Mississippi State Football: Coaching staff changes seem to be approaching

Dec 30, 2022; Clearwater, FL, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Zach Arnett speaks during the Clearwater Beach Day for the 2022 ReliaQuest Bowl Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 30, 2022; Clearwater, FL, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Zach Arnett speaks during the Clearwater Beach Day for the 2022 ReliaQuest Bowl Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Mississippi State Football wrapped up the 2022 season in Monday’s ReliaQuest Bowl win over Illinois. Following the victory, reports began surfacing that new HC Zach Arnett will be overhauling much of MSU’s current staff.

Bruce Feldman, of FOX and The Athletic, reported Monday afternoon that Associate A.D.s Matt Dudek and Brittany Thackery will not be retained on Arnett’s staff, along with suggesting several moves are expected for the offensive coaching staff.

FootballScoop’s John Brice shed some light on who some of the coaches expected to be gone may be in a report Monday. Per Brice, Inside WRs Coach Drew Hollingshead, Outside WRs Coach Steve Spurrier Jr., RBs Coach Jason Washington, and DL Coach Jeff Phelps are not expected to return.

It is not yet clear as to whether or not OL Coach Mason Miller will remain on staff.

Mississippi State Football suffered an unimaginable blow with the tragic passing of HC Mike Leach in early December. The university worked quickly to stabilize the program by promoting then-DC Zach Arnett to HC. Arnett and the current staff did an incredible job of keeping things afloat in the midst of horrendous circumstances. They held the Bulldogs’ 2023 recruiting class together to finish strong on National Signing Day, and prepared the current roster to win a bowl game, giving MSU its first 9-win season since 2017.

But now, the business side of college football comes into play. Mississippi State is now Zach Arnett’s program, and he is going to make whatever moves he feels are necessary to put his program in the best position to win. It is unfortunate, and to an extent unfair, that many of Mike Leach’s assistants will have to move on because of truly unprecedented circumstances. But that’s life in coaching. You wish them all the best and hope that Arnett replaces them with the best candidates possible.

One such hire has been made. 247 Sports’ Robbie Faulk has reported that Brad Peterson is returning to MSU in a “Chief of Staff” type role. Peterson, an MSU alum and long-time Mississippi high school coach, served of MSU’s Director of Player Personnel from 2016-2021 and is returning to fill the roles left by Dudek and Thackery. Arnett has made clear that he wants to utilize a “Mississippi-first” approach to recruiting, so bringing in someone with connections across the state like Peterson makes perfect sense.

It is also expected that LBs Coach Matt Brock will be promoted to Defensive Coordinator. Brock called the defense for MSU in the ReliaQuest Bowl and is the natural successor to Arnett in that role, though nothing has been finalized there yet.

The position of interest for most Bulldog fans is, naturally, Offensive Coordinator. Losing Mike Leach means losing not only your offensive play-caller but also a scheme and philosophy that were specific only to Leach with his pure-blooded Air Raid attack. Early speculation was that Arnett would look to hire an OC with a background in the Air Raid to aid with the transition from Leach. While that still may be the case, the staff changes on the offensive side of the ball (as well as rumblings behind the scenes) suggest Arnett may be taking things in a different direction.

Nothing is concrete, but this much is clear: the Bulldog offense will look much different in 2023. Even an OC with an Air Raid background will run things very differently than Leach. We even saw different looks on offense in the bowl game with Leach’s own staff running things. Hopefully, a hire will have been made in the next few days so that we can have a better idea of what this offense will look like next season.

We’re entering a transitional period for Mississippi State Football. It is officially the Zach Arnett era in Starkville, and that brings change. But luckily for Arnett, he’s got plenty to work with. Mike Leach laid a strong foundation here that Arnett now gets to build off of. His first team will feature one of the most experienced rosters in the SEC, a group that just put together a 9-win season against a difficult schedule. Even with some changes, 2023 has a chance to be a breakthrough year at MSU.