The phone call caught Dan Muller by surprise.
After spending the last 12 years as an assistant coach and Vanderbilt’s recruiting coordinator, Muller hoped he’d hear from someone in relation to an open position as head coach.
That Mississippi State, a school from not only a power conference but a Southeastern Conference rival, wanted to interview him for its opening, well, that shocked the 36-year-old.
“It was [surprising] because it is not the natural order,” Muller told The City Paper on Wednesday.
First-time head coaches tend to start on the lower level and work their way up through the mid-major ranks before landing at a BCS conference school. The typical exception is promoting from within.
In fact, Muller remembered reading an article a couple years ago that stated only one assistant coach had become a head coach at the “high-major” level – former Duke player and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins, who just finished his fourth season’s as Stanford’s head coach.
“Every other coach that was coaching a high-major was either previously a head coach or elevated as an assistant within the program,” Muller said. “[The interview] was a surprise because it doesn’t happen very often. [Mississippi State was] looking to go in that direction and they were great throughout process. Certainly I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was surprised to get the phone call initially.”
Ultimately, Mississippi State went with another longtime assistant and hired Clemson’s Rick Ray last week.
The interview most likely won’t be the last for Muller, who has helped lead the Commodores to five NCAA Tournaments in the last six years. As the team’s top recruiter he also played a big part in landing NBA draft hopefuls Festus Ezeli, John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor.
“I certainly feel like I am ready,” Muller said. “Is it frustrating? I don’t know if it is frustrating because I’m in such a great place. I definitely look forward to the opportunity at a good program to be a head coach. I think that will come. The alternative of being here is certainly a great one so it is not like it is a win-lose situation. It is a win-win, I think, for me and that says a lot about Vanderbilt.”
Muller wasn’t the only Vanderbilt assistant who recently interviewed for a head coaching job.
First-year assistant David Cason was one of five finalists for the opening at Eastern Illinois, which hired Moberly (Mo.) Area Community College coach Jay Spoonhour last week. Cason, like Muller, played his college ball at Illinois State under current Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. Cason spent the previous six years at Tulsa, including the final three as the Golden Hurricane’s associate head coach.
The 39-year-old could be a candidate for Tennessee State’s vacant position. Cason and Stallings could not be reached for comment.
As for Muller, who has only coached at Vanderbilt after a brief professional playing career in the NBA and overseas, he intends to be back on Stallings’ staff.
“As of right now there is nothing going on that I’m pursuing,” he said. “If things open up or something happens, maybe. But as of right now I’m planning on being here next year. I’m excited about it.”