STARKVILLE — Joe Moorhead ascended to the title of offensive coordinator for the first time in 2003 at Georgetown; since then, his climb up the coaching ranks has taken him to a coordinator or head coaching role at five other schools, most recently the head coach job at Mississippi State.
All of it has given him extensive experience in installing his trademark offense to a new group of players — a process he has down to an exact science.
As MSU players get their hands on the Moorhead offense in winter meetings and spring practice, they’ll work their way through a learning process carefully manicured by Moorhead. It’s one he designed to specifically fit how players best learn an offense like his, one in which plays change postsnap thus one play call can mean any number of outcomes.
“He’s very methodical with it,” Michael Nebrich told The Dispatch. Nebrich played quarterback for Moorhead for one year at UConn and three at Fordham. “He knows the offense is not overly complicated.”
Nebrich said Moorhead broke down the installation into 10 chapters in his tenure as Fordham’s head coach, installing roughly 10 plays each time, giving each install a few days so players can do nothing but rep the given set of plays repeatedly. The methodology behind it is in that intense repetition, each player can rep each possible outcome of each given play numerous times, to the point that they feel comfortable with whatever postsnap read is made that ultimately decides where the ball goes.
“He wants to make sure the kids know every single play, every nuance of play without overloading them,” Nebrich said. “He installs in a way that kids can understand in a slow intake, but also at a high capacity of knowledge that goes into each play.
“One run play can have five or six options that can go into it. He relies on a lot of action, a lot of on-field learning, so he’ll spend four or five hours in the classroom then go out on a practice field and probably run that one play 20 times. He’s a believer of learning things on the fly.”
They may be learning on the fly, but they won’t be going in blind.
NCAA rules for offseason student-athletes allow them up to eight hours of required activities for a certain number of weeks in between January and June. Teams primarily use that time for their conditioning and spring practice schedules, but up to two hours per week can be used on film review and general meeting time. Moorhead had every intention of using that meeting time to help install his offense in the months before spring practice begins on March 20.
Moorhead said the goal of that time would be to, “make sure their first meeting in spring ball isn’t the first time they’re hearing some of the terminology.” Nebrich think that time will prove to be crucial.
“Him getting there before the season is over is so huge for Mississippi State because he can get started and right when they get back from break, he can get the install going and then they have two or three months before spring practice to get on the field and reinstall everything,” Nebrich said. “The timing couldn’t have worked out better for Mississippi State.”
Neither could the supporting cast.
Moorhead won’t be alone in installing his offense; whether purposefully or not, Moorhead has hired assistants well-versed in his offense by hiring people that have worked or played in different versions of it. Running backs coach and run game coordinator Charles Huff worked with Moorhead the last two seasons; quarterbacks coach and pass game coordinator Andrew Breiner was an offensive coordinator for Moorhead at Fordham; offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Luke Getsy won a conference championship playing for Moorhead at Akron.
As Huff sees it, all three of them have different experiences with the Moorhead offense as it has evolved; they plan on combining those experiences to teach the best version of it yet.
“It’s a very interesting dynamic. There’s three versions of the offense that are out there; now we get a chance to mesh it into the fourth version,” Huff said. “We get a chance to take all the good things Joe did with Luke at Akron, all the good things Andrew did with Joe at Fordham and the things we did at Penn State and bring them together.
“The other thing is, we have trouble-shooting everywhere. What did defenses do to stop you at Akron, what did they do to stop you at Fordham, what did they do to stop you at Penn State? We can put those together and trouble-shoot those ideas on the front end.”
All of those ideas will be incorporated into the new blend of the Moorhead offense that they come together to install over the winter and spring. When Getsy goes about it with his wide receivers, he can put those new ideas in at the foundation, since that’s where he’s starting.
“We’re going back to ground zero,” Getsy said. “We’re building from the foundation up, cleaning things up, getting things exactly the way Coach Moorhead wants them so we’re all seeing it the exact same way.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson