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HEISER: Mississippi State may not be right fit Penn State OC Joe Moorhead

Steve Heiser
York Dispatch
  • PSU offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has been hired as the Mississippi State head coach.
  • Moorhead's PSU offense is averaging more than 41 points per game this season.
  • Moorhead had a 38-13 record as Fordham's head coach before moving on to PSU.

It’s often referred to as college football’s “silly season.”

For Penn State football fans, however, the 2017 game of coaching musical chairs is anything but “silly.”

Joe Moorhead

In fact, the Nittany Lions have suffered one very serious loss — Joe Moorhead.

The Nittany Lions’ offensive coordinator is taking the head coaching job at Mississippi State University.

MSU's interest was not surprising. Moorhead boasts a resume that is worthy of leading a Power Five program.

He’s already succeeded at the Football Championship Subdivision, guiding Fordham to a 38-13 record over four seasons after taking over a team that staggered to a 1-10 mark the previous year.

Excelling at PSU: That earned him a promotion to OC at PSU, where he has been an absolute revelation.

During his two years in Happy Valley, the Lions have gone 21-5, thanks largely to Moorhead’s dynamic offense, which produced 37.6 points per game in 2016 and 41.6 ppg thus far in 2017.

Before Moorhead’s arrival, James Franklin’s first two PSU teams averaged 23.2 ppg in 2015 and 20.6 ppg in 2014.

That is more than an 80 percent increase in production, which is astronomical in any profession. That’s why Moorhead’s name was prominently mentioned as a head-coaching candidate last season (most notably at Purdue).

Key question: The question for the moment, however, is this: Is MSU the right fit for Moorhead?

That remains to be seen. Moorhead will certainly face some large obstacles in Starkville.

First of all, he has no connections to MSU or the Southeastern Conference. He has spent his entire playing and coaching career in the Northeast or Midwest.

The SEC is a notoriously cutthroat coaching arena, especially when it comes to recruiting. Jumping into that universe without any real ties to the region would be exceedingly difficult.

In addition, the Bulldogs compete in the brutal SEC West, which may be the best division in all of college football.

Finally, MSU is not exactly the crown jewel of SEC coaching jobs. Traditionally, it’s a middle-of-the-pack SEC program, at best. It last won the SEC championship in 1941. That’s before the United States entered World War II.

Mullen exit: Yes, Dan Mullen, did have success at MSU, compiling a 69-46 overall record. Like Moorhead, Mullen has his roots in the Northeast. Mullen, however, also took over the Bulldogs after first earning his SEC stripes. He was the OC at Florida from 2005 until 2008, a period when the Gators won two national titles.

That’s very likely why the Gators recently hired Mullen to take over as the Gators’ head coach.

It's surprising that MSU is straying from its SEC footprint for a new head coach. A coordinator with SEC roots would seem to make more sense for the Bulldogs.

Moorhead apparently was swayed by his overwhelming desire to be a head coach, and the sizable pay bump that comes with it. Plus, MSU is 8-4 this season and is expected to return most of its key players next season. The ingredients for immediate success are there.

Moorhead may have also decided to strike while the iron is hot for his services. PSU will almost certainly lose standout running back Saquon Barkley to the NFL after this season, which would've made Moorhead's job at PSU significantly more difficult next season.

Still, Moorhead's exit from PSU for the MSU job would have to be considered a surprising move.

Moorhead is only 44 years old, so he had plenty of time to realize his head-coaching aspirations.

Right now, however, he has a pretty good gig with a PSU program that’s on the rise. In the past, he's remarked that he and his family are very happy in State College. Personally and professionally, he appeared like a relatively contented man.

There was no need for him to rush into a job that may not be the right fit. He had the time to be selective.

In the end, however, he decided to select MSU.

Time will tell if that was the right move.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at This story has been updated to reflect recent developments.