As the Mississippi State football program seems to be moving closer to hiring Jeff Lebby, here’s what MSU fans need to know.
The Mississippi State football program needs a head coach and reportedly it looks like Jeff Lebby might be on his way to Starkville. The Oklahoma Sooners offensive coordinator has never been a head coach before, but his offensive pedigree is something that people pay attention to.
Working in reverse chronological order here, prior to being the OC at OU, Lebby worked with Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss, spent some time with Josh Heupel at UCF, had a brief stop at Southeastern, and then really got his coaching career going while working for Art Briles at Baylor.
Lebby, also Briles’ son-in-law, uses an offense that is pretty similar to what the Baylor Bears ran around a decade ago.
And while a lot of folks know some of that, they may want an in depth look at Lebby. So, let’s do just that.
Everything you need to know about Jeff Lebby as the Mississippi State football program reportedly targets him
Let’s start simple.
He’s currently Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, up until he’s officially the head coach of the Mississippi State football program. A native of McGregor, Texas, Lebby has coached in several different states and is a pretty young coach, all things considered. He doesn’t have much more experience than Zach Arnett, but he does have experience with some noteworthy programs.
Background and experience highlights
The 39-year-old offensive coordinator arrives in Starkville without any head coaching experience, but he is coming from the blue blood that is the Oklahoma Sooners. Lebby has done well to fully utilize the talent that is there to put up eye-catching stats, but his in-game play calling decisions have been questioned a bit by Oklahoma fans this season.
Jeff Lebby’s early coaching career
- Lebby got his start coaching at OU back in the early 2000s
- He then coached high school football briefly before making his way to Baylor
- Lebby coached with Art Briles from 2008 to 2016 in various different roles, including running backs coach
- Following the end of Art Briles’ time in Waco, Lebby made his way to Southeastern in 2017
- He then jumped over to Josh Heupel’s UCF Knights and orchestrated UCF’s offense as the OC in 2019
- Lane Kiffin gave Lebby an opportunity at Ole Miss in 2020. He then coached the Rebels as OC again in 2021, helping elevate the program along with Kiffin
- Brent Venables brought Lebby to Oklahoma to get some help rebuilding the program after Lincoln Riley left
Again, Lebby hasn’t been the head coach of a college football program, but he has been a part of several elite offenses and also the controversial era of Baylor Bears football. Mississippi State is taking a bit of a gamble here when considering both of those factors. There’s a chance this works out, but there’s also a chance things get messy.
What offensive system does Lebby run?
Again, if you think his offenses have looked like what Briles was operating at Baylor, there’s a good reason for that.
While there will be some who refer to this as the Air Raid, that’s not the best way to examine this system. It’s not the Air Raid with more running. It’s a system that borrows a few elements here and there and is in many ways different from what you’ll see from Air Raid teams.
Go ahead and start familiarizing yourself with the “veer-and-shoot.”
What does Jeff Lebby’s offense look like?
It’s a fancy term for the offense that sprung up with Art Briles and the Baylor Bears and it’s now actually pretty common. The Colorado Buffaloes hired Sean Lewis to run the veer-and-shoot there. You’ve got Kendal Briles operating it. Alex Golesh is running it. Josh Heupel and Tennessee run it. GJ Kinne and Texas State run a similar offense. Heck, Dino Babers and Phillip Montgomery are familiar with the system.
Ian Boyd has some resources that help explain what makes this offense work and why it has a hard ceiling placed on it.
- The Veer and Shoot: Part I – by Ian Boyd at America’s War Game
- The resurgence of the Veer and Shoot – by Ian Boyd at America’s War Game
Just, you know, don’t call it the Air Raid. Because that’s not what this is.
Expect breakneck tempo with spread principles
Because Lebby comes from that Briles coaching tree, his offense is going to spread folks out sideline to sideline, operate at a high tempo, and attack defenses in space. You should expect a Lebby defense to take shots down the field, but he’s also going to incorporate plenty of RPO, sweeps, quick passes, screen passes, and just all sorts of interesting stuff.
While it seems like there’s a lot going on there (and that’s fair to believe) there’s still a fair bit of simplicity baked into the veer-and-shoot. There will be numerous options for whichever QB is operating this system.
Several branches of the veer-and-shoot tree utilize extremely wide wide receiver splits. Just insane amounts of sideline to sideline action.
It’s not a perfect system, there are indeed limitations.
But, generally speaking, it works.
And you’re going to see Lebby’s offenses take advantage of when things go wrong with opposing defenses. They will hurry up. They will avoid huddling. And they’ll score points when defenses get worn out.
The veer-and-shoot works well because it manufactures points quickly through execution and pace. And it will run a ton of plays. OU averaged just shy of 75 plays per game. MSU was at just over 62 plays per game.
On the offensive side of things, this presents a seismic shift for the Bulldogs.
How is Jeff Lebby regarded recruiting-wise?
One area that Mississippi State will need help in is recruiting. The Bulldogs have been making strides in NIL and need to get that to translate to on the field success. Lebby does have some interesting recruiting ties and connections that could help here.
He’s a native Texan and that could conceivably open up recruiting ties in Dallas, Houston, and Austin. His current time at Oklahoma has given his offense plenty of exposure to national audiences and also specifically folks in Big 12 country.
