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Get to Know New Defensive Coordinator Zach Arnett

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The Bulldogs hired a rising star in college football’s coaching ranks.

Ernie Anderson | SDSU Athletics

STARKVILLE, Miss. — The Mississippi State football team hired Zach Arnett as the program’s new defensive coordinator on Tuesday, which was announced by the school on Wednesday.

Arnett spent the past six seasons coaching for the San Diego State Aztecs and has spent the past two seasons as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. He had recently accepted the defensive coordinator job at Syracuse, but he has changed his mind and will now join head coach Mike Leach in Starkville.

“I couldn’t pass up the chance to join an SEC program like Mississippi State,” Arnett said in a news release. “I am grateful to Coach Leach and (athletic director) John Cohen for the opportunity to be a part of this first-class institution. Mississippi State has a history of great defenses. The staff Coach Leach has assembled is tremendous, and I can’t wait to get down there and get to work,” he said.

Arnett played linebacker at New Mexico from 2005-08 for head coach Rocky Long. He was then mentored by Long and spent three years as a graduate assistant at San Diego State before being promoted to linebackers coach in 2014.

Arnett is known for his 3-3-5 defensive scheme, and in his two seasons as the Aztecs’ defensive coordinator, Arnett led San Diego State to national total defense rankings of No. 21 in 2018 and No. 5 in 2019. San Diego State was the only team in the country last year to not allow 1,000 or more rushing yards throughout the course of the entire season.

“Zach is one of the brightest defensive coaches in all of college football,” Leach said. “Having been mentored by Rocky Long during his successful time at San Diego State, Zach understands what it takes to build and run an elite defense,” he said.

Syracuse released a statement of its own on Wednesday pointing its disappointment in the sudden transition.

”We are disappointed that Zach Arnett has decided not to honor the commitment he made to Syracuse University,” Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack said. “We will continue to work diligently to find the best defensive coach for our program,” he said.

As a player, Arnett was a four-year letterman and served as a team captain for the New Mexico Lobos in 2008. He played in 47 career games and finished with 200 tackles. As a senior, he tied for the NCAA lead in fumbles forced and was a first-team Academic All-American in 2008.

Mississippi State also considered Navy defensive coordinator Brian Newberry and others for the defensive coordinator role.