Mississippi State football: Is Zach Arnett really on the hot seat?

STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI - SEPTEMBER 09: head coach Zach Arnett of the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the game against the Arizona Wildcats at Davis Wade Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI - SEPTEMBER 09: head coach Zach Arnett of the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the game against the Arizona Wildcats at Davis Wade Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

As the Mississippi State football team continues to post underwhelming performances, some have started wondering if Zach Arnett’s job is in jeopardy. 

The Mississippi State football team is now 3-3, but things haven’t been easy for most of this season. Even in the Mississippi State Bulldogs’ wins, things haven’t just been magically amazing for the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State got off to a slow start against Southeastern Louisiana, nearly choked away a win against Arizona, and then got repeatedly gashed by a dysfunctional Western Michigan Broncos team on Saturday.

Oh, and in the losses?

Well, the Bulldogs’ offense was completely shut down by an LSU Tigers defense that has proven to be remarkably vulnerable, State came up short in a shootout with a flawed South Carolina Gamecocks team, and then MSU couldn’t hope to stop an Alabama offense that has been inconsistent left and right.

And as the Bulldogs have struggled, some have started wondering if Zach Arnett’s job is in jeopardy. It’s not uncommon for fans of a school to ponder such a thing, but it is generally a little odd to ask that about a first year head coach.

But this isn’t just message board gossip or water cooler chatter.

Earlier this week, On3’s Andy Staples, a national college football writer who knows his stuff, included Arnett in his grouping of coaches who might be on the hot seat this season.

And in that, Staples was sure to highlight the unique buyout situation that MSU has with Arnett’s contract this season:

"“Arnett got a four-year deal that pays $3 million a year. His buyout calls for him to get 50 percent of the remaining amount on the contract. That means Mississippi State would owe Arnett $4.5 million over three years if it fired him after this season. But unlike Napier’s deal, Arnett’s also includes a duty to mitigate.”"

So essentially, MSU is in a favorable position if the Bulldogs end up deciding that they need to move on this season.

So, what’s MSU to do here?

Mississippi State football: Should Zac Selmon and the Bulldogs look for a new head coach to replace Zach Arnett?

One of the biggest arguments in favor for hiring Arnett following Leach’s death was how he could keep an established sense of continuity with this program. And while it seemed like he was able to keep the recruiting class together, Arnett effectively swapped out half of the coaching staff and drastically changed the direction of MSU’s offense.

And so, where is that sense of continuity now? What happened there?

Sure, Arnett has to lead the program in the way that he feels comfortable doing, but right now the Bulldogs’ offense is a mess and it isn’t able to provide support for a defensive unit that is remarkably porous and vulnerable (especially against even moderately successful passing attacks).

MSU is pretty lucky to be 3-3, all things considered.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to really get on board with a movement for firing Arnett, but those discussions are happening, regardless of if Mississippi State as an institution is ready for those conversations to happen.

And again, this isn’t just MSU fans talking on message boards or in group chats. This is hitting national college football news levels of discussions.

Arnett is a first year head coach and he’s still learning and growing, that’s clear. But he’s still tasked with winning. And unless he’s able to turn this season around after this bye week, the calls for Arnett’s job are just going to get louder and more frequent.

And I don’t know what Selmon does here.

I don’t know if you fire Arnett and move on to the next coach to try and get this program moving in the right direction again. Or maybe, regardless of how the rest of this year goes, you bring Arnett back and give him a second season to prove himself.

I don’t know. But it’s worth noting once again that this is a conversation that isn’t just happening with folks who have lived in Starkville. It’s happening at a national level as well.

Will Mississippi State football fire Zach Arnett?

I have no clue, to be completely honest.

And I don’t really envy Zac Selmon’s responsibilities here, but that’s why he’s the athletics director and I’m the sports blogger. Selmon is going to have to navigate a rather difficult sort of circumstance where he has to figure out if he’s firing a bright, young football mind after one bad year.

But Arnett was handed a team that won eight games in the regular season last year (and then the bowl game to get nine wins for 2022) and he’s the one who renovated the offensive philosophy. On top of that, Selmon, who is in his first year as the head of an athletics department, is having to weigh what the SEC will look like as it grows and brings in even more talented teams.

Can the Bulldogs afford to fall even further behind just before Oklahoma and Texas arrive in the Southeastern Conference?

MSU is facing a tough slate of games up ahead and ESPN’s FPI doesn’t favor the Bulldogs in any of the next four games. If State loses all four of them (at Arkansas, at Auburn, home against Kentucky and at Texas A&M), then the 13-year bowl streak is almost certainly over with the Egg Bowl and a talented Ole Miss team looming on the horizon.

Selmon didn’t hire Arnett, that wasn’t the choice that he was able to make. Now he’s faced with the tough choice of trying to chart the future of Mississippi State football and decide whether or not to move on from Arnett.

Who would MSU even hire?

Hey, look, another great question. Hopefully we don’t need a new head coach. Ideally, Arnett gets this team moving in the right direction.

But if he doesn’t?

To be completely honest, I don’t know. I’ll have more on this if needed though because I currently have 15 different names on a Google Doc that I’m sorting through right now.

But if you had to start a coaching search right now?

Well, here are the names I’d start looking into (in no particular order):

  • Charles Huff – He’s coached all over the place, including in Starkville, and has proven to be a pretty good program builder. He was part of a decent little run at Alabama under Nick Saban and would be a fantastic hire for a program like Mississippi State. He’s having a nice run at Marshall this season and is coaching a team that is fun to watch (and is winning more often than not).
  • Clay Helton – The USC Trojans didn’t work out for him, though he was a winning coach there. But his work at Georgia Southern has been incredible. He’s not known for being a great recruiter, though his offense has been able to overcome a lot of issues in that regard and he very quickly turned a traditional triple option team into a unit boasting one of the best passing attacks in the country.
  • GJ Kinne – If you’re looking for someone who is a dynamic recruiter and coaches a thrilling offense, then you need to consider GJ Kinne. He’s doing remarkable things at Texas State right now and he is the architect of one of the most entertaining and innovative offenses around. His name will come up for big jobs soon.
  • Kane Wommack – Like most of the other guys on this list, Kane Wommack is doing a pretty good job of establishing a really solid program. The South Alabama Jaguars won 10 games a season ago and have been a challenge to play under his leadership. Wommack could be a really good program builder and has coaching experience (and recruiting experience) in the South. That’s not something to dismiss here.
  • Sean Lewis – Previously a successful head coach but now the guy designing a flashy and potent offense for the Colorado Buffaloes. Lewis was a winner while being the guy responsible for building a program and now he’s taken a great opportunity to learn under Deion Sanders. Expect him to be on a lot of wishlists for teams that need head coaches this offseason.

And that’s just about a third of the guys I’d take a look at if I were an athletics director looking for a head coach. I have a more extensive list, but that’s where I’d start.

Still, I don’t know what MSU is going to do. There’s a pretty good argument for keeping Arnett and trying to build a better roster around him. He’s young and has seemingly expressed a desire to learn and grow after making mistakes.

Hopefully we won’t even need to find a head coach. Hopefully Arnett and company turn this season around in a hurry.

Next. 3 Mississippi State football flaws exposed vs. Western Michigan. dark