UNIVERSITY PARK — Joe Moorhead’s reputation as an upfront, tell-it-like-it-is football coach helped him earn the trust of his players while he turned around a Fordham team that went 1-10 the season before he arrived.
Four seasons and a 38-13 record later, Moorhead left his alma mater Saturday night to a standing ovation from his players, ones who knew it was only a matter of time before Moorhead had a chance to climb the coaching ranks and take his up-tempo offense elsewhere.
Moorhead told his Fordham players as much after its final game of the season, saying he was fielding calls from potential suitors, leaving no one too surprised Saturday when news broke that he would be named the Nittany Lions new offensive coordinator.
“It’s not like he was hiding it from anybody or hiding information from us or anything. I respect him for that,” Fordham running back Chase Edmonds told the Post-Gazette, adding that it was emotional team meeting but a “well-deserved” new gig for his coach. “Most coaches don’t do that and that just speaks to the character of Coach Moorhead.”
Moorhead will be introduced as Penn State’s offensive coordinator today in Beaver Stadium, starting a lengthy offseason process where Penn State’s 108th-ranked offense will be revamped in hopes of it emerging with a balanced, well-executed attack by the time spring ball rolls around. James Franklin said earlier this month his new hire would evaluate the roster during bowl prep and begin meeting with players while quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne handles play-calling duties for the Lions’ Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl game against Georgia.
Moorhead, a Pittsburgh native who attended Central Catholic High School, is coming off back-to-back seasons when his teams averaged at least 453.2 yards and 36.8 points per game. Fordham offensive coordinator Andrew Breiner, who was with Moorhead the past seven years dating to Moorhead’s days as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Connecticut, said the 2015 Fordham offense, with four freshman receivers, two new offensive linemen and a quarterback who started in his first season with the team, speaks to the success of the system.
“It’s not simple, but it’s streamlined and the teaching of it is all done in a very logical manner,” Breiner said. “The words that are used have meaning and have things that they can associate with it while they’re in the early stages of learning the offense.”
Moorhead, no stranger to working with new starters at quarterback, could be tasked with breaking in a new one next season if Christian Hackenberg opts to declare for the NFL draft. Hackenberg’s backup, redshirt freshman Trace McSorley, is a “match made in heaven” for this type of offense, one Fordham staffer said. Add in freshman running back Saquon Barkley, who rushed for 1,007 yards this season, and receiver Chris Godwin who is closing in on the 1,000-yard mark and there shouldn’t be a shortage of new toys for the coordinator.
“You’re going to run the ball 25-30 times per game, but you’re also going to pass the ball 25-30 times per game,” said Edmonds, who rushed for 1,648 yards for Fordham this season. “The ultimate goal is to go up-tempo, but we did slow it down and we’d go into our base tag and we’d try to get into the best look possible, so it’s not always about the tempo.”
Moorhead will find ways to morph the offense so that it maximizes the talent of his personnel, something Fordham offensive line coach and former Penn State offensive graduate assistant Tyler Bowen said he saw firsthand this season. Add Moorhead’s ability as a recruiter, where assistants said he brings the same level of honesty to prospects that his players appreciated, and time will tell if Penn State’s offense will yield a similar outcome to the one at Fordham.
“I would be shocked if the results weren’t spectacular,” Breiner said.