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How first-year coaches before Jeff Lebby did it

How first-year coaches before Jeff Lebby did it

STARKVILLE – Jeff Lebby emerged from the tunnel at Davis Wade Stadium with a maroon rope hat on his head as he donned a shirt that read “Showtime at State.” When he joined the Mississippi State football team and ran onto the field for the April 20 spring game, he carried with him the beginning of a new era in Starkville.

That feeling has become a common occurrence for the Bulldogs. Lebby is the fourth head coach at Mississippi State since 2018.

Since Dan Mullen’s nine-year tenure ended with his departure to Florida in 2017, MSU has struggled to find consistency at the helm. Joe Moorhead was hired as Mullen’s replacement, but lasted only two seasons. Mike Leach followed suit and gave the Bulldogs a sense of stability, but his unexpected death in 2022 led to the promotion of Zach Arnett, who was fired 10 games into his first full season.

Now it’s Lebby’s turn. What are reasonable expectations for Lebby as he enters his first season as head coach after several stints as offensive coordinator?

The answer is complicated.

Expectations for Lebby could be low, and the preseason polls will likely reflect that. Since MSU became part of the SEC in 1933, only seven of 19 coaches have had a winning record in their first year. After a losing season that saw a plethora of players exhaust their eligibility or head to the transfer portal, it’s reasonable to believe Lebby’s first season could be a struggle.

Then there is the downside.

Lebby coaches in an era unlike any other in the history of the sport. Mississippi State saw key players like quarterback Will Rogers leave, but no first-year coach in Starkville has been able to use the portal to address holes to this extent.

About two weeks after State ended its season with an Egg Bowl loss, Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen committed to the Bulldogs. Lebby had already locked up a veteran starter to replace Rogers.

Lebby can see his term as a renewal rather than a reconstruction. That could raise expectations.

“I know what the expectations will be for myself and the players in the dressing room, and that is to be as good as possible and as fast as possible,” Lebby said at his introductory press conference.

Here’s a look at how Mississippi State’s previous head coaches have fared in their first seasons:

Zach Arnett

  • Record in first season: 4-6
  • Employment: 2022-2023

Mike Leach

  • Record in first season: 4-7
  • Employment: 2020-2022

Joe Moorhead

  • Record in first season: 8-5
  • Employment: 2018-2019

Then Mullen

  • Record in first season: 5-7
  • Employment: 2009-2017

Sylvester Croom

  • Record in first season: 3-8
  • Employment: 2004-2008

Jackie Sherrill

  • Record in first season: 7-5
  • Employment: 1991-2003

Rocky Felker

  • Record in first season: 6-5
  • Employment: 1986-1990

Emory Bellard

  • Record in first season: 3-8
  • Employment: 1979-1985

Bob Tyler

  • Record in first season: 4-5-2
  • Employment: 1973-1978

Charley Shira

  • Record in first season: 1-9
  • Employment: 1967-1972

Paul Davis

  • Record in first season: 3-6
  • Employment: 1962-1966

Wade Walker

  • Record in first season: 4-6
  • Employment: 1956-1961

Darrel Royal

  • Record in first season: 6-4
  • Employment: 1954-1955

Murray Warmath

  • Record in first season: 5-4
  • Employment: 1952-1953

Smooth Morton

  • Record in first season: 0-8-1
  • Employment: 1949-1951

Allyn McKeen

  • Record in first season: 8-2
  • Employment: 1939-1948

Spike Nelson

  • Record in first season: 4-6
  • Employment: 1938

Ralph Sasse

  • Record in first season: 8-3
  • Employment: 1935-1937

Ross McKechnie

  • Record in first season: 3-6-1
  • Employment: 1933-1934

Ray Dauber

  • Record in first season: 2-6
  • Employment: 1931-1932

Chris Cagle

  • Record in first season: 2-7
  • Employment: 1930

J. W. Hancock

  • Record in first season: 5-3
  • Employment: 1927-1929

Bernie Bierman

  • Record in first season: 3-4-1
  • Employment: 1925-1926

Count Abel

  • Record in first season: 5-2-2
  • Employment: 1923-1924

CR “Dudy” Noble

  • Record in first season: 3-4-2
  • Employment: 1922

Fred Holtkamp

  • Record in first season: 5-3
  • Employment: 1920-1921

Sid Robinson

  • Record in first season: 6-1
  • Employment: 1917-1919

E. G. Hayes

  • Record in first season: 6-2
  • Employment: 1914-1916

NEW NAME: Trent Hudson is moving from New Mexico State to Mississippi State football

W. D. Chadwick

  • Record in first season: 5-4
  • Employment: 1909-1913

Fred Furman

  • Record in first season: 6-3
  • Employment: 1907-1908

Then Martin

  • Record in first season: 3-0-2
  • Employment: 1903-1906

L. Gwinn

  • Record in first season: 1-4-1
  • Employment: 1902

L. B. Harvey

  • Record in first season: 2-2-1
  • Employment: 1901

JB Hildebrand

  • Record in first season: 0-4
  • Employment: 1896

W. M. Matthews

  • Record in first season: 0-2
  • Employment: 1895

Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, @skrajisnik3.