Zach Arnett will be promoted to full-time head football coach Mississippi Having served as the program’s defensive coordinator for the past three seasons under Mike Leach, sources confirmed to CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee. Arnett is among the most respected defensive minds in the country, and he came to Starkville, Mississippi, after nine years on the staff at San Diego State.
Arnett, 36, has never served as a head coach before and will be under a baptism of fire at the SEC. But with bulldogs need to settle down yetArnett was the most obvious choice among the staff.
He was actually named the program’s interim head coach in the ReliaQuest Bowl vs Illinois, and has consistently coordinated high-quality defensive units for the Bulldogs. The program is also in search of its next athletic director after John Cohen’s departure from the NFL AuburnMississippi State wasn’t in a position to do a coaching hunt, especially with early National Signing Day approaching next week.
Leach died Monday night at the age of 61 from complications from a heart condition. He led Mississippi State to a mark of 19-17 over the past three seasons. Arnett played a key role on the Leach team in both game planning and regeneration.
Arnett could be a constant presence at a tragic time for this Mississippi family. The loss of an active Power Five trainer is unprecedented in the game’s modern era, and mourning the loss of a lich will be practical for everyone. Having a familiar face in Arnett should help stabilize the team during a turbulent time.
With the transfer gate open and members of the Bulldogs’ recruiting class likely looking for answers amid Leach’s unexpected death, promoting from within makes sense. Arnett is not a charitable cause, though. While he may still have been a few years away from getting a great coaching opportunity under normal circumstances, he has established himself as one of the brightest young defensive minds in the sport.
Arnett is the latest young defensive coordinator to get a chance at the Power Five job after staffers like Dan Lanning and Marcus Freeman enjoyed successful debut seasons in 2022 at Oregon and Notre Dame, respectively. while,Illinois Defensive Coordinator Ryan Walters, 36, to replace Jeff Brohm.
Lanning, 36, has led Oregon to a 9-3 record and a career-high No. 6 in the AP Top 25 this season after serving as Georgia’s defensive coordinator for three seasons. Similarly, Freeman—you guessed it, 36—led Notre Dame to an 8-4 regular season that included a stretch of eight wins in nine games after a rocky start to the season for the Fighting Irish.
Both were considered somewhat risky choices given their youth and lack of head coaching experience. But in the wake of Mario Cristobal’s exit from Oregon State to Miami and Brian Kelly’s departure from Notre Dame to LSU, Lanning and Freeman showed plenty of promise.
Notre Dame’s recruiting class of 2023 is ranked third nationally under Freeman ahead of early national signing day next Wednesday while Oregon State is ranked 12th — first in the Pac-12 — under Lanning.
Another former Power Five defensive coordinator, Duke’s Mike Elko, landed the head coaching job at Duke last off-season after working at Texas A&M for four seasons and leading the Blue Devils to an 8-4 record while winning the ACC Coach of the Year award. general. Arnett will attempt to follow the mold of those three from last season and become the latest young defensive coordinator to succeed in a head coaching opportunity.
This will be the first time since the Jackie Sherrill era from 1991-2003 that a coach with defensive assets has led. Sylvester Croom, Dan Mullen, Joe Morehead and Leach were all coaches with offensive backgrounds.
After playing linebacker at New Mexico from 2005 to 2008, Arnett cut his teeth as a coach at San Diego State under Rocky Long. With Arnett as one of the youngest defensive coordinators in the country in 2018, the Aztecs are ranked 21st nationally in total defense. The following season, the Aztecs were historically dominant under Arnett, ranking No. 5 in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense by allowing just 12.7 points per game.
Arnett’s Mississippi State defensive units weren’t impressive statistically, but that was in part because of the offensive system the Bulldogs were running under Leach. An air strike is not always the most attractive scheme for defensive coordinators to operate under because of the pressure that a quick three defense team can put. But Arnett’s Bulldogs has been consistently flat. This year’s 8-4 team is ranked No. 39 nationally in total defense and tied for No. 21 in forced draft.