entering bowl practices, Zach Armett was prepared to ready his defense for the Reliaquest Bowl challenge against Illinois but the coach and the rest of the MSU staff have been in for a wild month.
The day of MSU’s second bowl practice, head coach mike leach was transported to University Medical Center in Jackson were he would ultimately pass away from an episode related to heart disease. Within a day of his death, Arnett went from the interim head coach to the permanent gig.
In the last two weeks, Arnett had to prepare his team for a bowl game, start to work behind the scenes on his first staff and hold together MSU’s 2023 signing class. It’s been a whirlwind, but so far, so good as the Bulldogs finished with the nation’s No. 23 signing class as they held the entire group together with the exception of offensive lineman Joe Crocker and also picked up three new members of the class as well as two transfer portal players.
“I’m not sure I’ve figured out the exact word to properly describe it – hectic, to say the least,” Arnett said of the last couple of weeks. “I can’t credit our coaches and the entire staff within the program enough for the job they’ve done. It could have gone one of two ways after the news of coach Leach. We had a very good class committed at the time and the fact almost every single one of those guys signed speaks to the efforts of the coaching staff, the recruiting department and the players in the locker room who developed a relationship with those guys. Extremely proud of our program.”
As Arnett enters his first official game as a head coach on January 2 at 11 am CT., he does so with a bittersweet state of mind.
Arnett’s goal has always been to become a head coach and he has spent a lot of time under legendary coaches Rocky Long and Leach. Arnett recalls when he arrived in Starkville, Leach gave the staff what the young defensive coach called a “coaching manifesto.” The document laid out how to communicate effectively with players, taking difficult concepts and relaying them in an easy-to-understand way.
Lessons like that have helped prepare Arnett for his current role.
“These last three years have been incredibly valuable to me and my development as a coach to get to spend time under coach Leach and see a different way of doing things although very similar to my previous coach,” Arnett said. “He was a tremendous man and leader and I’m very grateful and blessed for the opportunities that I had to spend time under him and hopefully soak in some of his wisdom.”
Through all of the tough days and nights that Arnett, the staff and the team have encountered in recent weeks, January 2 is an opportunity to just play the game that they love.
Arnett has been excited to get to work the last couple of weeks and his team is locked in and focused on Monday morning. Questions first surfaced during Leach’s death as to whether or not the Bulldogs would even play in the bowl game. There was never a question within the program.
“We’re football guys. That’s why you get into coaching and it’s why you choose to play college football – you enjoy getting out there and going to work on a practice field every day, you enjoy being with your teammates and you enjoy competing. Obviously, we get one more opportunity to do that,” Arnett said of the bowl game. “This season is not over, our work is not done. We feel the best way to honor coach Leach is to be locked in, prepared for this game and compete.
“We get to share the field with a great opponent in Illinois and they have something to say about the outcome of the game, too. Coach Bielema does a tremendous job and we’re excited to share the field with them.”