Mississippi State promotes Zach Arnett to head coach following death of Mike Leach

Following the death of Mike Leach, Mississippi State has made a decision about the future of its football program.

The school announced Thursday that Zach Arnett will be his new head football coach. Arnett served as Leach’s defensive coordinator for the three seasons Leach was in charge in Starkville.

Leach died Monday due to complications from a heart issue. He was 61.

Arnett was given the interim head coach tag on Sunday when Leach was hospitalized. Less than a week later, he has been given the full-time job.

“This is an extremely challenging time for both me and everyone associated with Mississippi State football,” Arnett said. “No one can ever replace Coach Leach and the impact he had on MSU and all of college football. This team is full of strong, resilient young men and we are committed to continuing to build on the foundation Coach Leach laid and continue to honor his legacy.”

Arnett, 36, agreed to a four-year contract that will pay him a base annual salary of $3 million, the school said.

With the early signing period coming next week and the transfer window open, the school opted to move quickly in an effort to give the program stability and help the players grieve.

“Our football program has dealt with a stunning blow at the untimely passing of coach Mike Leach,” MSU president Mark E. Keenum said. “It is imperative that we bring stability and continuity to our team and our coaching staff as we move forward from this tragic event. I have tremendous confidence in Zach Arnett’s leadership and believe he is uniquely positioned to continue the progress Coach Leach brought to our program .He brings great drive and intensity to the task.”

Added interim athletic director Bracky Brett: “This is an incredibly difficult time for everyone at Mississippi State, especially for our football student-athletes and staff. As we continue to help each individual work through the sorrow that they are feeling following the passing of Coach Leach, we felt that it was crucial to provide the team with a proven leader who will be able to help them continue to navigate through these trying times and into the future. That leader is Zach Arnett.”

When Leach left Washington State to take the Mississippi State job, he hired Arnett to be his defensive coordinator. Arnett is a New Mexico graduate and a disciple of Rocky Long, the longtime New Mexico and San Diego State head coach known for using a 3-3-5 defense.

Arnett was the defensive coordinator for Long at SDSU when Leach brought him to the SEC. Arnett coached under Long from 2011 to 2019, working his way up from graduate assistant to defensive coordinator.

Now Arnett will have the opportunity to lead an SEC program as a first-time head coach.

“[Arnett] has been a pillar of support for everyone within the program through this difficult time and during his time in Starkville,” Brett said. “He is a tremendous, young coach who understands the culture of Mississippi State and will continue to elevate it in this new role.”

Under Arnett’s watch, MSU ranked in the top five in the SEC in total defense the last three seasons.

Mississippi State went 8-4 in the regular season, capped off by beating rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. The Egg Bowl victory, Leach’s first, was the 158th and final win in his historic and influential career.

The Bulldogs, No. 22 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, will play Illinois in the ReliaQuest Bowl on Jan. 2 as scheduled, the school confirmed on Tuesday.

AUBURN, AL – NOVEMBER 13: Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach (center) looks on alongside defensive coordinator Zach Arnett (right) during a game against the Auburn Tigers on Nov. 13, 2021 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *