STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State fired Zach Arnett on Monday after less than one season as head coach, just under a year since he took over the Bulldogs after the tragic passing of Mike Leach from a heart issue.

Arnett leaves the university after a 5-6 record, including a 4-6 mark this season with the program tied for last in the Southeastern Conference West Division at 1-6.

Senior offensive analyst Greg Knox, who has worked around the SEC for 28 of his 35 years of coaching, will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the 2023 season, the university announced.

Mississippi State has games remaining against Southern Mississippi and rival Mississippi.

Arnett, 37, was in the first of a four-year contract that paid $3 million annually plus incentives. The contract length was the maximum allowed under Mississippi state law.

Arnett began this season as the SEC’s youngest head coach and the first of Hispanic descent in league history, and vowed last summer to maintain the same intensity. Mississippi State couldn’t fulfill that goal with a front-loaded schedule that included ranked LSU and Alabama, and certainly not after record-setting quarterback Will Rogers’ injury.

Athletics director Zac Selmon said in a statement that he determined a change in leadership was needed for the football program to move forward and “position it for the highest level of success.” Selmon added that he has the utmost respect for Arnett and appreciated his effort but the on-field results weren’t at the expected level.

Selmon said at an afternoon news conference that Arnett’s coaching staff will remain through the rest of the season. Players were informed of the decision Monday morning.

A search firm will be used to find the next head coach and that process is already underway, Selmon added.

“We don’t want to mix just jumping out there to do it if it’s not the right fit, not the right person for Mississippi State, so we’ll be as thorough as we need to be,” he said.

Shocking as in-season firings might seem, next month’s signing period has resulted in schools taking a more aggressive approach to hiring coaches. Consider how Mississippi State quickly promoted Arnett to interim coach and then head coach three days after Leach died on Dec. 12 to maintain continuity within the program and convey stability on the recruiting trail.

“We understand what’s happened with the transfer portal, we understand the recruiting calendar, we understand final schedule,” Selmon said. “So with all of that, there’s a lot of variables that we’ll take into consideration. But at the core of what we’ll do is make sure that we hire the best person for Mississippi State.”

Selmon acknowledged the challenging situation Arnett faced last December in taking over the Bulldogs after the death of Leach. Arnett had been defensive coordinator during Leach’s two-years-plus tenure at the school and had built it into one of the SEC’s toughest defensive units.

“There is no question that he has made a positive impact on the lives of our student-athletes during his time here,” Selmon said in the statement. “We are grateful for his contributions to Mississippi State and wish him the very best both personally and professionally.”

After several seasons of exciting, high-octane offense with the Air Raid under Leach, the Bulldogs haven’t been nearly as proficient since switching to a pro-style scheme under Kevin Barbay. They rank last in the SEC in scoring (21.8 points per game) and next to last in total offense (325.8 yards).

They were thumped 51-10 by Texas A&M on Saturday in what turned out to be Jimbo Fisher’s finale in College Station. Fisher was fired on Sunday.

Mississippi State has scored 33 combined points in its last four games, one of which was a 7-3 victory at Arkansas.

Rogers missed those four games with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. The Bulldogs started true freshman Chris Parson at Texas A&M before turning to Mike Wright.

Defensively, the Bulldogs entered last weekend ranked 10th in the league at 362 yards allowed per game.

Arnett eventually guided the Bulldogs to a 19-10 ReliaQuest Bowl victory over Illinois to cap a 9-4 season. That game featured multiple tributes to Leach and demonstrated Arnett’s impact as defensive coordinator.

Knox, 60, spent last season as Buffalo’s running backs coach after four years in the same capacity at Florida, where he also was special teams coordinator.

Knox was the Gators’ interim coach for the final two games in 2021 after Dan Mullen was let go, guiding them past rival Florida State before they lost to UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl.

Mississippi State presents Knox with a similar scenario, trying to salvage some remnants of a lost season in Starkville.

“There’s a lot of games, a lot of stuff to play for,” Selmon said. “And I thought we at this point in the season, we needed that. Just a jolt of energy, a jolt of juice.”