area code,” he said.
The then-USC assistant coach checked his messages and found that it was Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen who was trying to get in touch. Mullen, as it turns out, was in town for the convention as well and was on the lookout for a new defensive coordinator. The two agreed to meet, and Sirmon walked into Mullen’s hotel around 3 p.m. the next day.
Sirmon didn’t leave for another four hours.
“It was one of those times where you talk and no one gets on their phone,” Sirmon explained. “No one had to walk away for anything. It was a good, solid four hours.”
The conversation ranged from personal backgrounds to overall football philosophies to schematics, Sirmon said. Nothing was left undiscussed.
Sirmon and Mullen were essentially starting from scratch, after all. If you were combing through the two coaches’ bios to find where they’d crossed paths, Sirmon said, “Stop looking. You’re not going to find it.”
But after speaking with Mullen and his wife, Megan, Sirmon felt good about where things stood. “You don’t talk four hours … without knowing what direction you’re going,” he thought. The two vetted one another, liked what they saw, and soon an offer to become Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator was on the table.
Since joining the Bulldogs’ coaching staff, Sirmon has continued to show the same penchant for doing his due diligence. But instead of vetting Mullen, the last few weeks have been about Sirmon getting to know the job that lies ahead.
Shortly after finishing a junior day event on Mississippi State’s campus last weekend, Sirmon settled into his office around 7 p.m. and started what would be his second shift at work. He had to watch more film of last season, he said.
On the wall in front of his desk, he has a picture of every defensive player on the roster. The past few weeks have been spent assembling “impact tapes” of every one of those returning players, combing through every snap of their careers to get a feel for the personnel he’s inheriting. With spring practice right around the corner, he wants to hit the ground running.
Looking even further ahead, Sirmon said he already has done a “thorough” study of opponents in the SEC and “who we need to play to win a championship.”
Watching tape, Sirmon said he can tell a big difference in the offenses in the SEC since his time as Tennessee’s linebackers coach from 2011-12. Back then, only one or two teams were running tempo, he said, and now almost everyone is doing it, looking more like the Pac-12 offenses to which he had become accustomed at USC and Washington over the past four years.
Finding players who can play at that pace and play multiple roles will be key, Sirmon said.
In his studies, he has gotten a good feel for who might be able to do that, but until he sees players in person he said he can’t be sure.
In spite of all the preparation, Sirmon said he’s keeping an open mind about everything from scheme to personnel.
“Every time a coach leaves a program there are people who are upset, but there are also a few people that are happy that, ‘I get to reinvent myself. I get to prove myself to the next guy,’” Sirmon said. “A lot of times players fall out of favor with a coach. This is an opportunity to have a clean slate from the guys that were starters to the guys that didn’t get to play as much as they’d like.”