Now, what does he do with that label? Once again, he absolutely has to get out of Starkville. Five of those wins against top-25 competition have come in the last four seasons. At a remote campus, Mullen has overachieved in a way only Bill Snyder can appreciate.
He has earned a promotion in his eighth year coaching what might be the West Division's fifth-best program.
Those knots on his head from hitting the ceiling are getting painful.
The possibilities are both enticing and limited.
One coaching search coach source said Mullen would have to be on a "legitimate short list" for Texas A&M.
Notre Dame could do worse if it jettisons Brian Kelly. Mullen has the everyman good looks, personality and Northeast roots (suburban Philadelphia) that would appeal to Domers of every species.
If it dumps Jim Mora Jr., UCLA has shown no historical inclination to pay what Mullen is worth.
Arizona State might be willing to pay with an AD (Ray Anderson) who knows it takes money to make money. ASU is in the process of a massive $270 million facilities upgrade.
Nebraska remains desperate for relevancy.
Simply put, most every other program would either be below Mullen's consideration or unable to pay him what he would command to leave Mississippi State.
And that's a huge issue for a coach looking to maximize his value in the prime of his career.
Aside from Mullen and Saban, the SEC in general is in a state of coaching flux. Coming into the season, six coaches were entering their third season or fewer. In 2009, there was a moment when the league sported five national championship coaches (Saban, Meyer, Les Miles, Steve Spurrier and Phil Fulmer).
No matter how bad your week has been, it won't be worse than that of Butch Jones at Tennessee.
Missouri may have quit on Barry Odom three games into his second season.
Auburn has been pushed around to some degree in consecutive weeks by Clemson and … Mercer.
The shine may be wearing off Bret Bielema at Arkansas.
You shouldn't have to be told Kevin Sumlin is on the hot seat at Texas A&M because his AD said so.
Ole Miss has an interim coach and a questionable future.
Orgeron's LSU honeymoon lasted as long as his team being outplayed by Mississippi State and outcoached by Mullen.
That's excluding a change in wind direction at any given moment at places like Florida, Georgia and Kentucky.
This is way beyond Mullen being the second-best coach in the SEC. As long as Saban is around, that's a bit like being the forest's tallest mushroom.
It's a long jump for any SEC coach from go from second best to beating Nick Saban. The last SEC coach to defeat him in a single game, Hugh Freeze in 2015, is out of a job. In fact, there are significant questions -- starting with the NCAA -- as to how Freeze was able to get to that level.
Finally, you know how I know Mullen needs to leave?
There were four people in the room the day he interviewed at Mississippi State eight years ago. Three of them have upgraded. Then-AD Greg Byrne is at Alabama. Stricklin, Byrne's No. 2, replaced Byrne and then left for Florida. John Cohen, the Bulldogs' baseball coach, is now also Mississippi State's current AD.
Mullen is still the coach. That's great for job security in an age when the staying power of an average coach lasts a bit more than five seasons.
It's not great for career advancement -- or one's head.
Man, those knots have to hurt.
This article has been reprinted on Clips with the author's permission.