When Bruce Feldman reported on Tuesday that Mississippi State agreed to a new deal with Joe Moorhead, it was met with some confusion.
“Wait … why now?”
Many pointed to Moorhead not living up to high expectations in his first season and questioned why MSU would give him a new contract, complete with a raise and an extension. It’s a fair question to ask because on the surface, most SEC teams don’t operate that way.
Well, most teams aren’t Mississippi State.
Plenty of Bulldog fans read a little closer and saw that the new 4-year deal just extended Moorhead by another year, meaning his new deal runs through 2022 instead of 2021. And while Moorhead got a raise to $3.2 million annually, he’ll still be paid less than what 10 SEC coaches made last year (Moorhead ranked No. 13 in the SEC at $2.6 million last year).
As plenty of people have already pointed out, Mississippi state law only allows for a maximum of 4-year contracts. That means basically at the end of every season, MSU has to add an additional year on to a deal. If not, that coach’s contract would theoretically run out before the incoming recruiting class completes its 4 years. So by not extending a coach at season’s end, it could lead some questions about their future. Should it? No, but that’s the way things work in the recruiting world these days.
You know who didn’t get another year added to his deal who also coaches in the Magnolia State? Matt Luke.
You know who makes $3.15 million annually on his current deal and not $3.2 million? Matt Luke.
Call me crazy, but I do think that bowl ban-less Ole Miss was at least part of the motivation for both Moorhead and MSU with this new deal. If Moorhead getting a raise so that he can now make slightly more than Luke was a coincidence, I’d be surprised.
This time of year, one sees a headline like that and it presents a look of stability. As I wrote after MSU’s Egg Bowl blowout, Moorhead knows that now is an important time to take the upper hand in this rivalry. Based on how animated he was after that game, one can assume that he’s not afraid to show that publicly, too.
As Moorhead stated before he ever coached a game, his goal is always to be the best Power 5 team in the state. Yes, that was a dig at Ole Miss, and yes, none of that has changed.
Part of that obviously means winning what’s become a talent-rich state on the recruiting trail. Two weeks prior to the Moorhead extension announcement, MSU lost verbal commitments from a pair of recruits who rank among the top 10 in Mississippi in the 2020 class. Four-star athlete Lideatrick Griffin and 3-star receiver Alex Adams de-committed from MSU on the same day.
Could that have had something to do with the timing of this? It’s certainly possible, though I doubt the verbal commitments of a couple 17-year-olds was make-or-break for MSU deciding that now was the time to extend Moorhead.
But with a recruiting dead period a few weeks away and official visits already underway, perhaps this made sense from a timing standpoint. Dabo Swinney and Tom Herman both agreed to new contracts in the last few weeks. At the root of all of them could be to hit these critical few months on the recruiting trail — this is when the majority of commitments happen now — with as much momentum as possible.
And for everyone wondering why MSU would present the message that 8 wins was a raise-worthy accomplishment, remember this. Even though Moorhead and MSU fans alike had bigger things in mind for 2018, he still tied for the highest first-year win total in program history. The last coach to win that many games in Year 1 at MSU was Allyn McKeen in 1939.
On the flip side, if there’s any outside concern that Moorhead will think 8 wins is good enough on a yearly basis, they obviously have never heard him speak about his short- or long-term goals. Everyone knows about him asking MSU players to learn their ring sizes upon his arrival in Starkville, and some might recall when he pointed out MSU’s 1 winning season in conference play in the 21st century. In other words, the last person you have to worry about complacency with is Moorhead.
So if you looked at the new contract and thought, “what is Mississippi State doing?” fear not.
There’s a plan here.