When Dan Mullen moved from Mississippi State to Florida last winter, the Bulldogs were at a crossroads. Mullen built something impressive in Starkville, but the program there still has a history of not being competitive. The school had no choice but to replace Mullen with a great hire who could build on his foundation. Time will tell if MSU succeeded, but in hiring Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, they’ve given themselves a good shot.
Moorhead, 44, has risen rapidly through the coaching ranks.
If you just read the lines on Moorhead’s bio, you get the idea:
- 1998-99: Pitt grad assistant
- 2000: Georgetown RBs coach
- 2001-02: Georgetown QBs coach
- 2003: Georgetown offensive coordinator
- 2004: Akron receivers coach
- 2005: Akron receivers coach/assistant head coach/passing game coordinator
- 2006-08: Akron offensive coordinator
- 2009-10: UConn offensive coordinator
- 2011: UConn QBs coach
- 2012-15: Fordham head coach
- 2016-17: Penn State offensive coordinator
He’s been a QB coach at his last few stops, too. And now he’s a head coach in the SEC, three years after wrapping up his first head coaching job — in FCS.
Moorhead’s career accelerated because of his elite offenses.
In 2013, his Fordham offense was 12th in FCS in yards per game, tops in the Patriot League. The next year, the Rams moved up to seventh nationally, and then to sixth. That success prompted James Franklin to hire Moorhead in State College.
That hire worked out. What had been a bad Penn State offense became elite under Moorhead. Penn State finished 21st and 14th in yards per play in his two years.
Those offenses have ticked because of their talent, but also because Moorhead’s put that talent in positions to succeed.
At Penn State, he inherited Saquon Barkley. Yeah, that helped.
But lots of teams have high-end individual talent on offense, even if they don’t have Barkley. Moorhead helped turn Trace McSorley into one of the best QBs in the country overnight, and he drew up some plays in huge moments (like this) that turned out brilliant.
Moorhead explained his offensive philosophy in great detail in an interview with SB Nation’s Bill Connelly. These are the key points of emphasis in a Moorhead offense:
- Use the same personnel as much as possible, to keep defenses guessing.
- Teach the QB a lot, and empower him to make decisions.
- Put an option read onto every play, giving the QB choices if things look bad.
- Don’t get locked into one offensive system, which defenses can dictate to.
- Adapt to players’ strengths, rather than forcing them to fit a particular mold.
This, from Moorhead, is maybe the best summation of what MSU will look like:
“What excites me the most is the simplicity and flexibility of our system,” he says. “We can tailor it to a running quarterback, and we can tailor it to a throwing quarterback. If we need to pass more because that’s our strength, then we’ve done that — 5,000 yards one year at Fordham, and Trace has broken all the records at Penn State. If it’s a team that’s more offensive line-centered and run game-centered, then we can lean on that. We’ve never been higher than 55 percent [run or pass], one way or the other.”
Mississippi fans, as you’d expect, are excited about the potential here.
Moorhead clearly means business here at Mississippi State. Never in my life have I been so excited for a coach. Mark my words. He will be the greatest coach in program history. Go on and get him a place ready in the record books and in the ring of honor. If his word is indication of what we will be seeing in the future, we are in for some of the most fun days in history. The best is yet to come, because JoMo is bringing it. September 1st when we play Stephen F. Austin to kick off the 2018 year will be the start of the glory days of Mississippi State Football. I and hopefully everyone else will be begging for Moor. Moor Cowbell that is.