Joe Moorhead has already answered arguably the biggest question about how he'd fare in Starkville
It was, to a certain extent, a fair question to ask about Joe Moorhead when he was hired at Mississippi State just over a year ago.
“How was this Yankee going to come in and recruit in the South?”
Many wondered that about Dan Mullen when he first took over in Starkville, though Mullen had at least served as an offensive coordinator at Florida before taking the job. Moorhead’s closest job to the South was … Akron?
Last year’s Early Signing Period really wasn’t a fair measuring stick for judging his acclimation. After all, a lot of the recruits committed to Mullen’s staff and while Moorhead was still tasked with keeping them committed, one could argue that there was only so much that could be done in such a short period of time.
If you waited until Moorhead’s first full cycle to judge him as a recruiter — that probably made the most sense — then you should have nothing but surpassed expectations just a couple days before the Early Signing Period.
Moorhead boasts the nation’s No. 17 class. Not only is Moorhead ranked ahead of Ole Miss, but he’s actually only 3 spots behind his old stomping grounds, Penn State. Keep in mind that MSU’s top-ranked class during the Mullen era was No. 18.
Color me impressed.
And it’s not just the raw rankings numbers that stand out with Moorhead’s first full cycle at MSU. It’s the identity of his class.
Only one verbal pledge in MSU’s class is from north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Ironically enough, it’s former Michigan tailback Kareem Walker, who was actually the top-ranked running back in the 2016 class when he committed to the Wolverines 3 years ago.
All of Moorhead’s top-4 rated verbal pledges are from Mississippi. Nearly half of the 23 verbal pledges hail (pun intended) from the Magnolia State.
With Ole Miss facing its first full recruiting cycle without sanctions — Matt Luke references “the cloud no longer hovering over the program” basically every time he speaks about his 2019 class — that’s significant.
Not only did Moorhead get the upper hand on the field, but he’s also been out-recruiting Ole Miss. Eight of the top 25 recruits in state are committed to MSU compared to 6 for Ole Miss. That number can and probably will change in the next couple days/months. No feather in Moorhead’s cap would be bigger than if he could get a flip from No. 2 Mississippi recruit and longtime Ole Miss commit Jerrion Ealy, who took a visit to Starkville last weekend.
Even if the numbers stay the same or adjust slightly, this cycle proved that Moorhead isn’t backing down from any of the challenges that were ahead of him as an outsider.
He’s also done an exceptional job of building the right staff around him to help in that endeavor. On Thursday morning, MSU announced that Mullen’s ace recruiter Tony Hughes was coming back to Starkville.
OFFICIAL: Welcome back to #StarkVegas, Coach Tony Hughes!
— Mississippi State Football (@HailStateFB) December 12, 2018
That was shortly after MSU learned that another key recruiter, Mark Hudspeth, was taking the head coaching gig at Austin Peay. And what did Moorhead do? He calmly went out and brought back the coach who was instrumental in landing the likes of Jeffery Simmons, Leo Lewis, Mark McLaurin and Jamal Peters.
Those were the players who helped raise the standard at MSU. They were the ones who not only were highly-touted recruits who committed to play at MSU, but they took on integral roles in leading the program to what looks like will be consecutive Top 25 finishes. That hasn’t happened in the 21st century in Starkville. In fact, MSU had consecutive Top 25 finishes once since the end of World War II.
Moorhead was brought to MSU to take the baton that Mullen passed off after spending nearly a decade gaining ground from the back of the pack. The goal for Moorhead wasn’t simply to maintain Mullen’s pace. The guy literally got off the plane in Starkville by asking players if they knew their ring size.
He never shared the concern that MSU fans did that his adjustment to the South would result in him fading back on the pace that Mullen worked so hard to set. Moorhead’s early recruiting success should have, at the very least, quieted some of that concern.
Time will tell if he lives up to his own sky-high expectations in Starkville. As he’d be the first to point out, it’s still a program with just one winning season in SEC play in the 21st century. That’s not a championship-level program. Not yet. It’s Moorhead’s job to turn that around. That starts on the recruiting trail.
After a year on the job and a full recruiting cycle all but under his belt, one thing seems pretty clear.
Moorhead hit the ground running.