SEC Media Days: Mississippi State Head Coach Zach Arnett Addresses Difficulty Of Replacing Mike Leach With Chad Withrow

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As soon as Mississippi State head football coach Zach Arnett took to the podium at SEC Media Days, he acknowledged the late legend that preceded him. Mike Leach’s opening statement at the same event a year prior was just seven words — the shortest ever — and he made it without a tie.

I’ve already said too much, and that combined with wearing a tie, I’m sure I’ve disappointed him a little bit here today. In recognition of his tremendous impact and influence not only on the game of football but on myself, I’m going to do my best to keep this short and sweet.

— Zach Arnett

Arnett’s presence in Nashville was profound for a multitude of reasons. Not only is he the lone rookie of the 14 head coaches in the SEC, he is the first of head coach Hispanic descent in the league’s history.

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – JULY 18: Head Coach Zach Arnett of the Mississippi State Bulldogs speaks during Day 2 of the 2023 SEC Media Days at Grand Hyatt Nashville on July 18, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Johnnie Izquierdo/Getty Images)

Zach Arnett is leading with his predecessor in mind.

Perhaps most profoundly, though, Arnett is tasked with leading a program that continues to feel the impact of the loss of Leach. It is not to say that he is going to try and fill the shoes of the coach that came before him. It is not to say that he is going to do things exactly the same.

He’s not. His team is going to look a lot different in terms of Xs and Os in 2023.

However, at the core of the program, Arnett is going to lead the Bulldogs with the same “tough, hard-nosed and disciplined” approach as the man who came before him.

When I first interviewed with [Mike Leach] and talked to him 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 with which you play, the physicality and the tenacity.

— Zach Arnett

The 36-year-old could not be more grateful for his time under Leach.

Simply put, I look at it as a blessing. I got to spend three years under, in my opinion is a unanimous first ballot Hall of Famer. I mean, his fingerprints and impact on the game of football are evident throughout particularly offensive play in modern football.

— Zach Arnett

Mississippi State’s ethos is going to remain the same.

Replacing Mike Leach is not an easy task.

Arnett took over as the interim head coach following Leach’s hospitalization and eventual passing in December. He led the team to a win in the ReliaQuest Bowl.

Not long thereafter, Arnett was promoted to the full-time head coach. It presents a unique challenge.

Arnett spoke with Chad Withrow of OutKick’s Hot Mic about the difficulty of taking over for Leach.

Like Arnett touched on in his opening statement at SEC Media Days, he told Withrow that the program focused on three things:

  • Be there for the players and for the locker room.
  • Do the job. Keep the recruiting class together.
  • Win football games.

Mississippi State will officially begin the Zach Arnett era against Southeastern Louisiana on September 2. The Pirate’s fingerprints are all over the program and in the minds of his players.

Written by Grayson Weir

Grayson doesn't drink coffee. He wakes up Jacked.

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