Examining who could replace Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State
Mississippi State fired coach Joe Moorhead on Friday. Moorhead’s tenure in Starkville ended after just two years at the helm, as the Bulldogs went 14-12 with two bowl defeats since 2018. Moorhead came to Starkville highly regarded for his work on offense. However, Mississippi State’s offense averaged only 23.3 points a game in SEC play for 2019. While this job has good facilities and fan support, it’s also the toughest to win at in the SEC West.
Who could replace Moorhead at Mississippi State? Here are 12 names to watch in the coaching search:
12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State
Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator, LSU
Aranda makes $2.5 million a year as LSU’s defensive coordinator, so it would take a hefty offer or an intriguing job to lure him away from Baton Rouge. However, his name popped up in the UNLV coaching search, so perhaps Aranda could be more open to looking at head-coaching gigs. Aranda has worked as a defensive coordinator at Hawaii (2010-11), Utah State (2012), Wisconsin (2013-15) and LSU (2016). The Tigers have ranked among the nation’s best on defense throughout Aranda’s watch.
Gene Chizik, Former Auburn Head Coach
Second acts by Les Miles (Kansas) and Mack Brown (North Carolina) have gone well so far. Could Mississippi State follow that trend by looking at Chizik? He went 33-19 with a national championship (2010) at Auburn and is 38-38 overall as a head coach at the FBS level. Chizik currently works as an analyst for SEC Network.
Bill Clark, Head Coach, UAB
Clark isn’t in any hurry to leave UAB, but Mississippi State should at least inquire. The Alabama native coached extensively in the state’s high school ranks before landing a job on South Alabama’s staff in 2008. After five years with the Jaguars, Clark took over at Jacksonville State prior to the 2013 campaign. The Gamecocks went 11-4 with two playoff victories in his only season at the helm. Clark took over as UAB’s head coach in 2014 and finished 6-6 in his debut. However, the coaching staff never had a chance to build on that momentum, as the program was disbanded for two years (2015-16). The Blazers returned to the gridiron in 2017 and have made three consecutive bowl games, won Conference USA’s title game in 2018 and claimed the West Division title in ’19.
Tony Elliott, Offensive Coordinator, Clemson
Elliott has worked as an assistant at Clemson since 2011 and is regarded for his work on offense and on the recruiting trail. After coaching running backs from 2011-14, Elliott took over the play-calling duties when Chad Morris left for SMU prior to the 2015 campaign. Under Elliott’s watch, Clemson has not ranked lower than third in the ACC in scoring and led the conference twice (2018-19). Elliott does not have any previous experience as a head coach.
Luke Fickell, Head Coach, Cincinnati
Complete longshot. Fickell is a native of Ohio and has spent his entire coaching career in the Buckeye State. Fickell went 4-8 in his debut at Cincinnati in 2017 but is 22-5 over the last two years. He also went 6-7 as Ohio State’s interim coach in 2011. Fickell is a rising star in the coaching ranks but it’s unlikely Mississippi State can pull him away from Cincinnati.
Willie Fritz, Head Coach, Tulane
All signs point to Fritz staying at Tulane for 2020 and beyond. However, like UAB’s Bill Clark, Mississippi State has to at least inquire about his interest. The Kansas native has been a winner at every stop during his coaching career. He went 97-47 at Central Missouri from 1997-09, 40-15 at Sam Houston State (2010-13), 17-7 at Georgia Southern from 2014-15) and is 22-27 through four years at Tulane. The Green Wave won nine games in Fritz’s first two seasons but have improved that total to 13 over the last two. Additionally, Tulane has made back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history.
Todd Grantham, Defensive Coordinator, Florida
Grantham has extensive experience as a defensive assistant at a variety of locations. He’s coached as an assistant at Virginia Tech (1990-95), Michigan State (1996-98), Georgia (2010-13), Louisville (2014-16), Mississippi State (2017) and Florida at the collegiate level. Grantham also spent time as a NFL assistant with the Colts (1999-01), Texans (2002-04), Browns (2005-07) and Cowboys (2008-09). He does not have any previous experience as a head coach.
Will Hall, Offensive Coordinator, Tulane
Hall is a dark horse name to watch, but he’s a rising star at the FBS level. The Mississippi native moved quickly through the coaching ranks when he took over as West Alabama’s head coach in 2011. The Tigers went 25-11 and made two playoff trips at the Division II level from 2011-13. Hall was hired at West Georgia in 2014 and proceeded to go 31-9 over the next three years. He landed on Louisiana’s coaching staff in 2017 and spent one season with the Ragin’ Cajuns before landing on Mike Norvell’s staff at Memphis. Hall was hired as Tulane’s offensive coordinator after one season with the Tigers and brought significant improvement to the Green Wave attack. After averaging just 26.8 points a game in 2018, Tulane increased that total to 33.3 in ’19.
Will Healy, Head Coach, Charlotte
Healy’s stock is on the rise after leading Austin Peay to significant improvement over three years and guiding Charlotte to a bowl game in his first season at the helm. The 34-year-old coach went 0-11 in his first year with the Governors but improved the program to 13 wins over the next two seasons. The 49ers finished 7-6 and made a trip to the Bahamas Bowl in Healy’s debut in Charlotte this fall. Healy is expected to ink a contract extension this offseason with Charlotte after his successful first year.
Mark Hudspeth, Head Coach, Austin Peay
Hudspeth is a native of Mississippi and has ties to the program after working as an assistant in Starkville from 2009-10 and again in 2018. Hudspeth’s first head-coaching gig took place at North Alabama from 2002-08, as he accumulated a 66-21 mark and five playoff trips with the Lions. He was hired as Louisiana’s head coach in 2011 and proceeded to guide the program to 51 wins and five bowl trips before his dismissal after the 2017 season. Hudspeth was hired as Austin Peay’s head coach after Will Healy departed for Charlotte. The Governors went 11-4 and won two playoff games in his first year in Clarksville.
Jeff Monken, Head Coach, Army
If Mississippi State wants to go a different route, Monken could be an interesting curveball in the SEC West. The Illinois native has roots in the option after working as an assistant at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech before landing his first head-coaching gig. Monken was hired at Georgia Southern as head coach prior to 2010 and proceeded to guide the program to 38 wins over four years. He took over at Army in 2014 and is 40-36 in the last six seasons. After winning just six games in his first two years, Monken guided the program to three consecutive bowl bids and 29 victories from 2016-18.
Billy Napier, Head Coach, Louisiana
Napier is likely to be near the top of Mississippi State’s list to replace Moorhead. The Georgia native worked as an assistant under Dabo Swinney at Clemson and at Alabama for Nick Saban, along with stops at Colorado State and Arizona State before becoming the head coach at Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 17-10 under Napier’s watch (2018-19) and have claimed the Sun Belt West Division title in back-to-back seasons.