ESPN reported that Arnett agreed to a four-year deal with the 24th-ranked Bulldogs but has not signed it yet. He will make his head-coaching debut on January 2 when the team plays Illinois in the ReliaQuest Bowl.
“The school wants to give the players a strong leader to help them through the grieving process and give them stability,” a source told ESPN. “Zach is the guy for that. Zach embodies MSU and understands it, and he’s going to build on the foundation that Coach Leach set.”
The way that Arnett handled himself after Leach was hospitalized impressed leadership at the school, the report said.
“The way he addressed the team, he was unbelievable,” a source told ESPN. “The way he stepped up, it was like you were listening to the head coach talk to his team. He reminded everyone of all the things we’ve been through and what Coach Leach always demanded and expected. He shares those same expectations.”
Other sources that ESPN spoke to said that Arnett was viewed as a leader in the program and that effectively everyone on the team respects him.
Leach, 61, died Tuesday after suffering a massive heart attack over the weekend while at his home.
“Mike was a giving and attentive husband, father and grandfather,” Leach’s family said in a statement. “He was able to participate in organ donation at UMMC as a final act of charity. We are supported and uplifted by the outpouring of love and prayers from family, friends, Mississippi State University, the hospital staff and football fans around the world. Thank you for sharing in the joy of our beloved husband and father’s life.”
Mississippi State University President Mark E. Keenum said in a statement that Leach’s untimely death “underscores the fragility and uncertainty of our lives.”
“Three weeks ago, Mike and I were together in the locker room celebrating a hard-fought victory in Oxford. Mike Leach truly embraced life and lived in such a manner as to leave no regrets,” Keenum said. “That’s a worthy legacy. May God bless the Leach family during these days and hours. The prayers of the Bulldog family go with them.”