Moorhead, 48, spent the past two seasons as the offensive playcaller and quarterbacks coach for the 10th-ranked Ducks, who lost Friday night to No. 17 Utah in the Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas. He spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons as Mississippi State coach, going 14-12 with two bowl appearances before being fired in January 2020.
He had received consideration for Power 5 head-coaching opportunities this year, sources told ESPN.
"We are committed to fielding a championship-caliber football program at The University of Akron and I'm confident we have found the right leader at the right time to make good on that promise," university president Gary L. Miller said in a statement. "I believe Zips fans have been patient long enough and I have no doubt Joe will deliver winning football consistently to our community, in our world-class stadium, and throughout the season whether at home or on the road."
Moorhead could coach in Oregon's bowl game, depending on the schedule and the future of Ducks coach Mario Cristobal, who is considering a contract extension amid interest from other schools, including Miami.
Family reasons played a significant role in Moorhead accepting the Akron job. Both he and his wife are from Pennsylvania, and their oldest son, Mason, plays football at Division III Grove City College, near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border.
"My family and I are very excited for this opportunity," Moorhead said in a statement. "We can't wait to get back to a region of the country we consider home. Our plan for the future is simple: we'll roll up our sleeves and get to work, diligently building a program of which the school, the City of Akron, and the State of Ohio can be proud. Go Zips!"
Moorhead landed his first FBS assistant-coaching job at Akron in 2004, coaching wide receivers that fall and in 2005 before serving as Zips offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2008. He replaces Tom Arth, who was fired Nov. 4 after going 3-24 at Akron, which hired athletic director Charles Guthrie in May.
Moorhead's previous coaching stops include four years as head coach at Fordham, his alma mater, where he went 38-13 with three FCS playoff appearances. He coordinated record-setting offenses at Penn State in 2016 and 2017.