Mississippi State football 2023 coaching search roundtable: Replacing Zach Arnett

Nov 11, 2023; Lynchburg, Virginia, USA; Liberty Flames head coach Jamey Chadwell watches a forth down play during the third quarter at Williams Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bishop-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 11, 2023; Lynchburg, Virginia, USA; Liberty Flames head coach Jamey Chadwell watches a forth down play during the third quarter at Williams Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bishop-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Mississippi State football program searches for a new head coach, here are our thoughts on how to replace Zach Arnett. 

With the Mississippi State Bulldogs firing Zach Arnett, the Mississippi State football program enters a crucial transition period. Arnett’s era of MSU football was brief and it came on the heels of the tragic passing of Mike Leach last December.

Now the Bulldogs desperately need something that resembles stability and sustainable success. They’ve got to find the right head coach to go forward.

So, let’s take a deep dive into some candidates. Let’s tart chatting about who the Bulldogs could pursue and go through some thoughtful analysis along the way.

Here’s who we’ve got chatting with us this go round:

  • Ethan Lee
  • Andrew Miller
  • Justin Strawn
  • Matt Tyler
  • John King
  • Ryan Strickland

And here’s what we had to say:

Mississippi State football coaching search: How the Bulldogs should replace Zach Arnett

Ethan Lee: Hey, we need a head coach. What’re y’all thinking? (hire GJ Kinne, if you ask me)

Andrew Miller: In a perfect world, if you could get Lance Leipold, you do. He’s simply an outstanding football coach who understands how to build a winning program at places where attaining success can be difficult.

Unfortunately, I suspect that whenever he leaves Kansas, it will be for a Big 10 job. And even if that opportunity didn’t come for him this year (which is could with Michigan State open), he may be content with his place in Lawrence over taking over a rebuild in the SEC.

So with that in mind, my top target is Rhett Lashlee. He’s doing a fantastic job at SMU. He has SEC experience, and he scores a ton of points with an offense shaped by multiple great systems. He checks a lot of boxes. He’d be expensive to get, but I think you have to try.

Justin Strawn: Let’s just get this out in the open since a lot of people are talking about it. Dan Mullen is only a good hire if you can’t get someone else with previous head coaching experience. If the only other person we can hire is an unproven coordinator, then you absolutely try to woo Mullen back to Starkville. Otherwise, we need to go in a different direction.

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Andrew Miller: I probably agree with that. I’m not of the opinion that we can hire a coach who will do a better job at State than Mullen did. BUT, that was Mullen of 6 years ago. Is Mullen the same coach then that he was now? How does he navigate the portal and NIL at State. He obviously dealt with that at Florida, but that’s a very different job. And simply put, how much fire does he have behind him now?

I don’t doubt his ability to develop players, call an effective offense, and run a clean ship. And by those measures, if you can’t find someone who’d potentially be a better fit now, then you certainly would go after Mullen. But I would not be confident he’d get the same results.

Justin Strawn: A lot of people are going to be against Tom Herman because of how things went at Texas, but he’s proven he can be successful at smaller programs, and he’s done about as well as you could cleaning up the mess that he inherited at South Florida. I’m not saying he’s my top target, but people need to keep an open mind if the Bulldogs were to go down that road.

Florida Atlantic
I get all the Florida schools confused.

Matt Tyler: I’m glad Justin brought up Mullen. While his track record is fantastic (four NY6 bowl appearances) and there is both a strong sense of familiarity and increasingly nostalgia for his tenure, I don’t think he is the correct hire for this particular juncture in program history.

Andrew Miller: It’s dumb to allow a singular result to dictate how you view a coach’s entire body of work, but the fact he just lost to ECU, arguably the worst team in the American, and is now unlikely to make a bowl, I think I’m out on Herman.

Ethan Lee: With regards to Tom Herman and his time at Texas, the man won four bowl games (including a Sugar Bowl). He won 64% of his games there. He didn’t rebuild that job fast enough for folks to like there and their boosters meddle a ton.

