After weeks of rumors and speculation, Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead put any concern to bed.
He’ll be back with the Nittany Lions next season.
“At a certain point it started becoming a distraction personally and I feel to our team,” Moorhead said Thursday at the LA Galaxy’s StubHub Center complex as the team prepares to face Southern California in the Rose Bowl on Monday. “I knew where I wanted to be. I wanted to be back at Penn State. ... I’m going to be in Happy Valley for 2017.”
We’re a program on the rise...Great things are on the horizon.
Joe Moorhead, Penn State offensive coordinator
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Moorhead, who has taken Penn State’s offense to new heights in his first season as its coordinator, garnered plenty of outside interest.
In early December, the Pittsburgh native reportedly interviewed for the head coach opening at Purdue and would’ve been the Boilermakers’ next option if Jeff Brohm didn’t accept. The former Fordham head coach’s name was tossed around when Temple had its vacancy, and more recently, Moorhead was considered by many to be the favorite to land the Connecticut gig. He served as the Huskies’ offensive coordinator for two seasons prior to his time at Fordham, where he accumulated a 38-13 mark.
Ever since the Nittany Lions defeated Wisconsin 38-31 in the Big Ten Championship game, a win fueled by the Penn State offense’s second-half comeback, Moorhead’s name has floated around the college football coaching carousel.
Moorhead said the period of interest can be a little hectic at times, but “it comes with the territory.”
“I think first and foremost it’s a testament and a compliment to our program and our players that you perform well during the season and other people have interest talking to you,” Moorhead said. “There were people who were interested in speaking to me about their head coaching positions, and I was willing to listen. Ultimately made the decision that personally and professionally my family wanted to be at Penn State.”
Moorhead equated his position to that of anyone in the workforce.
“If an opportunity presents itself, at worst I think it’s best to listen,” he explained. “I’m very entrenched here, and to me, my professional success is not determined on becoming a head coach again. If it happens and it’s the right situation, fantastic. If not, that’s not going to lessen or diminish anything from my end.”
Moorhead believes his situation at Penn State is a nice one. The 43-year-old said he received an FBS head coaching offer while at Fordham, but stayed because he didn’t feel it was the right move.
“The things I said to the people at Fordham is it would take a pretty special opportunity for me to leave there,” Moorhead said of his alma mater, “and obviously Penn State was that opportunity.”
He’s capitalized on his chance to mold Penn State’s offense, too. The Nittany Lions rank 23rd in scoring offense this season (36.7 points per game) after coming in at No. 100 in 2015.
Penn State has utilized the big play like few fans in State College have ever seen. The Nittany Lions are tied with the fourth-most number of plays of 40 yards or more this season (28). In 2015, Penn State ranked 55th with only 15 such plays.
For those reasons and many more, Penn State’s two stars on offense are pleased to know Moorhead is returning.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley and sophomore running back Saquon Barkley both said they don’t pay attention to the rumors on social media, and McSorley noted that Moorhead has been direct with the players throughout the speculation.
“He talked to me about it and said not to worry about what was out there,” McSorley said. “’I’ll be back next year’ is the message he’s said to me, and really everyone else across the board.”
Barkley, who has scored 19 touchdowns in Penn State’s new system, said it isn’t his place to say whether or not Moorhead should stay or go; it’s the coordinator’s decision to do what he thinks is right.
“I would love for everyone to come back, but you’ve got to look at it as this is their life too,” the star tailback said. “But I am excited he’s coming back because look where we’re at in one year on the offensive side of the ball, and we’re real young. You can’t look too far ahead in the future, kind of just focused on USC, but in the back of your mind you’re like, ‘What if? Where can we be next year?’”
At the end of the day, Moorhead loves Penn State — for reasons on and off the field. He’s only a two-hour drive from his parents, his wife is a couple hours away from her family, and their kids are happy in State College.
Plus, Moorhead, like McSorley and Barkley, sees where the Nittany Lions can be in the future.
“We’re a program on the rise,” Moorhead said. “Great things are on the horizon.”