STARKVILLE — The Zach Arnett sweepstakes heated up Tuesday.
The Dispatch learned Tuesday morning that Arnett boarded an LSU-chartered plane bound for Baton Rouge. A source with immediate knowledge of the situation told The Dispatch Arnett’s involvement with the Tigers’ vacant defensive coordinator job was “just a conversation,” and that nothing had been signed as of Tuesday morning.
However, according to multiple reports Tuesday night, Arnett is no longer in the running for the job.
While no immediate details were made public, the first-year defensive coordinator’s contract situation has made any potential departure from Starkville slightly more complicated. Arnett received a three-year extension in December worth north of $1 million annually that raised his buyout from roughly $450,000 for another Southeastern Conference job to $1.7 million according to a source. The extension is also expected to pay Arnett $1.1 million annually by the end of the deal.
As it relates to LSU, the Tigers are on the hook for over $4 million of former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s contract after Pelini was fired at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
LSU also recently signed new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Peetz to a deal worth $1.2 million in 2021, while passing game coordinator DJ Mangas will earn $400,000 annually under his deal.
Should Arnett have landed the Tigers’ defensive coordinator job, it was expected he would have received a major pay raise relative to his extension, making his buyout and the money LSU invested in its recent hires more of a strain.
Arnett’s wooing by LSU marks the most recent saga in a busy offseason for the rising coaching star. The former San Diego State assistant’s name has been connected to slews of jobs this winter, including as recently as last week when South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer was in Starkville. Arnett has also been mentioned in connection to openings at Texas, Notre Dame and Oregon this offseason.
A former linebacker at New Mexico, the 34-year-old Albuquerque native instituted a 3-3-5 system at MSU this fall that helped the Bulldogs finish with the fifth best unit in the Southeastern Conference despite a massive overhaul that included opt outs and injuries. Most notably, the Bulldogs upset the then-No. 6 Tigers during Week 1 in Baton Rouge, the same day LSU honored its 2019 national championship team.
Before landing at MSU, Arnett spent nine years on staff at San Diego State in varying capacities, including the 2018 and 2019 seasons as defensive coordinator, before he initially accepted a job to become the defensive coordinator under Dino Babers at Syracuse. Just days after accepting the Syracuse job, Arnett was added to Mike Leach’s first staff in Starkville.
If Arnett were to leave for another job this offseason, MSU would be forced to hire its 12th different defensive coordinator since 2007.
The Bulldogs concluded their first season under Leach with a win over then-No. 24 Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.
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