Mississippi State fires Joe Moorhead after 2 seasons

The Mississippi State Bulldogs fired coach Joe Moorhead on Friday, ending his two-year tenure at the school after two bowl appearances.

"In this case, it goes a little bit beyond just wins and losses, although I want to state for sure that wins and losses matter," athletic director John Cohen said Friday at a news conference. "There were some other issues at stake that we had to consider."

Moorhead arrived at Mississippi State's football building shortly before 9 a.m. local time and was informed of his dismissal, according to a source.

He took to Twitter later Friday to describe his "pretty emotional day" with a letter thanking university president Mark Keenum, Cohen, alumni, students, fans, his coaches and staff and the city of Starkville.

"Lastly and most importantly, I would like to thank our players and families," Moorhead wrote in his post. "I appreciate all the hard work and dedication you have put in over the past two seasons. I am proud of the things we were able to accomplish on the field, in the classroom and in the community. I hope I have made a positive impact on your lives and helped you grow as a student, a person and a player. I love all of you and will always just be a phone call away.

"My family and I will always cherish our time in Starkville. Part of us will always bleed Maroon and White. We wish the program nothing but the best moving forward."

Sources told ESPN that university officials were concerned about the culture and discipline in the program under Moorhead, who had a 14-12 record with the Bulldogs that culminated with a 38-28 loss to Louisville in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Monday.

Sources said school officials were not only upset by the team's performance in the Music City Bowl, but also with the situation involving starting quarterback Garrett Shrader, who missed the game with an eye injury reportedly suffered during an altercation at practice.

"Is it the [only] factor? No," Cohen said regarding how much of an impact the reports of an altercation had on his decision. "But it is a factor, one of several factors."

Moorhead was expected to be fired if Mississippi State lost to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 28, sources said. However, the Bulldogs won 21-20 after Ole Miss missed an extra point attempt, which had been moved back when Rebels wide receiver Elijah Moore drew a penalty for pretending to urinate like a dog after scoring the potential game-tying touchdown.

The win made Mississippi State bowl-eligible, and Ole Miss fired coach Matt Luke four days later.

Mississippi State's coaching change will be the 18th in FBS this season, fourth in the Southeastern Conference and third in the SEC West. All the previous openings were filled before the start of the early national signing period for high school recruits on Dec. 18.

Moorhead, 46, is the fourth Power 5 head coach who was hired prior to the 2018 season to be fired, joining Luke, Willie Taggart (FSU) and Chad Morris (Arkansas).

Cohen said associate head coach Tony Hughes will serve as the Bulldogs' interim head coach while a search is being conducted. Potential replacements include Louisiana coach Billy Napier and former Auburn coach Gene Chizik.

"It's going to have to start with discipline," Cohen said. "It's going to have to start with having a hard edge. It's going to start with helping student-athletes grow both on and off the field. It's going to start with somebody who has a passion for Mississippi State specifically."

As he discussed his search for Moorhead's replacement, Cohen said he wouldn't make Southern roots or an SEC background a prerequisite. But he also emphasized finding a coach who is the "best fit for Mississippi State University" and noted that it is a "unique place."

"We're a blue-collar, competitive, hard-nosed football team," Cohen said. "We play in the best division in the best conference in the entire country. We carry a chip on our shoulder and we have to outwork other people."

Moorhead succeeded Dan Mullen, who left for Florida after the 2017 season. Prior to his arrival at Mississippi State, Moorhead coordinated record-setting offenses at Penn State under coach James Franklin -- averaging 39.3 points and 446 yards per game over the 2016-17 seasons.

Those numbers dipped in Moorhead's two seasons at Mississippi State, with the Bulldogs averaging 28.1 points and 399 yards per game. The Bulldogs went 2-5 against AP-ranked opponents, losing the last four matchups by an average margin of 27.8 points. After leading FBS by giving up just an average of 4.13 yards per play in 2018, the defense also tumbled in 2019, giving up 6.3 yards per play (ranked 107th).

Moorhead, a Pittsburgh native, had been mentioned as a candidate for Rutgers' coaching vacancy, which ultimately went to Greg Schiano. Moorhead went 38-13 as Fordham's coach with three FCS playoff appearances before going to Penn State.

"I want to say clearly that Joe Moorhead is a terrific man and an outstanding coach," Cohen said. "I certainly wish the best of Coach Moorhead and his family in the future. He will have a bright future in coaching down the road."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.