Head Coach Joe Moorhead
When Mississippi State Director of Athletics John Cohen was charged with finding the Bulldogs’ 33rd head football coach, he was looking for a man with a pedigree as a winner, an innovator with a blue-collar work ethic and at the forefront, a ‘ball coach.’ From the beginning of the search, Joe Moorhead was the unequivocal leader. Moorhead, the 2016 and 2017 National Offensive Coordinator of the Year and the mastermind behind Penn State’s offensive juggernaut the past two seasons, takes the reins of Mississippi State football in 2018.
Officially named head coach on November 29, 2017, Moorhead brings a championship standard mantra to Starkville centered on winning a Southeastern Conference championship and competing for a national title. The 44-year-old has played a pivotal role in conference championships at his last four coaching stops, including Penn State (2016), Fordham (2014), Connecticut (2010) and Akron (2005).
Moorhead’s first season at Mississippi State will be his 21st in collegiate coaching and his fifth as a head coach. In his short time in Starkville, the Pittsburgh, Pa., native has already made a marvelous impact, securing a Top 25 recruiting class just weeks into his tenure, hiring an elite coaching staff, forming relationships around the state of Mississippi and developing a championship culture within the program.
Penn State’s Offensive Explosion
Moorhead received national acclaim during 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, the 2016 Big Ten championship, two New Year’s Six bowls and back-to-back Top 10 national rankings.
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.
The 2017 campaign saw the Nittany Lions rank in the Top 25 nationally in seven different offensive categories, including seventh in points per game (41.1), fifth in third down conversion percentage (48.0), 14th in passing efficiency (153.6), 17th in yards per play (6.55), 19th in total offense (460.3), 23rd in passing yards per game (290.2) and 21st in red zone conversion percentage (89.8). They also produced four 50-point games, representing the most in a Penn State season since 1994.
For the second time in his career, Moorhead was recognized as the National Offensive Coordinator of the Year during a Nittany Lions’ season that was capped with a Fiesta Bowl berth and school records for passing yards (3,772) and points scored (534). Individually in 2017, three of Moorhead’s players received All-America status, while eight were tabbed either first-team, second-team, or honorable mention All-Big Ten.
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 just the second player in Big Ten history to register 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 consensus All-American and the first running back in Big Ten history to claim multiple conference Offensive Player of the Year honors, ranked second nationally in all-purpose yards in 2017 (2,329). He broke four school career records, including rushing touchdowns (43), total touchdowns (53), all-purpose yards (5,538) and consecutive games with a touchdown (15) in just three seasons.
Four of Moorhead’s offensive players heard their names called in the first four rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, while two additional ones signed undrafted free agent contracts. Barkley led the way as the No. 2 overall selection, becoming the highest drafted Nittany Lion in 19 years and the highest drafted running back overall since Reggie Bush in 2006. All-American Mike Gesicki followed with the 42nd overall pick in the second round, making him the highest drafted Penn State tight end since 1995. Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton was a fourth round selection. In addition, Fordham running back Chase Edmonds, recruited and coached by Moorhead for two seasons, was a fourth round selection.
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 berth in the Rose Bowl. They reeled off nine straight conference victories and finished the year 11-3 highlighted by triumphs over No. 2 Ohio State and No. 6 Wisconsin.
In Moorhead’s first season, Penn State shattered then-school records for total offense (6,056), passing yards (3,650) and points scored (526). The Nittany Lions improved their scoring average by a staggering 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 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 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 tabbed as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, the first for a Nittany Lion in 12 years.
Head Coach in the Bronx
Moorhead is no stranger to 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) powerhouse, leading them to their best season in program history in 2013 and the Patriot League title in 2014. They reached the FCS playoffs in three straight seasons under his watch.
During his tenure, Moorhead produced the highest ranking in program history (No. 5 in 2013), the 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 winner 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. Fordham was consistently one of the top offensive teams in the FCS and 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 feats 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 a 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 offensive coordinator. In 2008, Akron was one of 17 schools nationally to be ranked among the top 50 in rushing offense (45th; 165.7 ypg), passing offense (46th; 231.50), total offense (40th; 396.97) and scoring offense (36th; 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.
Moorhead served as the assistant head coach, pass game and recruiting coordinator on Akron’s only conference championship team in the program’s 120-year plus history in 2005. The Zips claimed the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division title and then topped Northern Illinois, 31-30, in the MAC Championship Game to secure the squad’s first-ever bowl appearance.
The Quarterback, Family Man
As a collegiate student-athlete 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 received an English degree from Fordham in 1996. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children: daughter Kyra (17), son Mason (15) and son Donovan (11).
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.”
- MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum
“During our search, it became unequivocally clear who our next football coach was and that man was Joe Moorhead. 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.”
- MSU Director of Athletics John Cohen
“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
“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