SEC Media Days: Joe Moorhead is backing off his bravado quickly
HOOVER, Ala. — It remains to be seen if Joe Moorhead can successfully manage an SEC football program. For now, he’s just trying to manage expectations.
The Mississippi State coach did his best to do that during his visit to SEC Media Days. Will it work? Probably not, but Moorhead gave it his best.
The same coach that asked his players if they knew their ring sizes shortly after he was hired following the 2017 season wasn’t talking about championship hardware Wednesday. As has been his mantra since finishing 8-5 and 4-4 in the SEC last season, Moorhead tried to temper expectations. Subtlety was not his strong suit.
Moorhead made sure to mention that his team had lost plenty of “personality and production” from last year’s team. Then, Moorhead was asked about being more comfortable leading an SEC program in his second year.
“I am not saying I’m changing what our goals are, but the approach of coming off the plane (with) guns blazing, talking about ring sizes and Heisman Trophies — and the expectation level of the team entering the season, prior to me even getting there … without knowing the kind of history and the context of how difficult it is to win in this league,” Moorhead said.
That sounds like a man who got a huge dose of reality last season. Unlike what he might have thought when he accepted the Mississippi State job, Moorhead seemed to realize he might have bitten off a bit more than he could chew when he left Penn State as the Nittany Lions offensive coordinator.
Moorhead’s first season was actually respectable. However, raising expectations as he did only left him as an easy target, especially since he replaced one of the most successful coaches in State’s history, Dan Mullen. As for historical context, Moorhead was quick to provide some of that as well — just in case some Bulldog fans were expecting an Alabama-type dynasty anytime soon.
Moorhead made sure that everyone in earshot knew that Mississippi State had only had two 10-win seasons in school history and just two championship appearances — one in 1998 and one before World War II. Apparently, Moorhead didn’t know those very public facts when he accepted the Mississippi State job.
“I think what I may have done is elevated the expectation level to a point where nothing that we did short of a championship was going to make people happy,” he said. “And I wouldn’t have changed the goals, but I probably would have kept it a little bit more in house. I think that was on me, then it became, well, you’re underachieving”
Moorhead finished the long response by defending Mississippi State’s season last year, which he never would have had to do had he just quietly shown up on campus.
“Where we stood here last year, we were picked to finish third in the conference, and we finished fourth. If Texas A&M hadn’t beat LSU, we would have been third. We were picked to finish 18th in the AP Poll, and our College Football Playoff ranking was 16. ESPN puts out the over/under stuff, and it was 8 1/2 (wins) and we had 8.”
So Moorehead wants everyone to know that he only slightly underachieved in his first season. His performance wasn’t nearly as awful as his expectations would lead you to believe.
“I think me doing some of those things early on may not have been fair to the guys because anything we did may not have been good enough,” Moorhead said. “That’s one thing that I learned, that I probably should have researched a little more into our team who we were and what we’re capable of doing from a historical context before I started talking about ring sizes and other things like that.”
You think? Moorhead might be able to reshape expectations in Starkville to a much more realistic standard. He’s trying his best. However, there’s only one thing that will make Bulldogs fans happy and that’s living up to the absurdly high mark set by Mullen. Moorehead can’t change that mindset with words and history would suggest he can’t have the same success as Mullen did.
Moorhead isn’t solely to blame for the unrealistic expectations at Mississippi State. Every SEC school’s fan base shares the same sentiment. An eight or nine-win season should always be considered a success as long as Mississippi State is in the SEC West. Moorehead seems to recognize that. It remains to be seen if his fan base will follow suit.