Mississippi State fires Joe Moorhead, should target Mike Leach

Joe Moorhead-Mississippi State Bulldogs-John Cohen-Dan Mullen-Mike Leach-Billy Napier-Gene Chizik-Geoff Collins-Todd Grantham-

Mississippi State fired Joe Moorhead after he went 14-12 in two seasons at the helm. MajorWager's Brian Edwards thinks the Bulldogs should target Washington State head coach Mike Leach.

Mississippi State fired Joe Moorhead as its head football coach this morning.

Before I hit the pillows late last night, I noticed a tweet from SI’s Ross Dellenger:

It made sense. Joe Moorhead went 8-5 in 2018 with the best defense in Mississippi State football history. The Bulldogs allowed opponents to score an average of merely 13.2 points per game, and they still found a way to lose five games.

Think about that.

Then consider how Moorhead had Nick Fitzgerald under center for his senior campaign. All Fitzgerald did in Starkville for four seasons was become the school’s third all-time leader in career passing yards (6,207) and the program’s second all-time leader in career rushing yards (3,607).

Sure, Moorhead beat Ole Miss twice — and that means a lot. We know this.

But when you’ve got a guy — Willie Gay — who was suspended for eight of your 12 regular-season games, punching your starting QB in the face just days before your bowl game, that’s a problem.

When you jump out to a 14-0 lead over Louisville in that bowl game and end up losing by double digits (38-28), that’s another problem, especially when you consider how the Cardinals went 2-10 in 2018.

If Moorhead was going into Year 3 on a boiling hot seat, why prolong the inevitable?

So University President Mark Keenum and AD John Cohen moved on Moorhead, who went 14-12 during his two-year tenure.

“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,” Cohen said. “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.” 

Back to late last night when one name jumped out at me to lead Mississippi State football into the future. It was and still is Mike Leach, who has proven for two decades that he can produce a perennial Top-20 program at Power Five outposts (like Starkville) in Lubbock and Pullman.

Obviously, we were kidding about No. 4 and No. 5, but we’ll gladly pay homage to the long-time SEC defensive coordinator who never wore socks (Joe Lee Dunn) and perhaps the best offensive tackle — with undoubtedly the best nickname — in MSU football history.

Leach just signed an extension at Washington State, one that pays him $4 million per year through 2023. If Leach wants an SEC job — at the age of 58, it’s time to make that move now — I’m sure a buyout could be negotiated.

Maybe Leach is cool with his situation? Hell, it’s certainly a lot easier to win in the Pac-12 than it is to win SEC games from Starkville.

At least one Power Five AD thinks Leach is the best option, according to Dellenger.

This space proposed in the last month that Missouri and Arkansas should’ve looked to Leach and/or given LSU assistant Joe Brady an offer he couldn’t refuse. We think MSU should do the same.

There’s the young age and lack of experience with Brady, but have you seen LSU’s offense lately? The pros with Brady seem to pimpslap the cons from our view here.

Other potential candidates could include former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, UL-Lafayette head coach Billy Napier, Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins, LSU DC Dave Aranda, Florida DC Todd Grantham and SMU’s Sonny Dykes.

Grantham and Collins have both served as DC at MSU previously. Both left to take the same gig at Florida. Collins has three years of head-coaching experience, two seasons at Temple and one at Ga. Tech. It wouldn’t be the best look to take a third job in a four-year span, but these things do happen.

Grantham is one helluva DC, but he’s a hothead to say the least. My Man was just shooting birds at the Virginia sidelines on national television a couple of nights ago in Miami.

Aranda and Clemson’s Brent Venables are considered the two best DCs in college football right now, but Aranda just showed some interest — albeit briefly — in the UNLV gig a few weeks ago. If one could consider going to a lower-tier Mountain West program even if for just a minute or two, any SEC job would seemingly be in play.

The Ragin’ Cajuns had three straight losing seasons (4-8, 6-7 and 5-7) before Napier’s arrival. In his first year (2018), he went 7-7 straight up and 8-4-2 against the spread.

Napier is preparing his second team that went 10-3 SU and 9-4 ATS to face Miami (OH.) in the LendingTree Bowl on Jan. 6. UL-Lafayette’s losses came to Mississippi State (38-28) in New Orleans and to an Appalachian State squad (twice) that finished 13-1 SU and 9-5 ATS.

Dan Mullen took the MSU program to the top of college football, spending a month as the nation’s top-ranked team in 2014. When he left for Florida, Cohen struck out on his replacement by hiring Moorhead.

Ole Miss just made a splash hire by bringing Lane Kiffin back to the SEC, instantly putting pressure on Mississippi State to elevate its game. This morning’s move was the Bulldogs’ first step in doing so, but now comes the hard part.

Only time will tell if Cohen gets this one right, but it says here that his best chance is with a proven winner like Leach. If that doesn’t happen, I think you roll the dice at Brady and, if you can get him, hope he doesn’t crap out.

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