STARKVILLE – Mississippi State has hired Zach Arnett as its defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, head coach Mike Leach announced Wednesday.
Arnett, a rising star in college football’s coaching ranks, served as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at San Diego State the last two seasons where he learned under one of the game’s great defensive minds in former Aztecs head coach Rocky Long. Arnett arrives in Starkville after a short stint at Syracuse where he had been named defensive coordinator and linebackers coach earlier this month.
“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. We are excited to welcome Zach, Emily, Case and Collins to Starkville.”
“I couldn’t pass up the chance to join an SEC program like Mississippi State,” Arnett said. “I am grateful to Coach Leach and [Director of Athletics] 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.”
Arnett has spent the majority of his coaching career under the mentorship of Long in San Diego, California, beginning as a defensive graduate assistant in 2011 before being elevated to linebackers coach in 2014 and promoted to defensive coordinator in 2018.
Arnett, who was selected as a member of the prestigious AFCA 35 Under 35 Coaches Leadership Institute in 2020, led a 2019 San Diego State defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally in seven categories. The Aztecs finished second in rushing defense (75.4 yards per game), third in scoring defense (12.7 points per game), fourth in interceptions (18), fourth in first downs allowed (198), sixth in total defense (287.8), sixth in passing efficiency defense (110.25) and eighth in takeaways (27).
In Arnett’s first season at the helm of the defense in 2018, the Aztecs ranked seventh nationally against the run (103.8 yards per game), 13th in first downs allowed (216) and 21st in total defense (334.6 yards per game).
Since the start of the 2018 season, Arnett’s defensive unit has ranked inside the top 15 nationally in:
Rushing yards allowed per game (1st – 89.6)
Rushing yards allowed per carry (1st – 2.9)
Fewest 30-point games allowed (T1st – 2)
Fewest 40-point games allowed (T1st – 0 … one of just six teams)
Percentage of big plays allowed (2nd – 9.2) with only 153 of 1,658 opponent plays gaining either a 12-plus yard run or 15-plus yard pass
Percentage of drives that they kept their opponent from crossing the 50-yard line (4th – 61.3)
Percentage drives that their opponent covered less than 25 yards (4th – 60.1)
Percentage drives holding their opponent scoreless (6th – 76.3)
Points per play allowed (10th – 0.3) and points per possession allowed (10th – 1.3)
Yards allowed per play (14th – 4.9)
During Arnett's nine seasons San Diego State, the Aztecs posted a combined 81-38 (.681) record, won three Mountain West Conference championships and played in a bowl game every year – winning four of them. He coached seven all-conference linebackers, including Kyahva Tezino, who was an All-Mountain West First Team selection in 2018 and 2019. Arnett also guided the career of All-American and three-time All-Mountain West choice Calvin Munson, who finished sixth in SDSU history with 301 tackles.
Prior to coaching, Arnett played linebacker for four seasons (2005-08) at the University of New Mexico. He logged 200 career tackles and tied for the FBS lead with six forced fumbles as a senior captain in 2008. Arnett helped the Lobos to 25 wins as a player and consecutive bowl appearances in 2006 and 2007. He was a four-time academic all-conference selection and earned 2008 CoSIDA Academic All-America First Team honors.
A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Arnett attended La Cueva High School, where he was a two-sport athlete in football and baseball. He originally signed to play baseball at New Mexico before earning a football scholarship the summer prior to the start of his true freshman season.
Arnett graduated from New Mexico in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in history and minor in political science. He and his wife, Emily, have one son, Case, and a daughter, Collins.
THE ZACH ARNETT FILE
Hometown: Albuquerque, N.M.
Education: New Mexico, 2009 (B.S., History)
Children: Case, Collins
Birthday: Sept. 10, 1986
2020-present: Mississippi State (Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers)
2018-19: San Diego State (Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers)
2014-17: San Diego State (Linebackers)
2011-13: San Diego State (Graduate Assistant – Defense)
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