Good coordinators don’t stay coordinators long.
James Franklin will now have to add “finding an offensive coordinator” to his weekly to-do list after it was announced that Joe Moorhead will be taking the head coaching position at Mississippi State.
This announcement comes on the heels of the Mississippi State program firing former Head Coach Dan Mullen after nine seasons as the Bulldogs’ leader. Mullen amassed a 69-46 record in Starkville, but a sub-.500 record in SEC play. Mullen has already accepted the head coaching at the University of Florida, as he’ll continue to pursue the elite of the SEC.
Moorhead spent two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Penn State, replacing the often maligned John Donovan. With an understanding of the situation that Donovan was presented, it is still unbeknownst to most fans as to why the offense struggled as greatly as it did. The Penn State aerial attack finished 40th in the nation in 2014, and followed that performance up with a 57th best effort it the next season. In 2014, the rushing attack was equally unimpressive, as the leading rusher was Akeel Lynch, who finished 123rd in the nation with 678 yards. While those numbers are low for a leading rusher, the outcome may be a bit misleading, as Bill Belton finished with 526 yards himself, making the team the 115th best rushing offense in the nation. That’s nothing to write home about.
Granted, Donovan didn’t have the talent of Saquon Barkley in his prime at his disposal, Moorhead seemed to utilize Barkley more efficiently. Penn State finished 55th in rushing in 2016, and this season, they’ve been nearly equally efficient at 60th in the country. Again, those numbers aren’t mind boggling, but they’re significantly improved.
Moorhead, with better talent recruited by himself and James Franklin, had revolutionized the offense by adding the RPO as the main cog that turns the successes of the offensive attack. Moorhead has guided the Nittany Lion offense to becoming the 22nd best passing attack this season. Last year, they finished 23rd. They’ve also become the 26th best offense under Moorhead this season after being ranked 28th in 2016.
Under Moorhead, quarterback Trace McSorley has become the only signal caller in Penn State history to top the 50 touchdown mark. His 72 touchdowns responsible for are also the most in school history, topping Daryl Clark’s record earlier this season. While I have consistently discredited McSorley this season for his play, there is no denying his statistical prowess over the past two seasons. Likely to return for his senior year, McSorley will do nothing but add to his legacy next season under the next offensive coordinator.
But was it all good feelings at Penn State during the Joe Moorhead tenure? That I’m not so sure. Your casual fan will likely quote the exact statistical analysis I just provided above. However, if you take a deeper look into the legacy that is Joe Moorhead’s resurgent offense, would you find a bit of a stale attack? Revolutionized seemed to be the ideal word that circulates around the lips of those referring to Joe Moorhead’s attempt at changing the Penn State offense. But toward the end of the Moorhead’s tenure, it sure felt that teams had figured his attack out. There were no new wrinkles. There were no caveats. Outside of the offensive explosion against Michigan, there seemed to never be a bold statement made in the major conference affairs. I wish not to stain the name of Moorhead, who is leaving the offense in a much better state than that in which he inherited it. I simply want to state that not everything was roses and rainbows for the Moorhead offense.
The looming question becomes, “Who will James Franklin choose to replace Moorhead for the bowl game and beyond? Well the short term answer is far easier to answer than that of 2018. For the remainder of the season, unless Franklin finds a coach he finds far too intriguing to allow to walk any further, the offensive coordinator duties will likely be given to quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne. Past that, however, the crystal ball becomes far more murky. Franklin could attempt to catch lightning in a bottle twice by bringing in an FCS head coach looking for his first shot at the next level. He also could survey the landscape of the FCS coaching carousel and pluck an offensive coordinator from a lower tier school. Many are commenting that the replacement could be none other than current Fordham Head Coach Andrew Briener. That could be a futile effort, as Fordham has slipped from 8-3 in 2016 to 4-7 this season under Briener in his second season as head coach.
Moorhead has successfully jumped from the FBS-level, transforming Fordham University into a a national power, to offensive coordinator of a Power Five university, to head coach of an SEC school, considered by many to be the strongest conference in football each season in less than seven years. As most Penn State fans will attest, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the successes of Moorhead over the next few seasons as it appears many will have a distant rooting interest for a coordinator who was beloved in State College.
Moorhead will get to take on his predecessor in Starkville when Mullen’s Gators take on the Bulldogs on September 29. He’ll also get to test his coaching abilities against Bill Snyder and Kansas State early in the season, and the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers loom large later in the season.
Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports