Joe Moorhead, the 2016 National Offensive Coordinator of the Year and the mastermind behind Penn State’s offensive juggernaut the past two seasons, has been named Mississippi State’s 33rd head football coach, Director of Athletics John Cohen announced Wednesday.
“During our search, it became unequivocally clear who our next football coach was and that man was Joe Moorhead,” Cohen said. “Joe is a winner, a man of integrity with a blue-collar work ethic and an ability to motivate others that our student-athletes will gravitate to. His innovative offensive philosophy is a perfect fit for our program and will keep us on a path to competing for championships. I was also impressed with his detailed defensive plan. He will demand excellence on and off the field and maximize the resources we have to continue to be successful in the SEC. We are proud to welcome Joe, his wife Jennifer, his daughter Kyra and sons Mason and Donovan to the Bulldog Family.”
Moorhead will be formally introduced at a 10 a.m. press conference Thursday in the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex. It is open to the public. It will be carried live on SEC Network and SEC Network+ via the ESPN app and WatchESPN.com.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be a Mississippi State Bulldog,” Moorhead said. “I am thrilled to take the reins of an SEC program that has been as successful as this one has the past decade. I look forward to getting to know the young men on our team, hiring a staff and hitting the recruiting trail quickly. My family and I are excited about being a part of the Starkville community. I am grateful to John Cohen and Dr. Mark Keenum for giving me this opportunity, and I am proud to be your coach.”
“Over the last decade, Mississippi State University has built a winning football tradition that has taken our program to unprecedented heights,” MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum said. “My charge to Athletics Director John Cohen was to find a dynamic, innovative new head coach for the Bulldogs who could embrace that winning tradition and build on it. In Coach Joe Moorhead, I think we have found that leader. I’m excited about having Joe, his wife Jennifer, sons Mason and Donovan, and daughter Kyra join our Bulldog family. I have great confidence in Coach Moorhead’s commitment to competitive athletic achievement, academic excellence, and consistent integrity in the operation of all phases of our football program.”
Penn State’s Offensive Explosion
Moorhead, 44, arrives in Starkville after spending the 2016 and 2017 seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on James Franklin’s Penn State staff. Tabbed as Sports Illustrated and Yahoo’s No. 1 rising assistant in college football in August 2017, Moorhead transformed the Nittany Lions offensively and spearheaded them to a combined 21-5 record, a 17-3 mark in Big Ten regular season play and the 2016 Big Ten Championship.
Explosive, balanced offenses have been a trademark of Moorhead at every stop of his career. Penn State scored at least 30 points in 21 of the 26 games he coached, and they averaged 39.4 points per game during that span.
This season, Penn State ranked in the Top 25 nationally in five different offensive categories, including seventh in points per game (41.6), 16th in passing efficiency (153.5), 17th in yards per play (6.55), 25th in passing yards per game (285.8) and 20th in red zone conversion percentage (91.1). They also produced four 50-point games, representing the most in a Nittany Lions season since 1994.
Moorhead’s expertise was evident in the development of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley. Together they formed one of the elite backfields in all of college football. McSorley, a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, became the second player in Big Ten history to have 25 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing scores in a single season. He also was the first player in program history to produce multiple seasons of 3,000 yards passing. Barkley, a finalist for the Maxwell Award and a Heisman Trophy candidate, ranked second nationally in all-purpose yards this season with 179.5.
The 2016 season saw Moorhead earn National Offensive Coordinator of the Year honors by 247Sports, a year in which the Nittany Lions claimed their first outright Big Ten Championship in two decades and secured a berth in the Rose Bowl. They reeled off nine straight conference victories and finished the year 11-3.
In Moorhead’s first season, Penn State shattered school records for total offense (6,056), passing yards (3,650) and points scored (526). The Nittany Lions improved their scoring average by 14.4 points from 2015 to 2016, which ranked fourth nationally. They racked up 30 or more points in 11 games, which was the most since the 1994 squad.
The results were astounding for an offense that just a year earlier prior to his arrival finished No. 100 nationally in scoring and No. 105 in total offense. Penn State leaped 79 spots to No. 21 in scoring offense in Moorhead’s first season.