But he can win. His time at Houston proves he can win.

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Matt Tyler: It’s going to be almost impossible to sell Herman to the fanbase if he finishes 4-8 in year one at FAU.

Ethan Lee: I’m not saying he’s my top candidate, but he’s not someone that we can just brush aside because he isn’t thriving at FAU in year 1 and didn’t win a national title at Texas while the Longhorns were in the wilderness.

Now, I don’t think Herman is a great fit at MSU. But that’s besides the point.

Andrew Miller: But what I’ll say about Herman is the same thing I’d say about Gus Malzahn: they’re both good offensive coaches that recruit well and delivered better results than their ridiculous boosters would acknowledge. And on paper, their career records are seasons you’d absolutely take at State.

However, their records were good for State but those were their records at jobs with far better talent and resources. Are we sure we’d get the same results? I mean they essentially won at the level Mullen won at in Starkville at places that are supposed to win a lot more than Mississippi State.

Matt Tyler: Chadwell and Lashlee are far and away my top-2 candidates. Chadwell is 41-6 in his last four season up to this point, and he has won everywhere he has been. I think he would also be a hit with our fans/boosters. My question for him is can he put together a top-notch SEC staff and recruit at the level needed?

Andrew Miller: Chadwell fits the mold of “you need to do something different to win at Mississippi State.” He’d be an excellent candidate.

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Matt Tyler: On paper, Lashlee may offer the best combination of HC experience, offensive acumen, and a strong ties within the SEC footprint, both as a recruiter and a coach.

Ethan Lee: Lashlee’s got recruiting ties to DFW. That’s huge.

Justin Strawn: Chadwell is probably my favorite. I’m not sure you can get Lashlee from SMU with them moving to the ACC. He won’t stay there forever, but he probably would prefer to jump to a bigger job than Mississippi State. He might wait to see what happens with Napier next year at Florida.

Matt Tyler: It’s unfortunate the Aggies had to set the coaching carousel in motion when it looked like we may be the only SEC job coming open.

Ethan Lee: Circling back a bit, if someone is truly sold on Tom Herman or Gus Malzahn and that’s their number one choice, I’d encourage them to openly look at Clay Helton, who has proven he can innovate and adapt a roster in a hurry. And his offense is a ton of fun right now. He’s got recruiting ties to California, Texas, and now Georgia. And he seems to do better in smaller, Southern settings.

John King: I would like to officially join the conversation by saying I would love to have Dan Mullen back at Mississippi State. Also love Lashlee and Kinne, would not be upset if we went with Chadwell or Sean Lewis.

But I want it on record, officially, that I want Dan Mullen.

John King: If you are going to go Malzahn, Helton or Herman, why not just go with Dan?

Matt Tyler: Kinne is such an intriguing name. On a personal level, he is my favorite option. He is a high risk, high reward candidate, though, and I’m not sure we can take that risk right now.

Andrew Miller: A name that has come up a lot on hot boards that we haven’t mentioned is Willie Fritz. He’s done a remarkable job building up Tulane. He’s very similar to Leipold in that he’s taken over some tough situations and just found a way to win games. He’s just been doing it longer.

His age and the fact that his teams are rarely that exciting to watch (besides Tulane last year) wouldn’t make it a sexy hire. But we could do a lot worse, and he’d likely be a good option to get us back into gear as the landscape of the SEC changes.

Justin Strawn: I would like to officially join the conversation by saying I would love to have Dan Mullen back at Mississippi State. Also love Lashlee and Kinne, would not be upset if we went with Chadwell or Sean Lewis….

There are a lot of people who are going to feel that way. I just can’t see Selmon making his first big time college football coaching hire being the same guy who was there 6 years ago. I feel like Selmon wants to make a splash, and that isn’t much of a splash.

