Jeff Lebby has been named head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. That fact has been known for several days now. A great deal of excitement has been created by his signing. After such a dismal season, it’s only natural that hiring an offensive mind like Lebby’s would create such a positive stir. The Dawgs went 5-7, 1-7 in the SEC. They also spoiled a record of 13 straight seasons going to a bowl game. Basically, they were a complete disappointment, but no group as much as the offense. Perhaps this is what prompted athletic director Zac Selmon to go after Lebby, coming off of two years as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. In their press release, MSU called Lebby an “offensive mastermind” for the Bulldogs.
Selmon has deep ties with Oklahoma, the son and nephew of the famed “Selmon Brothers.” He also served in senior roles in their athletic department and knew Lebby quite well before coming to State.
MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum said, “Coach Lebby is one of the most innovative offensive minds in college football and I look forward to him leading our football program to the standard our loyal Bulldog fan base wants and deserves.” Keenum, by the way, is chairman of CFP’s top board of executives and instrumental in taking the playoffs from four to 12 teams. You bet he’d like State to be there.
For the fan base at State, any news about progress on the offensive front is welcomed news. But, perhaps Lebby is a two-sided coin based on his past. More on that later in the article.
A High-Powered Offense
There is no question that Lebby has coordinated some of the most powerful offenses to take the field. He held the role of offensive coordinator since 2019 at UCF, Ole Miss, and Oklahoma. In 2020, his first season alongside Lane Kiffin, he led the SEC in total offense (555.5 yards per game, third nationally). The next year, he led the conference again with 492.5 yards per game, which is sixth nationally. Without getting into all the records, his offense at the Sooners ended up fourth in the nation with an average of 502.4 yards per game.
That kind of offense is certainly the shot in the arm needed by the Bulldogs. In his first press conference the day after arriving on campus, Lebby has some definite ideas about where to go for a quarterback to run that offense. “We’ll address that position through the portal,” Lebby said. “We’ve also got a couple of guys on campus I’m excited about. We want guys who can do both, keep people honest with their feet, and be able to throw it all over the yard.” Those qualifications probably take veteran quarterback Will Rogers out of consideration. He declared for entering the transfer portal, so one can expect Rogers to continue down that path.
Selmon has made definite changes to the Bulldog brand. He sees this hiring as a move to improve the brand on the field. “I am confident that Jeff is the perfect leader for the next exciting chapter of Mississippi State football,” Selmon said. “He will bring an exciting brand of football, elite student-athlete development, and a winning culture to Starkville, all while doing so with high integrity.”
The Other Side of the Coin
These days, into every life a little controversy must fall. Lebby’s comes in the form of his father-in-law, Art Briles. Briles ran the same offense at Baylor when Lebby worked as an assistant coach there. That offense is still an influence for coaches such as Josh Heupel at Tennessee and Kiffin at Ole Miss.
But Briles was mixed up in probably the ugliest scandal to hit college football. There were 52 rape allegations against 31 of his Baylor players. Rather than address them appropriately, Briles resigned his position and has become a pariah in college football. The controversy for Lebby didn’t come from familial association but in his support for his father-in-law.
The incident occurred on the campus of Oklahoma last September. Briles showed up on the field in Oklahoma gear for the Sooner – SMU game. When questioned about it after the game, Lebby stood up for the action saying, “That’s the grandfather to my two kids.”
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione was none too pleased. He issued a statement that said, “It shouldn’t have happened,” Castiglione said, “and it was my expectation it never would, based on boundaries we previously set.”
As Joe Musatto said in The Oklahoman, “All of the baggage Lebby brought to Norman was shipped to Starkville. And for that, the Sooners should be thankful.” Will controversy come to Starkville? It’s too soon to know, but worth noting.
Making the Moves
In the meantime, Lebby hasn’t wasted any time making moves. He flew in on the university’s plane to fireworks, cheering fans, and the marching band. The very next day, offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay became the former offensive coordinator. Lebby also announced that he would be calling the offensive plays next season. He has retained defensive line coach David Turner and wide receiver coach Chad Bumphis.
In his Monday presser, Lebby stated that he intends to meet with every single player and all the 2024 commits and their families. He wants to assure them about the direction the Dawgs are heading.
He also stated that his program will be about the players first. “I would have no chance to be standing here today and getting to do what I’m so passionate to do without my former players,” Lebby said. “This program and all programs across the country are about these young people. It’s about providing an incredible experience for these guys as they go through the good ole days.”