Joe Moorhead, wearing a gray suit and Mississippi State tie, walked up to a maroon podium and rang a cowbell with a smile.
Seconds later, the former Penn State offensive coordinator was formally introduced as the Bulldogs’ head coach on Thursday morning. Moorhead — who takes over for Dan Mullen, who departed on Sunday for Florida — inked a four-year deal worth an average of $2.7 million per year.
Moorhead took the podium and started with an opening statement. But before getting into his coaching philosophy and plans for Mississippi State football, he thanked all the head coaches he ever worked for, especially Penn State’s James Franklin.
“I’ll be forever indebted to Coach Franklin,” Moorhead said. “Two years ago, he was in need of an answer at the offensive coordinator position. He had the vision and foresight to roll the dice and take a chance on a 44-year-old head coach of a I-AA school who needed to come in and help a Big Ten offense.”
And that’s what he did. Moorhead’s scheme propelled Penn State’s offense to new heights — averaging 37.3 and 41.7 points per game in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and winning last year’s Big Ten title.
That is what primarily intrigued Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen, who was in talks with Moorhead’s agent before the job even opened up. Then, since Mullen’s departure on Sunday, Moorhead interviewed face-to-face twice, leaving a positive impression.
Still, Cohen had one concern. And so he talked to Franklin.
“I know this guy has an incredible grasp for offensive football, maybe more so than anyone in college football,” Cohen said, recalling a conversation with Franklin. “But I need to ask you this: ‘How about defensive football?’ And I’ll never forget for the rest of my life what Coach Franklin said. He said, ‘John, this guy is a ball coach. This guy can coach any position on the field. We could put him on the defensive side of the ball at Penn State, and we wouldn’t miss a beat.’ Pretty powerful stuff.”
Added Mississippi State president Dr. Mark E. Keenum: “One word that kept coming up time and time again which was most impressive was that Joe Moorhead is a man of integrity. And that means a great deal.”