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Slimantics: A working man in a working man's program

 

New MSU football coach Joe Moorhead.

New MSU football coach Joe Moorhead. Photo by: Dispatch staff photo

 

Slim Smith

 

 

In some respects, the 32nd and 33rd football coach in Mississippi State history are much alike. 

 

Dan Mullen, since Sunday the Bulldogs' former coach, and Joe Moorhead, who was introduced Thursday as the new coach, are both Northerners; Mullen from New Hampshire and Moorhead from Pennsylvania. 

 

Both arrived in Starkville from high-profile football schools: Mullen, from Florida ant Moorhead from Penn State. Both came with reputations as offensive geniuses and while Moorhead has the head coaching experience (four years at Fordham) Mullen lacked, the open question for both is whether or not they would be able to replicate the success enjoyed at those big-name programs at Mississippi State. 

 

But there are some notable differences between the two as well. Mullen answered that question affirmatively, winning 69 games and raising MSU's national profile. 

 

For Moorhead, that challenge is yet to be addressed. He won't coach his first game until Sept. 1. 

 

At that point, Moorhead, like all coaches everywhere will be measured on the simplest of terms: Wins and losses. 

 

Until then, Bulldog fans will rely on impressions and Joe Moorhead is off to a great start in that regard, just two days after arriving in Starkville. 

 

During Thursday's introductory press conference, the 300 or so fans who stood in the back of the room to get their first extended look at their new coach, probably noticed another difference between Moorhead and Mullen. 

 

While there was no lack of enthusiasm for Mullen when he arrived here in December 2008, Moorhead seemed to develop an easy, instant rapport with fans that always seemed like work to Mullen, for whom fan relations was like putting together a practice schedule, a task dutifully performed but somehow unnatural. 

 

Call it a difference in personality. What seemed to be a task for Mullen seems to come easily for Moorhead. 

 

Athletic Director John Cohen described Moorhead as a blue-collar worker with a professor's intellect - a smart guy whose intelligence is not intimidating or, worse, condescending, someone who uses simple terms to describe complex thoughts. 

 

The son of a Pittsburgh steel worker who worked second jobs bar-tending or sweeping floors in order to allow his wife to be a stay-at-home mom to Joe and his two siblings, Moorhead is relatable to MSU, which is about as a blue-collar program and fan base as you will find in the Southeastern Conference. 

 

The fit was obvious Thursday. 

 

Moorhead had the fans eating out of his hand, not only because of his impressive credentials and the detail and passion that was clear throughout his comments Thursday, but because of how he framed those thoughts. 

 

A few examples: 

 

On the urgency he faces in putting together a coaching staff and recruiting players: 

 

"It's like of like drinking water of fire hose. It's a tough deal, but we'll get it done." 

 

On the challenge of hiring a staff quickly: 

 

"I could make 10 phone calls and have the staffed filled up by the end of this press conference. But I want to measure twice and cut once." 

 

On the importance of performance: 

 

"You don't get what you wish for. You get what you work for." 

 

On goals: 

 

"Nobody rises to low expectations." 

 

On translating effort into success: 

 

"It's not about trying hard. Washing machines try hard." 

 

On the important of linemen. 

 

"Great teams are dictated by the offensive and defensive line. Otherwise you might as well go play flag football." 

 

On the fans role in the program: 

 

"This is a game because of the fans. We're going to do as much as we can to have them around and have them be a part of the fabric of our team. You go out there on game day and they are what makes us tick." 

 

On his first impression of MSU fans. 

 

"I probably signed 500 cowbells, shook a bunch of hands. I even had my picture taken with a dog, so that's unique." 

 

Until the score-keeping begins and favor is subject to wins and losses, MSU fans are thrilled with their new coach. 

 

By all indications, Moorhead is a working man for a working man's football program. 

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com. 

 

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

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