Mississippi State hire brings hope back to program

Published 7:03 am Thursday, November 30, 2023

The most painful loss of the year as a Mississippi State fan was not the Egg Bowl but an embarrassing effort against Kentucky. I sat in the stands, running my hands through my hair wondering why on earth I wasted three hours of gas to watch my alma mater play with no passion. 

It was evident then that a change was needed in the program and following another blowout loss to the hands of Texas A&M the former Mississippi State Head Coach Zach Arnett was fired. 

Thursday’s Egg Bowl was the most hope I’ve had in the program since Mississippi State upset No. 1 Louisiana State University at Death Valley in Head Coach Mike Leach’s first SEC game. 

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It is a credit to the interim coach Greg Knox and the players who stepped up and played their hearts out on Thanksgiving Day. It was a gritty performance, if only we had an offense to compliment our defense. 

Athletic Director Zac Selmon has made immediate changes to the gameday experience and carried the momentum over to the coaching search and subsequent announcement of Jeff Lebby as the 36th Head Coach of Mississippi State football. 

I have a great amount of respect for former MSU Athletic Director John Cohen. He was always gracious with his time, brought the MSU Athletics Department to its strongest years and had a vision to make the university better as a whole. 

Cohen’s weakness was a disregard for the NIL and an inability to connect with the fanbase in the way Selmon has. For example, I went through numerous coaching hires in my time as a student at Mississippi State including head coaches Chris Lemonis (baseball), Joe Moorhead (football), Mike Leach (football), Samantha Ricketts (softball), Nikki McCray-Penson (women’s basketball), James Armstrong (soccer) and Julie Darty Dennis (volleyball). None of these coaching hires had the fanfare, strobe lights and WWE style entrances like the one given for Jeff Lebby. 

Mississippi State has typically used the buzzword of blue collar to connect its coach with a program. I have yet to hear those words to describe Lebby. Instead the athletic department is using “Swag is State,” and rolling out stellar content with this hire. 

I believe something is changing in Starkville. Mississippi State has always worked towards a goal of making a bowl game. Now the Bulldogs have a president, athletic director and coach who believe they can return the program back to the No.1 ranking in the College Football Playoff, a spot the Bulldogs held when the first rankings were released 10 years ago. 

As a fan and alumni of Mississippi State I have a lot more hope for this program than I did three weeks ago. It appears I better start saving money to renew my season tickets. I want to have a reserved seat for the program’s return to success. 

Of course, there is always a possibility of Mississippi State crushing my heart and Lebby being fired after three frustrating years. I think the Braves, Saints and Arkansas Razorbacks prepared me well for dealing with defeat. My cowbell will always be ringing. 

Hunter Cloud is a reporter and sportswriter. Contact him at hunter.cloud@dailyleader.com