Source: Miss. St. fires Moorhead after 2 seasons
10:19 AM ET
  • Adam RittenbergESPN Senior Writer

    • College football reporter.
    • Joined in 2008.
    • Graduate of Northwestern University.

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

“In consultation with President Mark Keenum and after a thorough review and evaluation of all aspects of our football program, I have decided that a change in leadership is in the best interest of our team and university,” athletic director John Cohen said in a statement. “I want to thank Coach Moorhead for the hard work he has done with our football program. I wish Joe and his family success in the future.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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