McSorley, in his first season under Moorhead, threw for a school-record 29 touchdown passes en route to earning All-Big Ten second team honors, Big Ten Championship game MVP and Maxwell Club Tri-State Player of the Year. Barkley was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
Head Coach in the Bronx
Moorhead also has experience building and maintaining a program as a head coach. Prior to his stint at Penn State, he posted a 38-13 record as head coach at Fordham University from 2012-15. After inheriting a program that went 1-10, he steadily built the Rams into a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoff regular, leading them to their best season in program history in 2013 and the Patriot League title in 2014. They reached the FCS playoffs three straight seasons.
During his tenure, Moorhead produced the highest ranking in program history (No. 5 in 2013), highest final ranking in program history (No. 9 in 2013 and 2014), the first two wins over FBS schools in program history and the first two wins over Top 10 opponents in school history.
Moorhead guided the 2014 Jerry Rice Award for the NCAA FCS Rookie of the Year, three consecutive Patriot League Offensive Players of the Year, 11 All-Americans, five CoSIDA Academic All-Americans and 55 All-Patriot League performers (37 first team, 18 second team) while with the Rams. The Rams were consistently one of the top offensive teams in FCS and they set 16 school records (individual and team) in 2013 and 2014.
In 2014, Moorhead led the Rams to their first Patriot League title since 2007 with a perfect 6-0 mark in league play and an 11-3 record overall.
In one of the most impressive seasons in school history, Moorhead guided the Rams to a 12-2 record in 2013, which included the program’s first win over an FBS opponent (Temple) and the school’s first two wins over Top 10 opponents (Villanova, Lehigh). For his efforts, Moorhead was named the 2013 AFCA Regional Co-Coach of the Year and Patriot League Coach of the Year. He was also a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award and the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year.
The Early Years
Before returning to take the helm at his alma mater, Moorhead spent three seasons at Connecticut, including two as the offensive coordinator. He served as the offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010, leading an offensive unit that was second in the BIG EAST Conference in scoring offense and rushing offense in 2010, as the Huskies won the conference title and appeared in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma.
Following the season, running back Jordan Todman was named Second Team All-America and BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year. Additionally, two other offensive players were named First Team All-BIG EAST with Todman (San Diego/sixth round) and Anthony Sherman (Arizona/fifth round) being selected in the NFL draft.
In 2009, UConn finished the season as the third most productive offense in the BIG EAST, second in scoring, and Moorhead was nominated for the Frank Broyles Award, presented annually to the top assistant coach in the NCAA FBS. The Huskies finished the season 8-5 and defeated South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.
Prior to his stay at Connecticut, Moorhead served as an assistant coach at Akron for five years (2004-08), including the final two as the offensive coordinator. In 2008, Akron was one of 17 schools nationally to be ranked among the top 50 in rushing offense (45th at 165.7 ypg), passing offense (46th at 231.50), total offense (40th at 396.97) and scoring offense (36th at 30.0 ppg).
Akron was the most improved school in the nation in 2008 in total offense, and it was the sixth-most improved in scoring offense. In the Mid-American Conference (MAC), Akron was third in points per game and turnover margin (plus 0.5) and fourth in rushing yards per game.
The Quarterback, Family Man
As a collegiate performer at Fordham, Moorhead was a three-year starter at quarterback and a team captain as a senior. He was a second-team All-Patriot League pick as a senior, finishing 13th nationally in total offense. He graduated with school single-season records for completions and passing yards. Following his collegiate career, Moorhead spent time in the training camp of the Milwaukee Mustangs of the Arena Football League after playing the 1996 season for the Munich Cowboys of the E.F.A.F.
Moorhead, a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., received an English degree from Fordham in 1996. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children: daughter Kyra (16), son Mason (15) and son Donovan (10).
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING ABOUT JOE MOORHEAD…
“Over the last decade, Mississippi State University has built a winning football tradition that has taken our program to unprecedented heights. My charge to Athletics Director John Cohen was to find a dynamic, innovative new head coach for the Bulldogs who could embrace that winning tradition and build on it.
