Mississippi State football: What is Zach Arnett’s reported buyout?

STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI - SEPTEMBER 16: Head coach Zach Arnett of the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second half against the LSU Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium on September 16, 2023 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI - SEPTEMBER 16: Head coach Zach Arnett of the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second half against the LSU Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium on September 16, 2023 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

As the Mississippi State football team struggles, it looks like the Bulldogs have a surprising amount of buyout flexibility should it be needed.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs are in the midst of an infuriating season that has been disappointing to watch, even in the Bulldogs wins this year. State is currently 4-4 on the season and just 1-4 in SEC play at the moment. And that has led to many Mississippi State football fans wondering what the future of this program looks like.

While it’s far from ideal to have to move on from a coach after just one season, it sure looks like MSU’s leaders gave the Miss. State football program plenty of flexibility if they do decide it’s time to move on.

Is Arnett’s job security actually in question? Great question. I don’t have an answer for that one. What I do have an answer about pertains to what the Bulldogs’ head coach’s buyout is reported to be.

And that’s because the buyout information for Arnett’s contract has seemingly been sent on over to two pretty notable college football reporters: On3’s Andy Staples and ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg.

What is Zach Arnett’s reported buyout as the head coach of the Mississippi State football team?

Both Staples and Rittenberg, within days of each other, put out articles detailing college football coaches they felt were on the hot seat. And according to Staples, Arnett’s program-friendly buyout might make things more difficult for him if he wants to return as the head coach of the Bulldogs in 2024.

In these reports, Staples and Rittenberg note that a couple of factors regarding Arnett’s contract really make this interesting.

One being the coach’s relatively low salary when compared to the rest of the SEC:

"“After Mike Leach’s sudden death in December, Mississippi State made the reasonable choice to promote defensive coordinator Zach Arnett to head coach. But Arnett, who had never been a head coach, received a very moderate contract — $3 million annually, the lowest salary in the SEC, which is 50% guaranteed if the school makes a change,” Rittenberg wrote."

Rittenberg goes on to quote a coaching agent who spoke with him, saying that this deal is remarkably easy to navigate “by SEC standards.”

That sort of buyout in and of itself is actually not that bad if that were the only factor here. For an SEC program that is intent on winning, paying a buyout of $4.5 million over three years? That’s doable, especially when compared to other buyouts elsewhere.

That isn’t the only factor in play here.

The other thing that really helps the Bulldogs here is this: Zach Arnett has a duty to mitigate, according to Staples:

"“In other words, the salary for Arnett’s next job would be subtracted from the buyout figure. Arnett has proven himself to be a very capable defensive coordinator, and it’s quite possible he could land a job either elsewhere in the SEC or somewhere in the Big Ten that would pay as much or more than the $1.5 million a year Mississippi State would owe him,” Staples wrote."

Now let’s add in the wrinkle that Arnett was making over $1.2 million last year as the defensive coordinator of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

If you’re worried about a buyout here, it’s time to take a deep breath. When the Bulldogs made the decision to promote Arnett from defensive coordinator to head coach of the Mississippi State football program, it looks like they ensured Arnett’s deal could be a short-term and modest arrangement if necessary.

Of course, it’s also worth pointing out that Arnett’s contract included a huge bonus opportunity. The bonus incentive structure included the possibility of the Bulldogs’ head coach getting up to $2.2 million in performance-based bonuses for this season.

State was going to pay the man a lot if he won games!

Now, new MSU athletics director Zac Selmon has a tough thing to figure out. Should the Bulldogs give their young head coach more time to figure things out and grow? There are arguments to be made in Arnett’s favor there. But with the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns joining the SEC, should the Bulldogs really risk falling behind?

I don’t have an answer for that.

But if MSU wants to pursue a new head coach in hopes of getting back on track at the completion of this season, Arnett’s buyout looks pretty reasonable and would provide Selmon and the Bulldogs with some flexibility to start fresh.

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