Defensive coordinator for Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State Bulldogs has been a stepping stone to more prominent positions of late, which makes it a natural career decision for reported new hire Peter Sirmon.
— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) January 13, 2016
Peter Sirmon, previously linebackers coach at USC, replaces Manny Diaz, who spent one season in Starkville before taking the same job at Miami. Diaz inherited a challenging situation at Mississippi State after his bounce-back 2014 campaign at Louisiana Tech, as the Bulldogs lost almost their starting lineup from the previous season.
All Diaz did was coordinate the nation’s No. 36 scoring defense, which thrived with an aggressive style responsible for 30 sacks and 98 tackles for loss. The overall point-per-game yield was slightly higher this time around than in Diaz’s first tenure with Mississippi State in 2010, when the Bulldogs held opponents to just 19.8. But much like when he accepted the Texas job in 2011, Diaz earned his gig at Miami with a strong season in Starkville.
Diaz’s one-and-done stints book-end a period of consistent change at Mississippi State, including Geoff Collin’s wildly successful 2014. Collins’ efforts coordinating the defense helped fuel one of the best seasons in Bulldogs’ history, and landed Collins a job on Jim McElwain’s Florida staff.
Both Diaz and Collins left for opportunities where the flow of talent is likely to be more consistent than at Mississippi State. Mullen’s current run is unprecedented, but that in and of itself speaks volumes about the challenges of winning consistently in Starkville. Barring Stingray wooing prospective recruits with the promises of WWE title belts, Mississippi State is at a distinct disadvantage compared to Miami or Florida.
One area in which Sirmon bolsters the Mississippi State staff is his recruiting chops. Rather than being limited by Mississippi State, Peter Sirmon faces a new challenge in one of his proven strengths. He served as USC’s recruiting coordinator, helping to land Rivals.com’s No. 1-ranked 2015 class.
And the strength of that class was at Sirmon’s position, linebacker. The trio Cam Smith, Porter Gustin and Osa Masina was a veritable murderers’ row.
Sirmon didn’t catch Mullens’ eye simply because he had talented players at his position, however. Of USC’s position coaches in Steve Sarkisian’s abbreviated tenure, Sirmon was one of the best. Smith’s development into a starting inside linebacker over the course of last offseason was a testament to Sirmon’s efforts.
His portfolio as a defensive coordinator is limited, but don’t be surprised if Sirmon acclimates quickly. He replaced fired Justin Wilcox immediately following USC’s loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and handled play-calling duties in the Holiday Bowl.
In the three weeks of turnover time, Sirmon replaced Wilcox’s favored 3-4 base with a 4-3, and the result was USC’s best play on the line of the entire season.
“Coach Sirmon did a great job of mixing in our four-down front to get penetration [to] a very experienced quarterback,” USC head coach Clay Helton said after the Holiday Bowl. “And we were able to get there some.”
The Trojans defensive line forced Joel Stave to scramble frequently, and limited a quality Wisconsin run game to 3.8 yards per carry.
If nothing else, the change in base formation with limited time to prepare speaks to Sirmon’s willingness to adapt to personnel, something that Wilcox struggled with in his ill-fated USC tenure.
With returning pieces from this year’s overachieving Mississippi State defense, and a full offseason to develop his strategy, Peter Sirmon is primed to be the Bulldogs’ next breakout star at defensive coordinator.