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Matt Tyler: Fritz and Leipold are very similar candidates, and you can make an argument both are just older, more experienced versions of Chadwell.

Andrew Miller: Correct, and all 3 have experience with spread triple option systems.

Ethan Lee: Kinne works the transfer portal better than anyone but Deion. He understands how coaching works right now. Are we sure that Dan Mullen would work well in this era? You can make the argument that maybe Mullen’s track record of developing players benefits MSU when the Bulldogs inevitably strike out on recruits at some point or another, but are you going to get players sticking around for 3-4 years to be developed?

Justin Strawn: I’m okay with Fritz. He could give you 4-6 years, get the program back on track and then turn the reins over to someone else.

John King: Ethan I think you’re forgetting that with Dan, football is #family

Ethan Lee: I’d rather have Helton, whose offense would allow Chris Parson to thrive and not get regular concussions.

And speaking of Parson, he would be so much fun to watch in a veer-and-shoot offense

Justin Strawn: family-vindiesel.gif

Andrew Miller: Kinne is obviously high on my list. Literally my only holdup is age. He’s just not very experienced, and you’d like to see the success sustained. I don’t think it’s a fluke but there’s always a chance. He’s a high risk, high reward hire.

Matt Tyler: It will be interesting to see how much Selmon values experience at the P5 level. Fritz, Chadwell, Leipold, and Curt Cignetti are all coached who have dominated consistently at lower-level programs. If you buy into the blue-collar/grinder stuff our administration unfortunately loves to sell, a coach along their lines fits to a tee. Selmon doesn’t strike me as someone to cling to prior history here, so does he prefer recruiting/coaching ties at the SEC level to having won consistently at the FCS/G5 level?

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Justin Strawn: Let me say this about what Mississippi State likes to sell. Do I think there is a blue collar type personality to our team? Yes. But if the team brings in someone else, they will absolutely sell the crap out of whatever fits that coach’s style. You hardly ever heard the term blue collar when Leach was here, but you did hear a lot of pirate talk. They’ll sell whatever they get handed.

Will Sherrone Moore get a look if he finishes these last three games for Michigan undefeated?

Andrew Miller: Zero ties to the South, so I doubt it

Ethan Lee: I want it on record that Andrew said this about Chris Parson and GJ Kinne’s veer-and-shoot:

Parson is a perfect fit in a system like that. Has the arm strength to connect on shots down field and is mobile enough that defenses can’t simply play back

Also, Sherrone Moore is taking over at Michigan after Harbaugh gets evicted from college football

Andrew Miller: The parallel to Moore is Alex Atkins at FSU. Both OL coaches turned OCs for playoff contenders that can construct a great run game. Atkins is just the Southerner. Although, Moore calls plays while Atkins doesn’t.

Matt Tyler: There has been talk Atkins calls the plays in Tallahassee, but I’m skeptical Norvell isn’t at the minimum heavily involved in that regard.

Moore doesn’t interest me. Really, no one involved with any of this year’s Big Ten offenses should be on anyone’s radar.

Andrew Miller: He hasn’t come up, but I expect he’s a candidate based on the early hot boards and just using common sense: Jon Sumrall at Troy. Great defensive coach, SEC experience, led a quick and stellar turnaround at Troy. And I will say this, his previously unwatchable offense has been much better this year. Not a sexy or flashy hire, but he’s expected to be a SEC guy soon.

Ethan Lee: His offense is so steady this year. I’m on board with Sumrall. He’s probably the most logical choice

John King: As an SEC team in the Deep South I think we’re contractually obligated to mention the coach at Troy in any coaching search

Matt Tyler: Sumrall probably ends the regular season 22-4 after his first two seasons. That’s incredible, yet I would have no excitement over his hire.

Ethan Lee: Atkins is an OC who does intrigue me, but I also still like Garrett Riley and can’t fault him for the way his head coach interferes with that offense there. He’s not getting as many looks this year because of the comparatively meager offense he’s got this year vs. last year, but he’s still a good coach.

