The firings have begun for 2023 college football coaches, and Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Zach Arnett was second to the party following Jimbo Fisher just one day after the Aggies parted ways with Fisher.
Arnett’s tenure as head coach of the Bulldogs didn’t even last a full season as the team currently sits at 4-6, and comes on the heels of a 51-10 defeat in College Station this past Saturday.
Arnett took the reigns on December 15th, 2022, after the tragic passing of the late Mike Leach who had the Bulldogs heading in the right direction as a program after three seasons as the teams head coach. The Bulldogs were at 8-4 and had been improving record-wise each year under Leach, so it’s understandable why after a 4-6 start they were so quick to pull the trigger on Arnett, even though it was year one.
So with the job in Starkville available for the second time in less than a year, the question now is who is the right person for the job?
Here are my predictions for the next head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs:
Predictions for the next Mississippi State Bulldogs head football coach
Mike Elko – Elko is the former defensive coordinator with the Texas A&M Aggies where he spent four seasons under recently fired head coach Jimbo Fisher. During his time in College Station, Elko helped lead the Aggies to two nine win seasons which were the first since 2013. While College Station would most likely be the top option for Elko at the moment if given the opportunity, a jump to Mississippi State would definitely be a promotion of sorts as well from the head coaching position at Duke University where Elko is in his second season. During his first head coaching stint, Elko led the Blue Devils to a 9-4 record in 2022 which was the teams first nine win season since 1941. The Blue Devils sit at 6-3 so far this season. This included a win earlier this year against Clemson who has been atop the ACC for several years. Elko currently makes roughly $3.5 million annually for the Blue Devils. So putting him at a salary like that of coach Leach wouldn’t be far-fetched, and seems practical for both sides.
Curt Cignetti – Cignetti began making his mark with his current team, James Madison University, in 2019 when they were at the FCS level. During those three years before jumping to FBS in 2022, the Dukes went a combined 33-5, including a national championship appearance in 2019 and two semifinal appearances in 2020 and 2021. Cignetti has continued his success at the FBS level leading the Dukes to a combined 18-3 mark in their first two seasons at this level so far. The Dukes are 10-0 so far this season and ranked in the top 25. As a proven winner on two different levels at the same school, Cignetti could bring stability and winning to a Bulldogs program, and also see a substantial pay increase himself as the Dukes currently pay him $677 thousand per year making him the lowest paid coach in the top 25.
Deion Sanders – Sanders has been famous since his playing days at Florida State and in the NFL. His college football head coaching career began in the SWAC as head coach of the Jackson State Tigers where he went 27-6 in three seasons before departing to take the job as head coach at the FBS level for the Colorado Buffaloes in 2023. Sanders currently makes roughly $6 million per year and is on a five year contract with the Buffaloes, so the Bulldogs would have to pay a pretty penny to get him out of Boulder. More of a long-shot because of this, but Sanders does have ties to the state of Mississippi due to his time at Jackson State. Hence the reason he makes the list.
Dan Mullen – Mullen is probably the most popular name for being brought back to Starkville as he led the team to much success from 2009-2017 as head coach of the Bulldogs. Mullen however left the Bulldogs for the University of Florida which was a higher paying job at arguably a more prestigious university within the SEC. Although fired from his job as head coach of the Gators, Mullen did lead them to two 10-plus win seasons during his time there, and his success with the Bulldogs before that was well-known. The two big questions here are, would Bulldog fans and administration welcome him back with open arms? And if so, how long would he stay?
Lance Leipold – Leipold is the current head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks and has led a tremendous turnaround for the program who saw a combined 21 wins over the past 11 seasons before Leipold’s arrival in 2021. Since then, the Jayhawks have improved every year from 2-10 in 2021, to 6-7 in 2022, to 7-3 so far this year. Leipold defeated the University of Texas in 2021 which was the first in the programs history, and gave the Oklahoma Sooners their first loss this year. At the time, the Sooners were 7-0 and ranked 6th in the country. With the program turnaround not only at Kansas, but the University of Buffalo before that, Leipold is a proven winner and makes about $5 million annually with the Jayhawks right now.
While these may not necessarily be the biggest names, the Bulldogs also aren’t a school with the largest budget. Arnett is proof of that making just $3 million per year annually, and Leach at $5 million per year before that. According to The Tennesseean, The Bulldogs were ranked dead last in the SEC as far as coaching salary in 2023.
If the right person takes the helm like they had with Leach however, regardless of how well-known the name is, they’re program that has seen success before, so could easily see it again.