STARKVILLE, Miss. — New Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead made it clear Thursday that while he appreciated the success of his predecessor, Dan Mullen, he wasn’t there to emulate it.
Instead, the former Penn State offensive coordinator said he was there to build upon it and contend for SEC championships.
“We’re not here to maintain,” he told reporters and fans gathered at the football facility during his introductory press conference Thursday morning. “We are here to elevate.”
Moorhead, who will make $2.6 million in 2018 and then an additional $100,000 per year through 2022, said he will not return to coach Penn State during its bowl game, nor will he coach Mississippi State’s squad during bowl practice. Rather, he’ll spend the time evaluating his new program as he prepares for his first return to head coaching since leading Fordham from 2012-15.
At Penn State, Moorhead, 44, helped set school records for total offense (6,056 yards) and passing yards (3,650) last season. He took an offense that ranked 105th nationally in yards in 2015 and improved it to 49th in 2016. It’s currently 28th this season.
A top priority for the Pittsburgh native will be building both a coaching staff and assembling the Bulldogs’ 2019 recruiting class. Penn State assistant coach Charles Huff is poised to join Moorhead as his co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach, a source told ESPN’s Tom Van Haaren.
Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen said the school will increase the salary pool for assistants.
“The wheels are in motion with that,” Moorhead said of putting together a staff.
Moorhead, who was joined by his wife and three children, described the process of becoming head coach as a whirlwind. He was hired roughly 48 hours after Mullen, who compiled a 69-46 record in nine seasons at Mississippi State, accepted the head coaching job at Florida.
The similarities between Moorhead and Mullen — a sitting offensive coordinator with Northeast ties — didn’t go unnoticed during the hiring process.
Cohen said he spoke to more than 100 industry sources before offering the job to Moorhead.
“It was amazing how often the name Joe Moorhead came up in conversations,” he said.
Moorhead arrived in town Wednesday and has been glad-handing fans since. There was even time for a photo shoot with Mississippi State’s bulldog mascot, Bully.
“It’s been like drinking water out of a firehose,” Moorhead said.
When he begins next season, he’ll have the benefit of nearly 20 returning starters, including star quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who sat in attendance Thursday.
“There’s no greater challenge than the Southeastern Conference and the SEC West,” Moorhead said. “That’s why I’m here.”