“In Coach Joe Moorhead, I think we have found that leader. I’m excited about having Joe, his wife Jennifer, sons Mason and Donovan, and daughter Kyra join our Bulldog family. I have great confidence in Coach Moorhead’s commitment to competitive athletic achievement, academic excellence, and consistent integrity in the operation of all phases of our football program.
“I would be remiss if I did not commend John Cohen for his well-planned, decisive, and smoothly executed search process. MSU was marvelously prepared when the time came to make this transition and John’s planning and organization enabled us to identify, interview, and assess a truly impressive list of candidates, none more impressive than Joe Moorhead.”
– MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum
“We couldn’t be happier for Joe Moorhead and his family. This is a tremendous opportunity for him to return to being a head coach and continue to move forward in his career. We are so appreciative of everything that he has done for Penn State Football in his two years. Joe’s combination of leadership, X’s and O’s, and, most importantly, positive attitude brought the best out of our very talented offensive student-athletes. He has been a great mentor and coach to our student-athletes and friend to me and our staff. We wish Joe nothing but success at Mississippi State.
– Penn State Head Coach James Franklin
“Joe Moorhead is one of the best offensive minds in all of college football. He has head coaching experience at the collegiate level, and is ready to shine with an opportunity like this one at Mississippi State.”
-Todd Blackledge, ESPN
“Great news for Mississippi State & Nick Fitzgerald. Moorhead is an awesome teacher and innovative mind.”
– Trent Dilfer; ESPN analyst, 13-year NFL quarterback and Super Bowl XXXV Champion
“Joe Moorhead was one of the best production meetings our crew had all year. You can see why players love him. Highly intelligent and fun scheme to watch in my preparation. Looking forward to seeing what he can do at Mississippi State.”
– Brady Quinn, Fox Sports analyst and eight-year NFL quarterback
“As strong as he is, his greatest strength is his ability as a motivator and as a guy that rallies a group together. Wherever he coaches is close-knit, fired up and aggressive.”
-Andrew Breiner, Fordham Head Coach
“I’m a huge fan of this hire. Joe Moorhead is fun and easy to like. Fans will enjoy him as will players. Plus, he reinvented the read-option and made it a blast to watch.”
-Laura Rutledge, SEC Network
THE JOE MOORHEAD FILE
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Education: Fordham University, 1996 (B.A. English)
Children: Donovan, Kyra, Mason
Birthday: November 2, 1973
2017-p: Mississippi State (Head Coach)
2016-17: Penn State (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2012-15: Fordham (Head Coach)
2011: Connecticut (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2009-10: Connecticut (Quarterbacks)
2006-08: Akron (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2005: Akron (Assistant Head Coach/Pass Game & Recruiting Coordinator/Wide Receivers)
2004: Akron (Wide Receivers/Recruiting Coordinator/Punt Return)
2003: Georgetown (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2002: Georgetown (Pass Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2001: Georgetown (Quarterbacks)
2000: Georgetown (Running Backs)
1999: Pittsburgh (Graduate Assistant/Defense)
1998: Pittsburgh (Graduate Assistant/Recruiting)
BOWL GAMES, PLAYOFF GAMES AS A COACH
2017: Rose Bowl (Penn State)
2015: FCS First Round (Fordham)
2014: FCS First, Second Round (Fordham)
2013: FCS First, Second Round (Fordham)
2011: Fiesta Bowl (Connecticut)
2010: PapaJohns.com Bowl (Connecticut)
2005: Motor City Bowl (Connecticut)
YEAR-BY-YEAR HEAD COACHING RECORD
Year School Overall Conf. Notable
2012 Fordham 6-5 3-3 Led Fordham to first winning season since 2007
2013 Fordham 12-2 5-1 FCS Playoffs Second Round, finished ranked No. 9
2014 Fordham 11-3 6-0 FCS Playoffs Second Round, finished ranked No. 11
2015 Fordham 9-3 5-1 FCS Playoffs First Round, finished ranked No. 19
TOTALS 38-13 19-5