John King: Hiring the Troy coach is extremely boring, even if it works

Justin Strawn: People are going to suggest Jeff Lebby because of Selmon’s ties to Oklahoma, but I don’t want Lebby.

Ethan Lee: Lebby isn’t that good of an OC and could conceivably be shown the door at OU for what is arguably a show of defiance to his head coach and athletics director. No thanks.

He’s just not worth the negative attention. If you want that offense, there are better options elsewhere.

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Matt Tyler: What weird offensive guru is at The Colorado School of Mines these days? They’ve given the CFB world both Bob Stitt and Derek Depasquale. We might want to look their way.

Justin Strawn: Pete Sterbick, and they are currently 11-0.

Ethan Lee: Matt, you like to call me a college football hipster, but that’s peak college football hipster energy right there

Justin Strawn: #SterbickForStarkville

John King: Their player profile pictures are very non-blue collar

Justin Strawn: #SterbickForState

Matt Tyler: Sterbick deserves to show the rest of the college football world how superior of a coach he is to Coach Prime.

Justin Strawn: I’ve gone down the Pete Sterbick rabbit hole, and I now want him more than anyone else. 51 points per game, 533 yards of offense per game.

Their QB has a passer rating of 178.


9 yard average per pass attempt.

Ryan Strickland: These are fantastic numbers. If he pulled off 80% of this, we would build a statue of him within 5 years. Hire this man. Let’s get weird and score some points.

Matt Tyler: When Ryan suggested this roundtable, he didn’t realize our in-group research was set to revolutionize the college football landscape. Sterbick it is. I will let Selmon know of our selection.

Justin Strawn: Wins over three top 10 programs this year.

Ethan Lee: Bruce Feldman listed Joe Judge. I can’t think of a worse hire

(He also had Leipold, Fritz, Sumrall, Chadwell, Lashlee, and put Dan Mullen as his wild card)

John King: Failed coaches are a lot different than coaches who were dubiously fired. Judge hasn’t spent all of his allotted time in exile yet

Ryan Strickland: For the love of God, do not hire Joe Judge

If I’m just being a fan, I want GJ Kinne badly. He’s my clear cut #1 as a fan. As stated by others, he is a big gamble and very high risk high reward but I believe he’s special. I love his offense and love what he has done with Texas State’s recruiting and his transfer portal success. He would be a big jolt of energy the program needs and agree that Parson would do great in his offense.

If I’m putting myself in Selmon’s shoes as best I can, my first two calls are to Chadwell and Lashlee. Those two check all the boxes as far as head coaching experience, success, and offensive success. I would be thrilled with either one and expect them to be a part of the search.

I’m not in love with hiring a defensive guy but Sumrall isn’t a bad option at all but it just wouldn’t excite me and I don’t think it would excite the fanbase.

Also, I expect A&M to go trophy hunting as they should and they might actually land a big time name with their resources. If that’s the case and they’re looking and looking for a big time name, I would see about Elko. I do not think Elko is realistic but you never know. A&M messes around looking for that break the internet hire and we miraculously get Elko would be not only funny but a fantastic hire since we all pretty much know he’s their safety net guy.

I have been coming around to idea of Curt Cignetti. I don’t how how well of a fit that is but anyone fits anywhere if they win and he does that. A lot.

Andrew Miller: Yeah he’s interesting. Age is a factor. He’s got SEC experience as he was with Saban for his first four years in T-Town. Otherwise he’s exclusively been a Pennsylvania/mid-Atlantic coach. I wonder what ties he truly has in the South at this point. But to the point of winners win, he absolutely does.

Ethan Lee: I mean, you know what happened the last time we hired a Pennsylvania dude…

jkjk that sort of thinking will limit MSU in the long run and it’s why a lot of folks are hesitant to go after guys like Kinne and Lashlee (who have equal amounts of head coaching experience, by the way)

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