Mississippi State Reaches Deal With Late Mike Leach's Successor: Report

By Jason Hall

December 14, 2022

Auburn v Mississippi State
Photo: Getty Images

Mississippi State defensive coordinator and interim coach Zach Arnett will reportedly be promoted to full-time head coach as the successor to the late Mike Leach, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN's Pete Thamel on Wednesday (December 14).

Arnett was previously announced as the Bulldogs' interim coach in Mississippi State's initial news release confirming that Leach had been hospitalized on Sunday (December 11) night.

"Sources: Mississippi State and defensive coordinator Zach Arnett have agreed to terms to make him the school’s next head football coach," Thamel tweeted. "He’s expected to receive a four-year contract, which has not been signed yet.

Thamel reiterated that the deal has not yet been finalized as of Wednesday afternoon and several more steps need to be take place, however, Arnett has been chosen as Leach's long-term successor.

"The move was made quickly to stabilize the program and support the players after the sudden death of coach Mike Leach," Thamel tweeted. "Arnett has been a successful defensive coordinator and stayed loyal to MSU despite multiple offers from higher-profile programs the last few years."

A source told Thamel that Mississippi State views Arnett as "a strong leader to help" the players through the grieving process of Leach's sudden death this week.

"“Zach is the guy for that. Zach embodies MSU and understands it, and he’s going to build on the foundation that Coach Leach set," the source said, according to Thamel.

Arnett joined the Bulldogs during Leach's first season with the program in 2020, having initially began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at San Diego State in 2011 before being promoted to linebackers coach in 2014 and defensive coordinator in 2018.

Leach died Monday (December 12) night at the age of 61 following complications from a heart condition, Mississippi State announced in a news release Tuesday (December 13) morning.

"Mike was a giving and attentive husband, father and grandfather," the Leach family said in an official statement. "He was able to participate in organ donation at UMMC as a final act of charity. We are supported and uplifted by the outpouring of love and prayers from family, friends, Mississippi State University, the hospital staff, and football fans around the world. Thank you for sharing in the joy of our beloved husband and father's life."

Leach took over as Mississippi State's head coach in 2020 after previous tenures with Washington State (2012-19) and Texas Tech (2012-19).

The California native had a collegiate career head coaching record of 158-107, which included a 19-17 (11-15 SEC) record during his current tenure at Mississippi State, as well as having previously won the Big 12 South division title in 2008 at Texas Tech and the Pac-12 North division title in 2018 at Washington State.

Leach, a former two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year (2015, 2018) and Big 12 Coach of the Year (2008), was one of college football's biggest personalities, having shared numerous viral soundbites throughout his coaching career while excelling as an offensive-minded coach credited for helping popularize the "Air Raid" offense.

"Coach Mike Leach cast a tremendous shadow not just over Mississippi State University, but over the entire college football landscape," MSU President Mark E. Keenum said. "His innovative 'Air Raid' offense changed the game. Mike's keen intellect and unvarnished candor made him one of the nation's true coaching legends. His passing brings great sadness to our university, to the Southeastern Conference, and to all who loved college football. I will miss Mike's profound curiosity, his honesty, and his wide-open approach to pursuing excellence in all things. 

"Mike's death also underscores the fragility and uncertainty of our lives. Three weeks ago, Mike and I were together in the locker room celebrating a hard-fought victory in Oxford. Mike Leach truly embraced life and lived in such a manner as to leave no regrets. That's a worthy legacy. May God bless the Leach family during these days and hours. The prayers of the Bulldog family go with them."

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