Bulldogs tap Oklahoma offensive coordinator to lead program

Mississippi State has hired Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby as its next football coach, the school announced on Sunday. Lebby oversaw the Big 12’s top-ranked offense during the 2023 regular season, his second in Norman, as the Sooners posted a 10-2 record under second-year coach Brent Venables. Lebby is being hired on a five-year deal, according to ESPN.

Lebby, 39, replaces Zach Arnett, who was fired Nov. 13 amid a 4-6 start in his first season guiding the program. Arnett was promoted from defensive coordinator in December 2022 following the death of Mike Leach, who served as Mississippi State’s coach since the 2020 campaign. The Bulldogs were 1-6 in SEC play under Arnett.

“As we continue to invest in excellence at Mississippi State, the future of our football program is incredibly bright with the addition of Jeff Lebby at the helm,” Mississippi State athletic director Zac Selmon said in a statement. “I am confident that Jeff is the perfect leader for the next exciting chapter of Mississippi State football. He will bring an exciting brand of football, elite student-athlete development, and a winning culture to Starkville, all while doing so with high integrity. He is a dynamic recruiter who will attract an elite coaching staff and the nation’s top talent. There is no doubt in my mind that Jeff’s leadership, vision, and resilient work ethic will take this program to incredible heights. We could not be more excited to welcome Jeff, his wife Staley, and their children Kora and Kane to the Mississippi State family. It is a great time to be a Bulldog and only going to get better.”

This will be Lebby’s first head coaching job. He has previous SEC experience as the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, a role he held under coach Lane Kiffin from 2020-21. The Rebels won 10 regular-season games and reached the Sugar Bowl during Lebby’s second and final year on staff in Oxford in 2021. Other assistant stops for Lebby include UCF (2018-19) and Baylor (2008-16), where he coached under his father-in-law, Art Briles.

Lebby’s departure comes as Oklahoma prepares to join the SEC in 2024 along with Texas. The Sooners played their final Big 12 conference game Friday in a 69-45 home win against TCU and were officially eliminated from Big 12 title contention Saturday. with Oklahoma State’s win over BYU.

Lebby’s track record of offensive success
It’s not surprising that Mississippi State has settled on an offensive-minded coach like Lebby to replace Arnett after the Bulldogs faltered on that side of the ball in 2023. Mississippi State finished last in the SEC in scoring, averaging 21.8 points per game as the Bulldogs stumbled to a 4-6 finish. They were held to 10 points or less four times in their final six games of the season.

Lebby is no stranger to working with high-powered offenses that haven’t been afraid to move the ball through the air. At Oklahoma, Lebby has worked hands on with quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who just wrapped up his second-consecutive 3,000-yard passing campaign in Lebby’s system after the two also overlapped for a year at UCF in 2019. Bolstered by Gabriel’s success, the Sooners owned the Big 12’s top-ranked offense during the 2023 regular season, averaging 502.4 yards and 43.2 points per contest.

Prior to Oklahoma, Lebby oversaw success at Ole Miss with quarterback Matt Corral, who passed for more than 3,000 yards in both 2020 and 2021 under Lebby’s guidance before becoming a third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Lebby’s first of two seasons at UCF in 2018 featured success with quarterback McKenzie Milton, and his lengthy run at Baylor saw a number of prolific quarterbacks come through the program — most notably, Heisman-winner Robert Griffin III — as the Bears regular boasted high-powered offenses. Lebby began as an offensive quality control coach at Baylor before coaching running backs and later becoming the Bears’ passing-game coordinator.

Lebby’s association with Baylor, particularly his familial relationship with Briles, has made for a rocky road at times. Lebby was on staff in Waco, Texas, when Briles was dismissed in May 2016 amid the sexual assault scandal that rocked the program. Earlier this year, Lebby was forced to apologize after he was spotted hosting Briles on the field at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium — Briles was wearing a Sooners-branded shirt — following Oklahoma’s Week 2 victory against SMU.

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