Reports have Moorhead leaving Penn State for Mississippi State job

ASSOCIATED PRESS Joe Moorhead, left, energized James Franklin’s offense since his arrival before last season at Penn State.

Joe Moorhead was the head coach at Fordham, an FCS program, two years ago, then came to Penn State as offensive coordinator and worked wonders in turning one of the nation’s worst offenses into one of the best.

He’s now getting rewarded. Big time.

Moorhead has been selected the new head coach at Mississippi State, according to published reports Tuesday night. College football insider Brett McMurphy (formerly of ESPN before its layoffs) first broke the news. The Associated Press and USA Today also reported the news.

There was no confirmation from Moorhead, Mississippi State or Penn State late Tuesday night. If indeed Moorhead is the choice, it would seem doubtful that he would remain with the Nittany Lions during bowl season or be calling the plays in the bowl game.

Moorhead, 44, will succeed Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Mullen was head coach there for nine years but left a few days ago to take over at Florida.

Moorhead will be in line for a huge payday at Mississippi State. Mullen earned $4.5 million per year there, making him the 14th-highest paid coach in the country, according to figures researched by USA Today.

Moorhead’s salary at PSU was unknown but believed to be in the $1 million per year range, the going rate for prominent coordinators at major programs. He had been offensive coordinator at UConn before getting his first head coaching opportunity at Fordham, his alma mater, in 2012.

Moorhead became a prominent name in college football last season when he installed a new run-pass option offense that helped PSU put up big numbers, win the Big Ten and play a thrilling Rose Bowl (a 52-49 loss to USC).

The Lions ranked 110th and 101st in the country in scoring offense the two seasons prior to Moorhead’s arrival. He took over as offensive coordinator when James Franklin fired John Donovan, and in Moorhead’s two years, PSU ranked 21st in scoring last season and seventh this year at 41.6 points per game.

Late last season, it became clear that Moorhead’s name would start to surface for potential head coaching jobs. He reportedly interviewed for the opening at Purdue a year ago.

Moorhead, who has deep Pittsburgh roots, was asked during Rose Bowl preparation last year what it might take for him to leave PSU for a head coaching job.

“If an opportunity presents itself, at worst I think it’s best to listen,” he said then. “Once again, you utilize the criteria, personal and professional.

“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.”

Leaving for Mississippi State and its lucrative salary likely would have been a no-brainer for Moorhead, even though he has no ties to that region. However, there’s no guarantee of success there.

The Bulldogs play in an extremely difficult division, the SEC West, which also includes Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Arkansas.

Mississippi State held its own in the division under Mullen, who went 69-46 overall and 33-39 in the SEC during his tenure. Still, the division is so difficult that MSU had a winning record in the SEC West just once (6-2 with QB Dak Prescott in 2014), while finishing .500 (4-4) four other times, including this season.

Franklin has said over the years that he keeps a list of names he would consider hiring as coaches should some of his personnel leave. Now Franklin will be looking to replace arguably the one coach who was as responsible for PSU’s success the past two years as any single person.

College football insider Bruce Feldman of FOX tweeted Tuesday to keep an eye out for current Fordham head coach Andrew Breiner, a Moorhead protege who played at Lock Haven.

All-conference picks

The Big Ten released defense and special teams all-conference honors Tuesday.

Safety Marcus Allen was selected first-team all-Big Ten by the coaches and to the second team by the media. He’s the first PSU safety to earn all-conference honors since Anthony Scirrotto in 2008.

Saquon Barkley was named first-team all-conference return specialist. The award was added in 2015, and Barkley, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, is the first PSU player to receive it.

Punter Blake Gillikin was named to the second team by the coaches and media.

Other Lions recognized:

• CB Amani Oruwariye (second team coaches and media)

• LB Jason Cabinda (second team coaches, honorable mention media)

• DE Shareef Miller (third team media, honorable mention coaches)

• Honorable mention players were: CB Grant Haley (coaches and media), CB Christian Campbell (coaches and media), DT Curtis Cothran (coaches), DT Parker Cothren (media) and S Troy Apke (media)

• Punt returner DeAndre Thompkins was named to the second team by the coaches and third team by the media.

• LB Brandon Smith was PSU’s sportsmanship selection