The last time a Penn State assistant left for a head coaching job elsewhere in the FBS ranks, the Nittany Lions hadn’t even played their first game as a member of the Big Ten.
That would be when Jim Caldwell went from Penn State quarterbacks coach to the top job at Wake Forest back in 1993.
It was little surprise that Joe Moorhead would be the one to break the mold.
Mississippi State made it official on Wednesday morning, announcing that the Lions highly successful offensive coordinator would now be leading the Bulldogs.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be a Mississippi State Bulldog,” Moorhead said through his new employer. “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.”
Moorhead will be formally introduced at a press conference at 11 a.m. Thursday.
“We couldn’t be happier for Joe Moorhead and his family,” said Penn State coach James Franklin, whose hiring of Moorhead fueled the Lions’ surge back onto the national radar. “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.”
In two years at Penn State after a stint as head coach at his alma mater, Fordham, Moorhead led an offense that averaged nearly 40 points over 26 games. The Lions scored 23 points per game the season before he arrived.
While those impressive numbers were a starting point, it was the man himself that won over Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen so quickly after the Bulldogs lost admired head coach Dan Mullen to Florida on Sunday.
“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.”
Moorhead doesn’t have the same brashness of Mullen, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less confident than his predecessor, who left Starkville as the winningest coach in program history.
Penn State players often used the word “swagger” when talking about Moorhead. A few, like tight end Mike Gesicki, used the word “genius,” too.
To Franklin, he was admired as a person as much as he was as a coach.
“Appreciate what (Moorhead) has done for our program!” Franklin wrote on Twitter. “Not only is he a great coach, but he is a better man! We wish him and his family the absolute best at Mississippi State!”