STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Moorhead helped turn around a fledgling UConn and an underachieving FCS program at Fordham. Now he’s faced with another big test -- improving the Penn State Nittany Lions' struggling offense.
Moorhead was named Penn State's new offensive coordinator on Saturday, after he informed his Fordham team of his decision. Penn State quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne will still call the plays in the bowl game, but Moorhead will start evaluating personnel in preparation for next season.
“It is an unbelievable opportunity to help contribute to a program with a rich tradition and promising future,” Moorhead said in a statement. “I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work.”
Yes, he is coming from the FCS ranks, but he still has plenty of experience in the FBS, too. He’s been coaching for 18 years but spent half of that time in the FBS. He was Akron’s offensive coordinator for two seasons, then coached UConn for three years (two as coordinator) before heading to his alma mater of Fordham in 2012.
He hasn’t worked for the biggest or best programs. But he left his mark everywhere he’s been, from helping lead UConn to the 2011 Fiesta Bowl to becoming maybe the most decorated Fordham coach in modern history.
Here’s everything you should know about Penn State’s offensive coordinator:
He runs a simple, fast-paced offense. Moorhead's goal in the past was to run about 75 plays per game, which would be a dozen more than Penn State averaged in 2015. Moorhead achieves this with a no-huddle, spread-type offense that uses signals and signs to communicate.
He doesn’t utilize many formations. In fact, he mainly uses just three -- two receivers on one side and two on the other, three receivers on one side and one the other, and three receivers on one side and two on the other. His offense is focused more on concepts than memorization, and his players in the past seem to have liked it.
“I felt like it was easier to learn,” UConn wideout Isiah Moore told The Hartford Courant in 2010. “It was easier to get open and make plays.”
Added fellow UConn wideout Mike Smith: “It’s way easier, seriously.”
He turned Fordham around in just one offseason. In the eight years prior to Moorhead’s arrival, Fordham had just one winning season. And the offense was far from elite. In the 10 years before Moorhead arrived, the Rams cracked the top 20 in total offense just once.
In the four years with Moorhead? The Rams finished with four straight winning seasons and four straight top-20 offenses.
Moorhead inherited a 1-10 team and went 6-5 in 2012, the second-best turnaround in the FCS that year. In 2011, before Moorhead came on board, the offense averaged 315 yards and 13 points per game. In 2012, those numbers climbed to 435 yards and 31 points.
He's been linked to several FBS head coaching jobs. Maybe you’re unfamiliar with hin, but Moorhead's been a coaching commodity for a while. His name popped up for the Buffalo head coaching job in 2009 and for the UConn job in 2013. He’s also recently interviewed for several head coaching jobs.
Moorhead was one of Syracuse’s targets after firing Scott Shafer last month, and he interviewed for the Buffalo head coaching job in 2014 before the Bulls eventually settled on Lace Leipold. According to Sports Illustrated, he also interviewed with Central Florida relatively recently.
This is almost certainly a stepping-stone job for Moorhead. He’s never coached in the Power 5, so the next stop certainly appears to be as an FBS head coach.
He and James Franklin have followed a somewhat similar path to get here. Franklin was born in Eastern Pennsylvania, played quarterback at a Div. II college until 1994 and competed overseas for one year with the Roskilde Kings (Denmark). Moorhead was born in Western Pennsylvania, played quarterback at an FCS college until 1995 and competed overseas for one season with the Munich Cowboys (Germany).
In 2006 both became FBS offensive coordinators for the first time, although Moorhead had already been a coordinator at FCS Georgetown three years before. Franklin was the coordinator for Kansas State; Moorhead for Akron. Both coached defense for one season early in their careers but were primarily offensive minds who normally assumed quarterback and/or coordinator duties.
Both have different backgrounds. And Moorhead has coached at smaller schools, and never in the NFL like Franklin. But there are obvious similarities here.