Joe Moorhead left a comfortable situation at Penn State to come to Starkville, Mississippi for a challenge and a championship or two
As he describes it, new Mississippi State football head coach Joe Moorhead gave up incredible job security, proximity to family, and his home to move across the country to try and lead a team in the SEC that, historically, is lacking in terms of success.
And yet, as he also describes it, he was given the perfect opportunity and a new home.
At the most recent Road Dawgs event hosted by Mississippi State’s local alumni association in Houston, Texas, Joe Moorhead and Vic Schaefer arrived to meet and mingle with and speak to about 100 MSU fans. As a Houston area alumni of Mississippi State University, this was the perfect chance for me to hear them speak in my hometown.
This was also the first time that I got to meet Joe Moorhead and hear him speak.
And after a night of hearing Moorhead talk, and chatting for something about a brief moment in person, I’ve come away with a strong impression that Joe Moorhead is committed to Mississippi State in ways that the MSU football program hasn’t seen before.
Since Joe Moorhead has arrived in Starkville as the new head coach of the Bulldogs, he has talked about winning championships. He wants a cultural change in Starkville. He wants to win at the highest level while being certain that 100% of his athletes get degrees.
And he’s ready to take on the challenge of competing within the SEC West.
But, also since Moorhead has become the head coach of the Mississippi State football team, people have tried to temper expectations due to a few nagging doubts. That includes his own fanbase. And, recently, that also includes me, right here, as I discussed reasonable expectations earlier this week.
Still, Moorhead isn’t afraid of those challenges. He’s not afraid of doing everything he can to dispel those concerns.
In his own words, he’s going to “check off those boxes.” And, in his words, the following are the boxes he wants to check off.
“He has no SEC coaching experience”
Last night, this was one of the first points of potential concern that Moorhead addressed. And, this is something that is true. Joe Moorhead has never coached in the Southeastern Conference. That is a simple fact.
It’s something that he clearly and openly wants to address.
And, in some ways, it’s a possible reason for concern. But, Moorhead doesn’t come to Mississippi State without a solid pedigree. He’s got a lengthy resume that has set him up to succeed as soon as he arrived.
Right now, Moorhead is entering into his 20th year of coaching football. This is his second go round as a head coach. His first happened at Fordham up in New York, and he had no issues there. After that, he spent a few years improving Penn State’s offense, injecting it with a new sense of life and making it one of the best in the nation for the past couple seasons.
In Starkville, Moorhead has all of the tools he’ll need to be able to do the same with the Bulldogs. He’s got a talented duel threat quarterback, dynamic running backs, a veteran offensive line, and some strong tight ends.
Plus, it’s not like he’s lacking anything on the defensive side of the ball. Bob Shoop, the defensive coordinator for the Mississippi State football team, is familiar with how Moorhead works after they previously worked together at Penn State. On top of that, Shoop inherits a defense loaded with All-SEC defensive linemen, quality linebackers, and a secondary full of diverse skills.
And again, while Moorhead doesn’t have any coaching experience in the SEC, he’s got a coaching staff that does. Moorhead also happens to have plenty of experience coaching the game of football. Oh, he also has a roster full of veteran SEC players who know the league inside and out.
“He hasn’t Been In Anything Like An Opposing Team’s SEC Environment”
The second concern that Moorhead openly tackled was this one. And, while SEC environments are hostile, Joe Moorhead is no stranger to dealing with rowdy crowds and raucous stadiums. If anything, he’s very familiar with the midwestern equivalent of this.
For those not familiar, Penn State’s Happy Valley holds over 106,500 fans. For the past two years, that is what Joe Moorhead was accustomed to as his home crowd. Happy Valley tends to host significantly more fans than Davis Wade Stadium does on a weekly basis in the fall. That said, 61,000 plus fans ringing cowbells in closer proximity does make a bit of a difference there.
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Still, regardless of that, Happy Valley isn’t the only difficult environment that Moorhead has coached in over the past couple seasons. If anything, it was the friendliest for his unit while it was on the field.
In 2016, Moorhead’s first year at Penn State, the Nittany Lions played the Pitt Panthers in a rivalry game in front of almost 70,000 fans at Heinz Stadium. Two weeks later, Penn State went and lost a blowout to Michigan in front of 110,000 fans there. At the end of the season, the Nittany Lions played in the B1G Championship game, and won it, in front of 65,000 fans. In the final game of the year, they played in the Rose Bowl with 95,000 fans present.
And, in 2017, Penn State had a few other notable road games that Moorhead was part of. A closely contested game at Iowa with 66,000 fans watching in person is one of them. Battling Ohio State on the road with 109,000 fans around is another. Then, one week later, facing Michigan State with 71,000 fans there wasn’t a cake walk either.
Joe Moorhead has been in big games. He’s seen tough environments. No, they aren’t quite like what he’ll find in the SEC, but they aren’t anything to overlook.
“He’s a Yankee”
And, one other knock that some have found with Joe Moorhead’s resume is that he’s not from the south. Which, you know, is also a fact. But, he wasn’t afraid to approach this one at all. In fact, Moorhead took this one on early.
Throughout his discussion with the Houston area MSU alumni and Mississippi State football fans, Moorhead referenced his embrace of southern culture and the Starkville area. He also mentioned that he has a desire to see the city of Starkville, the Mississippi State University campus, and beyond that, the entire state of Mississippi improve and continue to grow and thrive.
His vision is for his players to continue to give back to this state and to see opportunities to embrace the community, both local and statewide, as much as they can.
While Joe Moorhead can’t just create for himself a southern backstory and lifestyle, there’s no reason for him to do so. He’s also more than content to celebrate who he is and where he’s come from in Pennsylvania. And he’s more than enthusiastic to embrace his new home and help move the Mississippi State football team, Mississippi State University, and the state of Mississippi forward and lift it up as much as he can.
“If I wasn’t committed to winning a national title, then Mr. Cohen should have left me in Pennsylvania”
Joe Moorhead did an incredible job on Wednesday night of energizing the Houston area Mississippi State alumni. He also did an incredible job of soothing any possible fears that fans might still have with him as their head coach.
John Cohen did an excellent job replacing Dan Mullen once Florida came calling. The Mississippi State football team was not left without leadership for long. And, right now, it feels that the Mississippi State football program can be carried forward with Joe Moorhead’s leadership.
Moorhead spoke about getting the program over the hump. If he wants his championship standard to live up to its name and not be coach speak, that’s something Moorhead will have to do.
However, after last night, I’ve come away with no doubt that Moorhead is capable of doing that with the Mississippi State football program. Words and deeds are two different things and hold very different levels of meaning. Still, after hearing Joe Moorhead talk though, it feels like his words aren’t empty and his deeds could surpass expectations.