Mississippi State fires football coach Zach Arnett

Published 8:52 am Monday, November 13, 2023

STARKVILLE (AP) — Mississippi State fired Zach Arnett on Monday after less than one season as head coach, just under a year since he took over the Bulldogs after the tragic passing of Mike Leach from a heart issue.

Mississippi State announced Arnett’s dismissal on its athletics website. He leaves the university with a 5-6 record, including a 4-6 mark this season and the program tied for last in the Southeastern Conference West Division at 1-6.

Senior offensive analyst Greg Knox, who has worked around the SEC for 28 of his 35 years of coaching, will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the 2023 season. Mississippi State has games remaining against Southern Miss this Saturday and rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving.

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The university scheduled a news conference for Monday and said in its statement a search for a new coach will begin immediately.

Arnett, 37, was in the first of a four-year contract that paid $3 million annually plus incentives. The contract length was the maximum allowed under Mississippi state law.

Athletics director Zac Selmon said in a statement that he determined a change in leadership was needed for the football program to move forward and “position it for the highest level of success.” Selmon added that he had the utmost respect for Arnett and appreciated his effort but the on-field results weren’t at the expected level.

Selmon also acknowledged the challenging situation Arnett faced last December in taking over the Bulldogs after the death of Leach. Arnett had been defensive coordinator during Leach’s two-years-plus tenure at the school and had built it into one of the SEC’s toughest defensive units.

“There is no question that he has made a positive impact on the lives of our student-athletes during his time here,” Selmon said. “We are grateful for his contributions to Mississippi State and wish him the very best both personally and professionally.”

After several seasons of exciting, high-octane offense with the Air Raid under Leach and led by record-setting quarterback Will Rogers, the Bulldogs haven’t been nearly as proficient since switching to a pro-style scheme under offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay. They rank dead last in the SEC in scoring (21.8 points per game) and next to last in total offense (325.8 yards).

They were thumped 51-10 by Texas A&M on Saturday in what turned out to be Jimbo Fisher’s finale in College Station. Fisher was fired on Sunday.

Mississippi State had scored just 23 combined points over its previous three contests, one of which was a 7-3 victory at Arkansas. It has scored two offensive touchdowns in its last four games. The only time it reached the end zone against Texas A&M was when Zavion Thomas returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

Rogers has missed the past four games with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, and the Bulldogs started true freshman Chris Parson at Texas A&M before turning to Mike Wright.

Defensively, the Bulldogs entered last weekend ranked 10th in the league at 362 yards allowed per game.