Does Mississippi State have NIL resources to attract top head coach candidates?

On3 imageby:Pete Nakos11/17/23


Andy Staples' Top Candidates for Mississippi State Head Coach Vacancy | 11.13.23

Mississippi State fired Zach Arnett on Monday. In an unprecedented situation, the first-year head coach brought stability to a program reeling from the death of Mike Leach last year.

The Bulldogs struggled, going 4-6 under Arnett. He moved away from the Air Raid offense, however, to a pro-style philosophy that never seemed to mesh with the talent. The potential to coach in the SEC will attract a strong pool of candidates. But the league is also about to go through significant restructuring with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas.

The Mississippi State job has become more alluring than it was, say, in the 2000s. What Dan Mullen accomplished in Starkville shouldn’t be forgotten. He turned a dormant program into a competitor in the West Division, including a second-place finish in 2014.

That only shows how tough it is to win in the conference, though. The uphill climb will continue, especially when considering where the institution stands from an NIL perspective.

A source familiar with the situation said the Bulldog Initiative collective has seen an influx of cash in the last six months bringing the budget up to the $5 million mark. That would bring the school closer to the middle of the pack in the SEC.

What a school can offer from a name, image and likeness standpoint now matters when coaches are trying to evaluate a possible job. Specifically, what financial packages an institution’s NIL collective is able to offer and if it’s competitive with the rest of the market. NIL makes all the difference in recruiting, roster maintenance and the Transfer Portal.

“It’s almost a mindset,” former All-American, NFL first-round draft pick and current super-agent Trace Armstrong previously told On3. “If people are willing to do the things it takes to win, NIL’s going to be a factor. You just added another area that people will evaluate. Leadership, facilities, commitment to sport… It’s definitely another box to check.”

Bulldog Initiative receives full backing from school

The NIL collective supporting Mississippi State athletics launched in May 2022, founded by lifelong Bulldog supporter and 1994 graduate Charlie Winfield. An attorney, he’s worked on matters of college athletics and NCAA compliance matters.

In August 2022, former Mississippi athletic director John Cohen emphatically called for support: “Our collectives need money. They do. That’s how we’re going to survive this thing.” When Cohen resigned last November to take the Auburn job, the Bulldog Initiative tripled its membership and received $500,000 in new annual donations, Ross Dellenger reported at the time. The surge brought funds to seven figures.

The Bulldog Initiative has continued to receive support from the school. Dak Prescott has spoken on behalf of the collective, appearing in a video calling on fans to support NIL operations.

On Thursday, the collective announced a group of donors had come together to match the next $1 million in donors, part of the group’s “Winning Drive” campaign. With the transfer portal now open for all Bulldog players, raising dollars quickly is necessary to retain some of the top talent on the roster.

Can NIL budget still attract candidates?

In the latest candidate list released by On3’s Andy Staples, most of the options for Mississippi State are not sitting Power 5 coaches. Liberty’s Jamey Chadwell and Georgia defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann have both appeared on many lists.

Kansas’ Lance Leiopold could be in the mix, too, opting to take a shot at an SEC job over sticking with the Big 12. The Jayhawks have also had their own NIL struggles.

The recent history of winning is there in Starkville. Davis Wade Stadium is always packed. While the Bulldogs typically sit around a top 25 ranking in high school recruiting, the program has recently added most of its talent through the portal.

Would the next coach have the deep pockets to win in the portal?

That remains to be seen. But a smart strategy in deploying dollars can make all the difference. Whoever takes over must build momentum amongst the fanbase to keep the dollars rolling in.

“You probably have to make sure everyone gets a minimum of $1,000 a month guaranteed,” a collective leader theorized to On3. “Would be the simplest and cleanest move. Strategically allows you to build off of that. Otherwise, you’re not going to have enough to actually bargain in the portal for anyone legit.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with new budget numbers.