Mississippi State taps Jeff Lebby to lead its football program

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2023

For the third time in the post-Jackie Sherrill era of Mississippi State football, the Bulldogs have tapped a younger, up-and-coming offensive coordinator to fill the role of head coach in Starkville.

For the fans that bleed maroon and white, they hope that the ascent of Jeff Lebby to head coach at MSU is more Mullen (Dan) than Moorhead (Joe).

Lebby was pried away two years ago from his role as offensive coordinator at the University of Mississippi by the University of Oklahoma. The Sooners had recently hired former Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables to be the new head coach in Norman and to pull Lebby away from Oxford, they made him one of the highest paid coordinators in the nation.

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After Ole Miss won a snoozer of an Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night by a 17-7 final score, the word began to trickle out of Starkville that the job was Lebby’s to turn down after State had also been in serious talks with Liberty head coach Jamey Chadwell about the position.

Many a curious MSU fan tuned in on Friday to watch Lebby and Oklahoma (10-2) take on TCU (5-7) in the Big 12 finale for the Sooners. What they saw was a typical Big 12 boat race, as the Sooners won 69-45.

This season, Lebby and his OU offense dropped 73 on Arkansas State, 50 on Iowa State and 59 against West Virginia.

Back-to-back losses to Kansas (38-33) and Oklahoma State (27-24) knocked Oklahoma from the national title debate earlier this month.

Oklahoma was home for Lebby as he signed to play on the offensive line for the Sooners before injury derailed his career and graduated from there in 2007.

Throughout his career he’s called and designed plays for some explosive offensive attacks.

Lebby began his college career as an assistant at Baylor for former coach Art Briles. Briles. Briles would then become his father-in-law after Lebby married his daughter Staley in 2011.

Art Briles and by extension, his son Kendal, are known as two creative college football offensive minds. Kendal Briles was on the opposite sideline of Lebby on Friday calling the plays for TCU.

Lebby was on the staff at Baylor when Art Briles was fired in 2016 after an internal investigation at the school accused Briles and other athletic department leadership of failing to take action when incidents of sexual assault were alleged against members of the football team.

Lebby was named by a Baylor student as one of the assistant coaches who took no action when she reported that a member of the football team had physically assaulted her. Lebby refuted those claims.

With Briles being his father-in-law, the history of Lebby and Baylor isn’t one that will go away any time soon.

This season, after a win over SMU, Briles was photographed on the field with Lebby and his family while wearing Oklahoma apparel.

There was a backlash from angry Oklahoma fans and Lebby was initially upset with the questions about the incident after the game, saying, “that’s the grandfather of my two kids.”

He later apologized after Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione made a public statement voicing his displeasure.

“Just want everybody to understand, my father-in-law – his presence on the field after the game the other night is just something that created a distraction. And I do – I apologize for that. That was not the intent at all. The intent was just to celebrate with my family,” said Lebby in his public statement after the incident.

After leaving Baylor, Lebby got his first chance to call plays as the offensive coordinator at Southeastern, an NAIA program in Lakeland, Florida.

From there, he was an assistant coach for two seasons at Central Florida, which is where Lebby coached prior to being hired at Ole Miss.

At Ole Miss, Lebby and Kiffin oversaw a dynamic offense as the Rebels went 10-3 with a Sugar Bowl appearance in their second year together.

First year MSU athletic director Zac Selmon came to Starkville from Oklahoma, so there was a prior connection with Lebby before the coaching search started.

The hiring was obviously approved by the returning Mississippi State players as they met Lebby and Selmon at the airport in Starkville and hoisted Selmon on their shoulders after he stepped off the plane.

Lebby replaces Zach Arnett, who lasted less than a year in Starkville as head coach.

One area where Lebby has excelled is in recruiting and he’ll have to hit the ground running as the transfer portal window opens on Dec. 4 and high school seniors can sign early beginning on Dec. 20.

Hiring an offensive-minded coach should pay dividends on the recruiting front as one of the highest ranked players currently pledged to the Bulldogs is North Panola wide receiver JJ Harrell.

Arnett the lowest paid head coach in the SEC, making $3 million annually after he was named head coach following the death of Mike Leach.

Lebby agreed to a four-year deal that will pay him $4,510,000 annually before bonuses.