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Zach Arnett

Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Zach Arnett is presented the trophy after beating the Illinois Fighting Illini in the 2023 ReliaQuest Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Arnett became the 35th head coach in Mississippi State program history on Dec. 15, 2022, days after the tragic passing of Mike Leach. It is the first head coaching job for Arnett, who is the youngest head coach in the SEC, with a birthdate of Sep. 10, 1986.

Arnett was the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator for all 3 seasons under Leach. It’s no secret, however, that Arnett was not Leach’s first choice for defensive coordinator.

Leach sought to hire Rocky Long, a pioneer of the 3-3-5 defense, to his Mississippi State staff. When Long turned down the MSU defensive coordinator role, Leach turned to Arnett, who played linebacker for Long at New Mexico State (2005-08) and got his start as a graduate assistant for Long at San Diego State.

Leach’s decision to hire Arnett worked out well for both parties. Arnett was nominated for the Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant coach in the country, in each of his first 2 seasons at MSU. Arnett’s 2022 Bulldog defense ranked fifth in the SEC in total defense (350.3), fifth in rushing defense (143.6), fifth in pass defense (206.8) and second in turnovers gained (22).

Arnett’s first game as MSU head coach came away from Starkville. After Leach’s passing, the Bulldogs decided they would go forward with playing in the ReliaQuest Bowl. Arnett made his head coaching debut and maintained the Leach staff for the game, guiding MSU to a 19-10 win over Illinois. After the bowl game, Arnett parted with a handful of Leach’s offensive assistants and worked to assemble his coaching staff.

Arnett brought in Kevin Barbay as his offensive coordinator. Barbay is a disciple of Jim McElwain, the former Florida head coach who was an offensive coordinator for Nick Saban at Alabama. Barbay called a balanced offense that was productive at Central Michigan and App State.

In the spring of 2023, Arnett said making “drastic” changes to Mississippi State’s offense would be “foolish.” While Barbay’s offense does include 4-receiver sets, it will more prominently feature the running back and tight end, and play-action passing.

As a defensive coordinator at San Diego State and Mississippi State, Arnett developed a reputation as a rising star. He’s now turning to one of his assistant coaches of the last 3 years to be his defensive coordinator.

For Arnett’s first season as head coach, Matt Brock has been promoted to defensive coordinator. Brock was on staff at MSU since Leach’s 2020 hiring, following the late coach from Washington State. He started out as special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach for 2 seasons before being promoted to linebackers coach. Brock was the defensive play-caller in MSU’s ReliaQuest Bowl win.

Less than a week after Arnett was hired, college football programs began signing Class of 2023 recruits in the December Early Signing Period. Arnett handled the daunting transition task by signing 27 prospects out of high school, including 12 early enrollees. Arnett’s staff also added 9 players from the transfer portal.

Zach Arnett’s Coaching Experience

Head Coaching Record

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