STARKVILLE • Mississippi State seemed content to move forward with Joe Moorhead as its head coach following a 21-20 victory over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl that extended the school’s bowl streak to 10.
But several events in the weeks leading up to the Music City Bowl, and the subsequent 38-28 loss to Louisville on Monday, led MSU athletic director John Cohen to relieve Moorhead of his coaching duties on Friday morning.
“I felt like at the time that we had built some momentum and I was so excited about that momentum continuing forward for the next 30 days through bowl prep,” Cohen said. “We were evaluating that whole time and some incidents came up that kind of altered our course.”
The decision wasn’t easy for Cohen, who hired Moorhead in November 2017 after two successful seasons as Penn State’s offensive coordinator. It was Cohen’s second major coaching hire in a little over a year on the job as the Bulldogs’ new athletic director.
“Everything is difficult about this,” Cohen said. “We’re altering somebody’s career, somebody that I care about that I think is a great man with a great family. It’s difficult, there’s no question about that.
“But in the end it comes down to what’s right for our institution, student-athletes, staff and fans. If you isolate it in that direction, you feel good about the decision.”
Cohen held a press conference at noon on Friday and said that the school would not be using a search committee to find the Bulldogs’ next coach. Cohen said he would use a search firm to help get background information on potential candidates “but the search firm will have no bearing on candidates or decisions to be made.”
Cohen and university president Mark Keenum will ultimately decide who is hired as Moorhead’s successor.
“John Cohen will be working to find a new head football coach who will demonstrably reflect our shared expectations for a consistently competitive football team that displays discipline, pride, and preparation in all facets of the program,” Keenum said.
Early candidates considered on State’s short list for the job include Louisiana head coach Billy Napier, Austin Peay head coach Mark Hudspeth, New England Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge, Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and UAB head coach Bill Clark.
“As you can imagine, a search of this magnitude is going to generate a ton of interest and it’s going to generate rumors,” Cohen said. “I ask that you take what you hear with a grain of salt unless you hear it from me.”
Cohen moved quickly in his previous football hire, bringing Moorhead in two days after Dan Mullen departed for Florida.
“I don’t want to restrict us with a timeline,” Cohen said. “We’re going to go find the right coach. We’re going to find the right fit. It could happen quickly or it could take a good bit of time. We’ve started on that process already and we’re going to make sure we do the right thing.”