Mississippi State fires Zach Arnett: Bulldogs part ways with coach less than one season after replacing Mike Leach
Mississippi State relieved head football coach Zach Arnett of his duties Monday morning. Arnett compiled a 4-6 (1-6 SEC) record in the 2023 season through 10 games in his first year as a full-time coach. Senior offensive analyst Greg Knox will serve as Mississippi State’s interim coach through the final two games of the season, according to ESPN.
Arnett was promoted from defensive coordinator to interim coach in 2022 following the untimely death of the legendary Mike Leach. After leading the team to an emotional victory in the ReliaQuest Bowl, the administration decided to promote Arnett to full-time coach during the offseason instead of conducting a national search for Leach’s replacement.
“I have the utmost respect for Zach Arnett and am extremely grateful for the effort he has put into leading our football program,” said athletic director Zac Selmon. However, the progress and results on the field have not been has been at the level necessary for Mississippi State to achieve the level of success we need and expect.
“Zach took on an unprecedented challenge last December. He provided much-needed leadership and stability to the football program during a difficult time. There is no doubt that he made a positive impact on the lives of our student athletes during his time here. We are grateful for his contributions to Mississippi State and wish him the best both personally and professionally.”
The move to fire Arnett comes after Mississippi State’s 51-10 loss to Texas A&M in Week 11. Ironically, Arnett is not the first coach to be fired. among the results of that game. On Sunday, Texas A&M made the decision to fire Jimbo Fisher despite the decisive victory for the Aggies.
Checking the fast movement
It seems like a big and almost unprecedented step to fire a coach before his first full year is over, especially when Mississippi State is still in contention for a bowl game . But it is clear that much of what Arnett tried to implement was not working.
Of Mississippi State’s six conference losses, only one has come by at least one possession. The Bulldogs’ only conference win came against an Arkansas team that hadn’t won an SEC game to that point, and MSU managed just seven points while holding the Razorbacks to field goal. Mississippi State’s average scoring margin in SEC play is less than 21 points.
Arnett tried to implement a new pro-style scheme after three years of air raids under Leach. State ranks 12th in the SEC in total offense (325.8 yards per game) and last in scoring offense (21.4 points per game). Starting quarterback Will Rogers has dealt with injury for several games, but even before that he was on pace for his worst year since the 2020 season cut short by COVID with an expected 2,550 passing yards and 20 touchdowns for a season whole
Even the Mississippi State defense struggled under the move, despite Arnett’s familiarity with the organization. His units finished in the top five in total defense in each of his three years as defensive coordinator, but the Bulldogs currently rank ninth in the same category while surrendering 365.4 yards per game . Their 28.2 points allowed per game is fourth worst among conference programs.
Striving for a career path
Arnett and his staff did not recruit at the level expected of an SEC program. Mississippi State’s 2024 class was ranked 46th nationally, and last in the SEC, in the 247Sports Composite Team recruiting rankings before being fired.
The Bulldogs currently have two four-star prospects — neither of whom are ranked within the Top247 — in the fold. Mississippi State also has just one commitment from a top 10 in-state prospect in wide receiver JJ Harrell. This is after signing four of Mississippi’s top 10 players in the 2023 cycle — two more than Ole Miss had managed.
It’s not like Mississippi State’s class is falling behind early in the process. The first high school signing period opens on Dec. 20, giving whoever State hires as Arnett’s replacement a very small window to get things back on track.
What is owed?
Another factor in Mississippi State’s decision is the fact that Arnett has a very school-friendly contract. He was supposed to make $3 million annually over the next three years, but according to 247Sports the university will only get 50% of that. That means MSU only has to pay $4.5 million over three years, in addition to whatever it may have on assistants who are not retained.
Compared to the cover over, Arnett’s purchase seems like pennies on the dollar. And if Arnett lands another coaching job — which isn’t the case given his proven track record as an assistant — his new salary would take away from Mississippi State’s buyout of him. All this allows the university to be very flexible in the search for another candidate.