December 2, 2017 4:35:20 PM
STARKVILLE -- In the process of finding Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State Director of Athletics John Cohen heard something he will remember for the rest of his life.
Cohen was talking to the man who used to be Moorhead's boss -- Penn State head coach James Franklin -- and Cohen wanted Franklin to address a concern. Moorhead's track record for offense was well established, most recently as Franklin's offensive coordinator. Cohen wanted to know about defense.
"He said, 'John, this guy is a ball coach.' He said, 'This guy can coach any position on the field; we can put him on the defensive side of the ball at Penn State and we wouldn't miss a beat,'" Cohen said. "That's pretty powerful stuff."
It was just the beginning.
Over time, Cohen would find himself more and more sold on the Moorhead vision to an extent that surprised even Moorhead himself. Moorhead said he was expecting their second interview to last longer than it did; clearly, Cohen was already sold, given he offered Moorhead the job while face-to-face for the second interview. Cohen shared more on how Moorhead won the job after Moorhead's introductory press conference Thursday morning.
One of the biggest parts of it is recruiting. The biggest potential drawback to the Moorhead hire is his lack of experience in the Southeast, with his stints as an assistant at Akron and Georgetown being the closest he has come to coaching or living in the Southeast. Moorhead put those concerns to rest with ease.
"Without even pausing, he said, 'Look, these are 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids,'" Cohen said. "'If you show them you care about them, you tell them you have a plan for them, you tell them they're going to excel academically, we're going to make you a better person, a better player and if your dream is to get to the next level, we'll help you with that dream,' connecting with somebody on those things is universal. It doesn't matter if they're from Mississippi or Pennsylvania. Those kids want the same things.
"The way he answered that question, I believed it, because I've seen it done by others. Our current basketball coach, Ben Howland, came from California and immediately had success recruiting in the state of Mississippi. Because he connected with them, and I'm sure Joe Moorhead is going to connect with them as well."
Not only did Cohen want someone to connect with recruits and players, he wanted someone that can do it in a certain way. Cohen said he was looking for, "a positive leader of men, and everyone we talked to kept saying what an incredible, positive figure this man has been for young men from all over the country."
Cohen got that confirmation when he saw Moorhead address the team on Thursday, in what he called the best first team meeting he has been around in his 25 years in college athletics.
It's those moments that give Cohen assurance in hiring an offensive coordinator as opposed a sitting head coach -- not that he was concerned about it in the first place.
"Our women's basketball coach (Vic Schaeffer) was a recruiting coordinator and assistant coach at Texas A&M; how did that work out? Dan Mullen was an offensive coordinator at Florida, how did that work out?" Cohen said. "Our baseball coach (Andy Cannizaro) was a recruiting coordinator and an assistant coach.
"We're not looking for a coordinator, we're not looking for a head coach, we're looking for the best fit for Mississippi State University, and if you're looking for the best fit, you can't exclude anybody, you can't take anybody off the table."
Cohen followed through and left no stone unturned. He said discussed the job with 14 candidates and interviewed eight of them face-to-face, all after two months of talking to as many as 120 people about the job to gather information.
Through it all, Moorhead won him over.
Moorhead makes a hire
MSU confirmed Friday that Moorhead's first staff hire is one from the staff he just left. Penn State's running backs coach and special teams coordinator, Charles Huff, will follow Moorhead to MSU to serve as his assistant head coach, run game coordinator and running backs coach.
"Charles is a tremendous fit for our program," Moorhead said in the statement. "He is intelligent and has an incredible work ethic. He does an outstanding job at teaching fundamentals, and he is a phenomenal recruiter. He is someone our players will really embrace."
Huff may be most known of late as the position coach of Heisman candidate Penn State running back Saquon Barkley -- he of 1,134 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns this season -- but his recruiting prowess is among the best. 247Sports has Huff ranked as the fourth-best recruiter in the nation.
"I am excited to be here and ready to get to work," Huff said in the statement. "I look forward to getting to know our players as people and can't wait to get on the field with them. I am also excited to be a part of the Starkville community. It's very clear that this is a special place, a tight-knit community that has been very successful. With Joe's leadership and the team we have coming back, we have a bright future ahead of us."
Huff has experience both in the South and the Southeastern Conference. Huff began his career with three seasons at Tennessee State and coached the 2011 season as Vanderbilt's offensive quality control coach.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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