Mississippi St follows similar blueprint to find new coach
Mississippi State hired a Florida offensive coordinator with no college head coaching experience to come lead its football program.
That was nine years ago, his name was Dan Mullen. It turned out be a risk that worked out extremely well for the Bulldogs.
Now Mississippi State has gone back to a similar blueprint. The Bulldogs will hire Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead as their next head coach, according to a person with direct knowledge of the decision.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday on condition of anonymity because a deal was still being finalized.
Mullen had a 69-46 record and lifted the Bulldogs from the Southeastern Conference basement to a respected — and often successful — program in the Western Division.
He left the folks in Starkville, Mississippi, returning to Florida as the Gators new head coach. The move announced Sunday wasn’t totally unexpected — Mullen’s name has been mentioned in connection with other jobs during the past several offseasons.
“In anticipation of this development, MSU has already begun the process of an orderly and expeditious transition to new and exciting leadership for our football program,” Mississippi State President Mark E. Keenum said in a statement on Sunday.
The new hire happened quickly.
Before coming to Penn State, Moorhead was head coach at FCS Fordham University in New York. He went 38-13 at his alma mater with three playoff appearances in four years. The Rams have made only two other playoff appearances since moving up to Division I in 1989.
While Moorhead has the head coaching experience that Mullen lacked, this is still his first head coaching job at the FBS level.
The 44-year-old from Pittsburgh also has been offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Connecticut and Akron.
Penn State coach James Franklin hired Moorhead after the 2015 season to bring his creative spread offense to State College, and it has helped the Nittany Lions take off. Penn State is 21-5 the last two seasons with Moorhead directing the offense.
Mullen was one of the most successful football coaches in program history. His 69 wins were the second-most at Mississippi State and he led the Bulldogs to a program-record eight straight bowl games.
His best season was in 2014, when Mississippi State was the No. 1 team in the country for five straight weeks. The Bulldogs, who were led by current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, finished with a 10-3 record that season.
The good news for the Bulldogs is the job should be more attractive than it’s even been.
“We return a tremendous roster of young talent,” Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen said when announcing Mullen’s departure. “We seek someone who will continue us on our path to competing for championships and developing our student-athletes both on and off the field.”
No. 24 Mississippi State has an 8-4 record this season, including a 4-4 mark in the SEC. If the Bulldogs win their bowl game, it’ll be the third time in four seasons that they’ve won nine games.
Cohen wasn’t exaggerating; the roster appears stocked for 2018: Starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald suffered a gruesome dislocated ankle in the Egg Bowl last week, but has already had surgery and is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for next season. Only a handful of the main contributors this season were seniors.
Mississippi State has also improved its facilities in recent years. In 2014, Davis Wade Stadium received a $75 million upgrade that increased seating by several thousand and also included more premium seating.
The main downside to the job is the Bulldogs reside in the SEC’s Western Division and the other six programs are flush with cash and other resources. But Mullen proved that Mississippi State can be a factor — and the Bulldogs are looking for someone with the ability to do the same.
AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this story.