Mississippi State decided to part ways with Zach Arnett after just 11 games. Arnett assumed control of the program following Mike Leach’s unexpected passing last December. Leach’s passing placed the program in a challenging position, and the decision to promote internally was deemed appropriate at the time. Additionally, Mississippi State was without an athletic director, making a nationwide search impractical. Now, Mississippi State becomes the second Power Five program to part ways with their head coach in the month of November. Today, we will list some possible candidates for Mississippi State as they embark on the search for their next head coach. If you wish to explore previous coaching searches, click below.
Dan Mullen (Former Mississippi State and Florida Head Coach) – Could Mississippi State be destined for a homecoming with Dan Mullen? We have seen numerous programs around the country reunite with a former head coach. Some have worked out, such as Rutgers with Greg Schiano, while others have fallen flat on their face, like Bobby Petrino and Louisville.
Currently an analyst at ESPN, Mullen means the administration will not need to wait for him to finish the season if they decide Mullen is their guy. Mullen served as the head coach at Mississippi State from 2009 to 2017, and the Bulldogs made a bowl game every year except his first season. He played a crucial role in the program reaching its highest ranking ever when they were ranked number one in the inaugural College Football Playoff ranking.
Mississippi State faces one of the toughest jobs in the SEC due to its proximity to powerhouse programs like Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and LSU. Recruiting against some of the best teams makes the job challenging, but Mullen proved he could find success.
If Mississippi State is interested in Mullen, is he ready to return to the sidelines?
Jamey Chadwell (Liberty Head Coach) – Jamey Chadwell is poised to land a high-profile job in the near future. He played a pivotal role in transforming Coastal Carolina into a recognizable brand across the country, contributing to 31 wins in his final three seasons with the program. Opting for change, Chadwell moved to Liberty after Hugh Freeze departed for Auburn. Now, with Liberty, he is on the cusp of securing a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Chadwell’s impact on Coastal Carolina was significant, turning a relatively unknown school into a success story in college football. He excelled at recruiting underrated yet talented athletes and developing them into formidable players. Although Mississippi State poses challenges for recruiting, Chadwell is familiar with that setting, having spent his entire coaching career in the southeast. While the buyout for Chadwell is not disclosed due to Liberty being a private university, Mississippi State would likely be willing to pay it if they decide on him.
Rhett Lashlee (SMU Head Coach) – Rhett Lashlee may not be inclined to consider the Mississippi State job, especially with SMU set to move to the ACC next year. SMU has considerable financial resources that they could leverage to persuade Lashlee to stay, but the allure of the SEC might be intriguing to him. It’s worth noting that SMU’s acceptance into the ACC was facilitated by their offer to forgo television money, offsetting the cost with support from boosters.
Lashlee assumed the role at SMU after Sonny Dykes accepted the job at TCU. As an offensive-minded coach, Lashlee played a pivotal role in transforming SMU into one of the most explosive teams in the country, averaging over 40 points per game this season. His familiarity with the SEC stems from his four-season stint as the Auburn offensive coordinator from 2013 to 2016.
While Lashlee’s salary is estimated to be around $3 million per season, his buyout remains unknown, given that SMU is a private university.
Jon Sumrall (Troy Head Coach) – Jon Sumrall could emerge as one of the top contenders for the Mississippi State job. Currently in his second season as the head coach at Troy, he has achieved remarkable success in a relatively short span. Sumrall boasts an impressive record of 20-4, including leading Troy to a stellar 12-win season in 2022, culminating with a top-20 ranking. The Trojans are positioned as strong contenders to win the Sun Belt conference, reinforcing Sumrall’s coaching prowess.
What sets Sumrall apart is his extensive experience both as a player and a coach in the SEC. Having played at Kentucky and held coaching positions at Ole Miss and Kentucky, he brings a deep understanding of the dynamics within the conference. Given the critical importance of recruiting in the SEC, having a coach familiar with the region could be a key criterion for Mississippi State’s next head coach.
Sumrall recently signed an extension, elevating his salary to $825,000. While his buyout details remain unspecified, Mississippi State would likely have the financial capacity to offer him an attractive package and manage any potential buyout.
