ORLANDO, Fla. - Jeff Mullen went out with a whimper and not a bang Tuesday night at the Champs Sports Bowl, his swan song as West Virginia's offensive coordinator.
All of which was merely a reinforcement of why the young coach is now looking for a job.
West Virginia's offense was a mess against North Carolina State, missing golden opportunities because of turnovers, poor plays or simple ineffectiveness. Given that, is it any wonder athletic director Oliver Luck demanded a change?
It's hard to argue the point after watching Tuesday night's performance in WVU's 23-7 loss.
Still, in the days leading up to the game, Mullen was rather defensive. Defensive, perhaps, but also seemingly grateful for the chance he was given three years ago by Bill Stewart to run a major college offense.
And to the end, he tried to deflect the conversation away from how he was being pushed out in favor of Dana Holgorsen, who in another year will also push out Stewart.
"It's not about me. It never has been and I don't want this one to be,'' Mullen said on the eve of Tuesday's game (he didn't talk to reporters after the game). "Life goes on and these kids are going to do great things here, not only this bowl game but beyond. And Lord willing, so will I. This game has nothing to do with Jeff Mullen and everything to do with those offensive football players and how they perform. And we're just rooting real hard for them.''
Tuesday night against N.C. State, the offense showed some promise. For one play. The opening play of the game was a neat little end-around flip to Jock Sanders, who gained 17 yards.
After that, though, there was one more first down on that drive, two on the next, none and then two. The closest the Mountaineers got to scoring on any of those possessions was Tyler Bitancurt's missed 43-yard field goal. They finally scored near the end of the half, but it took two third-and-long conversions just to have a chance.
Then, in the second half, there was a fumble to set up an N.C. State field goal, the offense couldn't even get a field goal after a 60-yard Jock Sanders kickoff return, three more turnovers (plus another on a fumbled punt) and nothing to show for any of it.
It was, to say the least, not a pretty sight. But, hey, Shawne Alston had time to post a message on his Facebook page at halftime, so it couldn't have been all bad, right? (Really, he did. He even admitted it afterward).
Mullen, though, couldn't exit without at least a subtle defense of himself. It wasn't Tuesday night. Really, there wasn't much defense for that. But earlier this week, he talked about the career that Noel Devine and Sanders had, about the 28 wins, about the growth of both the team and his offense.
"It's rewarding to see Noel get more than 4,000 yards, really, with our offense, and Jock to become the all-time leading receiver in our offense,'' said Mullen, who had those two at his disposal for their final three seasons. "[We were] able to run and throw the ball very effectively and we're very, very proud of that - more proud of the wins that we've been able to accomplish over the past three seasons. And most important, I'm very proud of the fact that I got to know them, to watch them grow from sophomores to seniors. That's been a real joy for me.''