Zach Arnett proved cool, calm, and collected during his first appearance at SEC Media Days, but one question had Mississippi State’s new head football coach a little more fired up than the others – What is the program’s identity going to look like in year one?
Arnett, who recently took over for the late Mike Leach, said the answer is simple. The identity of Mississippi State football is going to continue to be what it already is.
“I hope it’s a continuation of the identity Mississippi State has always had as a football program – tough, hard-nosed, and disciplined,” Arnett said. “It’s been acknowledged for a long time in this league that when you line up against Mississippi State, you pack your lunchbox and hardhat because it’s going to be a physical game.”
“That’s what Mike Leach wanted. When I first interviewed with him and talked about what he thinks are the important things about developing a winning football program, it’s not talking about scheme. It’s all about the effort in which you play with, the physicality, the tenacity. Simply being the most excited, passionate team who lines up on the field – excited to play the game.”
And while schemes will undoubtedly change under Arnett, especially with the hiring of offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay as the team moves away from Leach’s famed Air Raid, Mississippi State’s new frontman believes that every game is winnable if those qualities continue to be instilled in the players.
“If you have all those characteristics and you’ve got good players and you’re not sabotaging them as coaches with a bad game plan, then it doesn’t matter what scheme you run. You’ve got a chance in every game,” Arnett continued. “Those are the fundamental, core principles to winning football. Scheme is just what it flows through.”
As for future potential, Arnett said the Bulldogs can eventually be a College Football Playoff-caliber program, citing the 2014 squad that would have made the CFP in its incoming expanded model.
“I look back at history. The College Football Playoff is going to expand to 12 teams moving forward, and you look back at the season when the first College Football Playoff poll came out and Mississippi State was ranked the No. 1 team in the country,” Arnett said. “You look back to that special season with Dak Prescott in 2014. If that’s a 12-team playoff, they’re in the playoffs. So, the proof is in the pudding.”
Mississippi State will kick off the upcoming season on Sept. 2 against Southeastern Louisiana in Starkville. The Bulldogs are coming off their first nine-win season since 2017.