STARKVILLE – Mississippi State has fired head coach Joe Moorhead after two seasons, sources have confirmed to the Clarion Ledger and USA TODAY sports.
The Bulldogs are a few days removed from losing in the Music City Bowl, 38-28, to Louisville. It was Moorhead’s second loss in a bowl game in as many seasons.
Moorhead, who was hired at the end of the 2017 season when he was Penn State’s offensive coordinator, went 14-12 overall at MSU. He had a 7-9 record in SEC games, including a 2-0 mark in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss.
Moorhead’s eight wins in 2018 tied the program record for most wins ever by a first-year head coach. He tied Jackie Sherrill and Dan Mullen for third all-time for wins in a head coach’s first two seasons at MSU.
Moorhead, though, will be remembered for Mississippi State’s shortcomings on offense during his tenure, especially in the passing game.
The Bulldogs ranked No. 112 nationally in passing offense in 2018 and No. 110 this season. Mississippi State did not exceed 240 passing yards in any single game this season in finishing No. 12 out of 14 teams in the SEC in passing offense.
Moorhead landed the MSU job because of his success as the offensive coordinator at Penn State from 2016-17. Before then, he was the head coach at Fordham from 2012-15. His offenses had success there, too. Before the 2019 season, former Penn State backup quarterback Tommy Stevens joined Moorhead at MSU.
The offensive success never materialized at MSU. Mississippi State had the 71st-ranked total offense in 2018 and was No. 70 this season.
The bowl game might’ve been the final straw. Louisville went into the game as one of the worst defenses in college football, giving up nearly 450 yards per game. Mississippi State only managed to gain 366 in the loss.
It was a continuation of a trend that was ultimately Moorhead’s undoing.
Mississippi State averaged 337.4 yards per game in losses this season. For reference, an offense averaging that many yards per game would rank No. 112 nationally over the course of the entire 2019 season.
As much as on the field shortcomings caused the MSU administration to let go of Moorhead so quickly, off-the-field issues had to have played a factor as well.
Just over a week before the 2019 season began, the NCAA came down on Mississippi State when it was revealed that 10 football players allowed a tutor to take tests and complete assignments for them in a chemistry course. Those 10 players were suspended for eight games. The suspensions greatly impacted Mississippi State’s depth at important positions.
Before the bowl game, a fight between junior linebacker Willie Gay Jr. – who was one of the players who served an eight-game suspension – and freshman quarterback Garrett Shrader prohibited the latter from playing in the Music City Bowl. Shrader was held out of the game with an “upper-body injury.”
Moorhead’s seat was hot just over a month ago when he took the Bulldogs into the Egg Bowl with a 5-6 record. Mississippi State beat Ole Miss, 21-20, in one of the most bizarre endings in the rivalry’s history.
The narrow win was enough to keep Moorhead through December. In his postgame press conference, Moorhead seemed confident that he’d be around much longer.
“This is my team, this is my school, this is my program. You’ll have to drag my Yankee (expletive) out of here,” said Moorhead, a 46-year-old native of Pittsburgh.
Fight fallout: What Joe Moorhead said about fight between teammates
In 2019, Mississippi State did not win as many games as many thought it could, or would. State was favored to beat Kansas State and Tennessee but lost both games. The Bulldogs also lost to Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M and Alabama by a combined 106 points, or an average margin of 26.5 points.
After the loss to Louisville, Moorhead said he planned to take a few days off. He also said he planned to have a team meeting on Sunday and then follow up with players and position coaches for season-ending meetings next week.