Rich Rodriguez (Jacksonville State Head Coach) – While it may seem highly unlikely, if Mississippi State encounters difficulty in securing a suitable candidate, they might want to consider Rich Rodriguez. Yes, the same Rodriguez who came close to leading West Virginia to a national championship. Currently the head coach at Jacksonville State, Rodriguez has achieved success in his first two seasons with a 16-5 record.
Despite being ineligible for the postseason due to the NCAA’s rules about bowl eligibility when schools transition from FCS to FBS, Jacksonville State has exceeded expectations, currently sitting in third place after being predicted to finish seventh in Conference USA. At 60 years old, Rodriguez remains relatively young in terms of coaching, sharing the same age as current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
While Rodriguez may not be at the top of the list, and the likelihood of this scenario is slim, if the initial options do not materialize, the administration might find it worthwhile to consider giving him a closer look. His current salary of $800,000 could easily be surpassed by Mississippi State.
Manny Diaz (Penn State Defensive Coordinator) – Manny Diaz is a notable candidate for the Mississippi State job, with his name circulating in discussions. Currently serving as the defensive coordinator at Penn State, he has played a pivotal role in shaping what is arguably one of the best defenses in the country. Penn State’s defense currently ranks second in the nation in sacks and rush defense.
Diaz brings valuable head coaching experience, having spent three seasons as the head coach at Miami before being replaced by Mario Cristobal. During his tenure, Diaz achieved a 21-15 record and led the team to a bowl game in each of the three seasons. Known for his above-average recruiting skills and defensive expertise, Diaz has a reputation that precedes him.
While the SEC poses a different challenge compared to the ACC and Big Ten, Diaz is not a stranger to Mississippi State. He served as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator for one season in 2015. His previous head coaching experience provides Mississippi State with a candidate who has learned from past failures. Luring him away from Penn State might not be a formidable challenge given the right circumstances.
Mike Bobo (Georgia Offensive Coordinator) – Another coordinator with previous head coaching experience is Georgia’s Mike Bobo. Taking on the role of offensive coordinator for Georgia this past offseason, Bobo has played a key role in the transformation of Carson Beck into one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Georgia’s offense has been steadily improving throughout the season, showing signs of peaking at the right time.
While not the most glamorous candidate on the list, Bobo’s current success with Georgia contrasts with his mixed tenure at Colorado State. Across five seasons, he held a 28-35 record, never winning more than seven games in a season. Despite this, Bobo’s ability to build an explosive offense is evident, with Carson Beck’s notable performance potentially earning him recognition in New York next month.
While it may be considered somewhat early for Bobo to step back into a head coaching position, he would likely accept the role if offered. His experience and recent success at Georgia make him a viable candidate for the Mississippi State job.
Barry Odom (UNLV Head Coach) – Barry Odom stands out as one of my favorite coaches on this list. He has orchestrated a remarkable transformation at UNLV, guiding them to an 8-2 record. Notably, UNLV hasn’t achieved eight wins in a season since 2000, making Odom’s impact in his first season quite impressive. With a strong chance to finish with double digits and potentially win the Mountain West, Odom has quickly turned UNLV into a competitive force.
Before his current stint at UNLV, Odom served as the head coach of Missouri for four seasons, ending in 2019. His coaching experience also includes being the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Arkansas. Remarkably, Odom is the highest-paid coach in the Mountain West, earning a salary of $1.75 million.
While Mississippi State may choose to assess Odom’s success at UNLV as a potential one-year wonder, there’s no denying the fantastic job he’s doing. If he sustains this level of success, Odom could very well find himself back at a Power 4/5 school in the near future.
Willie Fritz (Tulane Head Coach) – Willie Fritz’s name is likely to circulate, especially if Tulane continues its trajectory toward a second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl game. Fritz has orchestrated an impressive turnaround at Tulane, boasting a 21-3 record over the past two seasons after facing consistency challenges in his initial six years with the program.
A compelling reason for Fritz to consider the Mississippi State position might stem from his quarterback, Michael Pratt. There have been rumors suggesting Pratt may enter the transfer portal to pursue opportunities at larger schools with championship aspirations. The question arises: would Pratt follow his coach to Mississippi State?
In terms of compensation, Fritz earned just under $3 million in 2022, a figure that Mississippi State would likely surpass. However, the main consideration for Mississippi State could be Fritz’s historical trend of taking time to revitalize a program. The question remains whether the administration would be comfortable with a potentially multi-year rebuilding process under Fritz’s leadership.
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