And before he was at OU, Lebby was with the Ole Miss Rebels. He knows this state and what it’s like recruiting here. On top of that, Lebby also has spent time coaching in Florida. When you add in the fact that he’s worked with some notable coaches, it seems likely that he can build a well-rounded staff as well.
So, he should be primed to recruit relatively well. And it seems likely that he won’t be locked into just relying on recruiting in Mississippi. Lebby could conceivably build his recruiting pipelines into multiple states to help build MSU’s roster.
What is Jeff Lebby’s connection to Art Briles?
It’s inevitable that Art Briles will come up at some point in all of this. And for good reason. There’s the obvious time they spent coaching together at Baylor, but also there’s the fact that Lebby is Briles’ son-in-law. They’re family.
So, people are going to ask questions about this. Especially when considering how Briles was at Oklahoma in Oklahoma attire despite it seeming like both OU’s AD and Lebby’s head coach didn’t want Briles around the program.
The situation is complex here. The scandal at Baylor is/was complex. And Lebby is connected to that. There will be fans who pretend otherwise and there are folks who might be totally open to just moving on, but it’s just simply not that simple.
Will the Art Briles – Jeff Lebby connection be something that people talk about? Almost certainly. It seems unlikely that this gets ignored.
What are the pros to hiring Jeff Lebby to lead the Mississippi State football team?
There’s the baggage that Lebby brings with him that seems pretty noteworthy to discussing. But with every hire, there’s pros and cons. So, let’s start going over some of the pros here.
Innovator capable of elevating ceiling
On the field? Lebby’s a brilliant offensive innovator. His scheme is exciting. He’s able to utilize talented players in a variety of ways, get to the line of scrimmage in a hurry, push tempo, and wear opponents out.
His offenses take good advantage of space and the mistakes that opponents make. That could help MSU cut into the talent differential it faces in the SEC.
There’s also the fact that Lebby has done this in the SEC before. Yes, there are drastic differences between the Mississippi State football program and the Ole Miss Rebels, but Lebby has coached in the SEC before and he knows what it takes to win in this conference.
He also knows the rigors of going up against SEC defenses. That’s something he has firsthand experience with.
His time in Mississippi is something that a lot of people are going to focus on, but I’m more interested in how he can help funnel talent from other states into Mississippi. He could conceivably bring plenty of out-of-state athletes to Starkville to help rejuvenate MSU’s roster.
But beyond all of that as it exists on the surface, it’s worth keeping his time helping rebuild Oklahoma in mind. Because there was a very quick turnaround that took place in Norman. Now, I’m not guaranteeing such a turnaround in Starkville, but it seems plausible that Lebby is someone who could understand how to attract talent to MSU via the transfer portal.
His offense has been on display for the nation to see for two years and he got cozy with Brent Venables as that rebuild took place. There’s some upside to consider from a football practicality standpoint.
What concerns exist around Jeff Lebby as first-time HC?
Well, there’s the Baylor stuff. And there’s also the way people react to the Baylor stuff. Much of my master’s degree involved time digging into crisis management, crisis communications, public relations, and so on and so forth. And it’s a complex thing to have to navigate.
Has Lebby learned from that? If nothing else, has he learned from that in a PR sense? His time at OU got tense because of the way Art Briles showed up when it seemed to be clear that Briles would not be around the program.
And what about beyond that?
Questions aplenty for coaching blank slate
Every first time head coach has to deal with a learning curve. This is something that exists and is present in every job the first time a coach take a job. While Lebby is almost certainly able to build a well-rounded staff due to his connections, there’s still going to be the things he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know.
And who knows what his blindspots are?
That remains to be seen. His inexperience here makes him a huge unknown quantity in the same way that Zach Arnett was when Arnett took over following Mike Leach’s tragic death.
So, we’ll see how this plays out. He’s a bit of a blank-slate as a coach for MSU and this is a bit of a risky hire because of that. But, well, sometimes gambles work, I guess.
The verdict for Mississippi State football and Jeff Lebby
It’s hard to put an actual verdict here. There’s a lot that MSU fans are about to find out when it comes to Lebby and the way he builds his coaching staff. That will be fascinating to watch and should help show which direction Lebby wants to take this program in.
And because of everything that’s been happening over the past few years of Mississippi State football, MSU might be forced to be patient here.
Now, that said, that doesn’t mean excusing questionable things if questionable things happen. But that’s sort of the standard that should take place with any head coaching hire.
What makes this sort of weird for the Bulldogs is the coaching revolving door that’s been seen in Starkville. We’re not counting the circumstances that led to Zach Arnett taking the job as the head coach because those were tragic and unprecedented, but there’s been a lot of up and down outside of that.
Unless there’s a major scandal, or a series of troubling behavior, MSU fans might need to be patient because of the way the Bulldogs fired Joe Moorhead after two (messy) seasons and the way the Bulldogs fired Zach Arnett in the midst of his first (dreadful) season.
This is a rebuilding project that could conceivably take a little bit of time. MSU’s roster is currently not constructed to run this offense and that might mean some recruiting needs to take place over a couple years (and through the transfer portal) to get State to where it needs to be to run this offense.
And while the optics of this hire will be up for debate for a number of reasons, Lebby will need time to get things set in Starkville.
And the Bulldogs will need to be committed to that. Whether that’s right or wrong or whatever, that’s just the way it is because of the turmoil this program has gone through. You now have to weather the PR storm and ensure that there’s nothing that goes wrong in the process.
That’s not a fun place to be.