Lebby heads to Starkville on a five-year contract. His departure comes less than 24 hours after the Sooners were removed from contention for the Big 12 title game.
NORMAN — Just under two years after Jeff Lebby returned to Oklahoma as one of the nation’s highest-paid coordinators, the Sooners’ offensive play-caller has landed his first head coaching job.
Lebby, 39, has agreed to become the next head coach of Mississippi State, as first reported by ESPN’s Pete Thamel Sunday afternoon and later confirmed by Sellout Crowd.
Mississippi State formally announced Lebby’s hiring late Sunday afternoon.
Per Thamel, Lebby heads to Starkville on a five-year contract. His departure comes less than 24 hours after the Sooners were removed from contention for the 2023 Big 12 title game.
Lebby’s name remained heavily linked with the Bulldogs’ head coaching vacancy after he interviewed for the job in Starkville earlier in the week. Following the win that took OU to 10-2 on Friday, Lebby deflected when asked about his contact with Mississippi State.
“To me, there’s a time and a place for all of it,” he said. “Had great focus on today, finishing the regular season here at home today. Hopefully the chips fall in our favor and we get to go play next weekend. We’ll see about that. But that’s about it.”
The links intensified Saturday night after Oklahoma State secured its date with Texas in next weekend’s conference championship game.
Lebby was the offered job Saturday night before formally accepting the role Sunday afternoon, leaving Brent Venables and OU to enter bowl season and the final weeks before the early signing period searching for a new offensive coordinator
Lebby, a student assistant with the Sooners from 2002-06, was among Venables’ first hires in December 2021, arriving from Ole Miss on a three-year, $5.7 million deal. Lebby’s contract was extended through 2026 earlier this year.
Lebby’s tempo offenses brought steady statistical success to the Sooners over his two seasons calling plays. OU finished 33rd in total offense in 2022 before climbing to fourth this fall. The Sooners’ 43.2 points per game rank third among FBS offenses this fall.
Lebby’s scheme produced eye-watering numbers in 2023. It wasn’t always perfect, however. He produced a handful of puzzling moments and drew criticism from fans and even his own head coach after the Sooners’ offense struggled in losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State earlier this fall.
Lebby’s run at OU was also not without off-field controversy. The stench of the Baylor sexual assault and Lebby’s time on Art Briles’ staff with the Bears from 2008-16 followed him to Norman.
Upon Lebby’s hiring in 2021, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione released a statement outlining the school’s vetting process and emphasized “OU’s expectations of him both on and off the field,” had been made clear.
“My experiences at Baylor will inform my perspective for the rest of my life, on and off the field,” Lebby wrote in a separate statement at the time.
Earlier this fall, Lebby drew attention when Briles — the disgraced former Baylor coach and Lebby’s father-in-law — appeared on Owen Field in OU apparel following the Sooners’ Sept. 9 win over SMU.
Lebby issued a public apology two days later.
“It shouldn’t have happened and it was my expectation it never would, based on boundaries we previously set,” Castiglione said in a statement that night. “I’ve addressed it with the appropriate staff.”
Little more than two months later, Lebby is on the verge of a Power 5 head coaching job, set to reunite with former OU deputy athletic director Zac Selmon in Starkville.
The vacancy Lebby leaves on the Sooners’ staff will immediately become one of the most lucrative openings in the country. His departure also presents Venables with the most important personnel decision of his tenure as OU prepares to transition into the SEC with former five-star quarterback Jackson Arnold expected to take over under center in 2024.
So, where might the Sooners turn at offensive coordinator in 2024?
The list of internal candidates begins (and could likely end) with Seth Littrell.
The former OU running back returned to the Sooners as an offensive analyst in 2023 following his seven seasons as head coach at North Texas. Littrell, whose name his been tied closely to OU’s coordinator opening, has previous experience as a play-caller in stops at Arizona, Indiana and North Carolina, and would represent continuity for OU.
Matt Wells, the former Texas Tech head coach, has spent the last two seasons as an analyst with the Sooners and would represent another logical internal option. Wide receivers/passing game coordinator coach Emmett Jones also holds play-calling experience.
Top external options could include Andy Ludwig (Utah), Sean Lewis (Colorado), Andy Kotelnicki (Kansas) and Warren Ruggiero (Wake Forest).
If Venables wants to take a home run swing, former Texas Tech and Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury is coaching quarterbacks at USC. Former Nebraska coach Scott Frost, who ran standout offenses at Oregon and UCF, has not worked in college football since he was fired by the Huskers last fall.
Whatever direction Venables goes, it’ll be a defining move as the Sooners enter a new conference and a new chapter at quarterback in 2024 at the end of the ultimately short-lived Lebby era in Norman.