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Gorney: Jeff Lebby is the right gamble for Mississippi State

Jeff Lebby

No one can replace former coach Mike Leach with all of his quirks and eccentricities but if Mississippi State was aiming to bring pass-happy, fun offense back to Starkville, Jeff Lebby is your guy.

It was an incredibly challenging position to be in following Leach’s untimely passing last December with signing day only hours away and then-defensive coordinator Zach Arnett a sign of stability and charging on.

I get that part. But Arnett never seemed to click as the head coach and when Mississippi State was really good it was Leach or another offensive-minded coach Dan Mullen running the show.

That’s what Lebby brings.


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He is Art Briles’ son-in-law which could be a little bit of a sticky situation if not handled correctly but the idea is that it won’t be.

Lebby has climbed the coaching ladder with precision and grace over the years to get himself in this position - and it was the right hire to make even if it’s an SEC job and Lebby has no head coaching experience.

Here’s why: In 2017, Lebby was the offensive coordinator at Southeastern in Lakeland, Fla., where the team would finish No. 1 in the NAIA in scoring offense.

Then Lebby moved on to UCF to coach with another strong offensive mind in Josh Heupel and after working with McKenzie Milton and Dillon Gabriel (the two would reunite later at Oklahoma), both quarterbacks put up huge numbers and so did the Knights’ offense.

After success at UCF, Lebby joined forces with Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss and Lebby’s offense ranked eighth in the country.

Oklahoma lured him away when coach Brent Venables got the job in Norman and the Sooners averaged more than 43 points per game this season. Gabriel threw for 3,660 yards and 30 touchdowns.

There is a little wonder if Lebby’s success was amplified because he had talented quarterbacks and playmakers at his previous stops and also elite offensive-minded head coaches in Heupel and Kiffin. That has to make his job easier but the expectations must be higher since they know the ropes as well.

But Lebby was the right gamble for Mississippi State.

With Arnett in charge, nearly all offensive production was stymied. Quarterback Will Rogers threw 610 times for 3,974 yards with 35 touchdowns and eight picks last year. This season, Rogers threw it only 237 times and had 12 scores. He’s reportedly entered the transfer portal but it will be interesting to see if he stays in now that Lebby has been hired.

In 2022, six Mississippi State receivers had 40 or more catches and two others had 34 each. This season, two had 40 or more.

An elite receiver commit like JJ Harrell should fine the Lebby news appealing. There are talented players in Mississippi on the offensive side of the ball who should be intrigued by this. Ole Miss and Kiffin have things rolling in recruiting and on the field and Lebby’s hiring should blunt - or at least significantly challenge - some of that progress.

Mississippi State is going to be a challenging place to win. That’s just the reality because of so many circumstances.

But Lebby is a bright offensive play-caller with a great track record who could ignite Starkville again.

Success could bring other opportunities and Lebby hasn’t stayed in one place for too long during his coaching career but first let’s cross the bridge of Lebby bringing points and wins to Mississippi State first. He’s the right guy to give the chance.