Joe Moorhead appeared to save his job at Mississippi State with the bizarre win over Ole Miss. Instead, it was his counterpart Matt Luke who was let go.
Evidently, MSU boosters had second thoughts. The team had a poor showing against Louisville in the Music City Bowl, falling 38-28. Now Moorhead is out, after just two seasons in Starkville.
There has been speculation that Joe Moorhead, who is from the Northeast, where he had spent most of his coaching career, was not a great cultural fit in the Deep South. The team also had a bizarre string of off-field issues, including the fight with teammate Willie Gay that led to quarterback Garrett Shrader breaking his orbital bone and missing the bowl game.
It is pretty rare for a coach to be fired at this point in the season, but Mississippi State now enters the second round of the coaching carousel.
It is an SEC job, and one that Dan Mullen proved that you can win pretty big at, even if it is definitely one of the tougher jobs in the league. There are some names that have already emerged for the job, as well as a few others that could make sense.
Billy Napier – Louisiana Head Coach
Career Record: 17-10 (12-4 Sun Belt)
2019 Record: 10-3 (7-1)
Where Moorhead was very much an outsider, Napier’s been in the South for almost his entire life.
The Georgia native attended Furman, and has coached at Clemson, South Carolina State, Alabama, and as head coach, Louisiana at Lafayette. He’s also made stops at Colorado State and Arizona State.
In two years, Napier has done a very nice job with the Ragin’ Cajuns, following up a 7-7 season with a Sun Belt West division title with a 10-3 campaign this year. The team is yet to play in its LendingTree Bowl game, so an 11-win season is on the table. The season opened with a relatively tight 38-28 loss to Moorhead and Mississippi State.
Napier is the name most heavily connected with the job, to the point where someone briefly messed with the Google results so that they displayed him as the new coach in Starkville. Napier just received a new contract that takes him through 2025 this week, so if Mississippi State goes this route, there may be a bit more of a buyout to deal with.
Dave Aranda – LSU Defensive Coordinator
Aranda has not been a head coach yet, but he’s developed a reputation as one of the top defensive minds in all of college football over the last few years at LSU and Wisconsin. He is currently preparing to coach in the national championship under Ed Orgeron.
While he is paid more handsomely than many FBS head coaches, he does seem to have his eye on a top job. In the last few years, Aranda has reportedly been a candidate at Utah State, where he previously served as defensive coordinator, and more recently, Colorado State.
It seemed difficult to see Aranda taking a potential pay cut to be a lesser level head coach, but going to an SEC program would make plenty of sense, even if this is a difficult job. It would require a reversal in course from Mississippi State’s recent head coaching direction, which has been very offense-focused.
Joe Judge – New England Patriots Special Teams Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach
If Mississippi State wants to keep this in the family, and bring in a young coach with a very intriguing pedigree, it could turn to New England Patriots assistant Joe Judge. According to college football insider Bruce Feldman, he has “always wanted the job,” and could have support within the university.
The 37-year old Judge has won three Super Bowls as a member of Bill Belichick’s staff, where he has served as special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach. Before joining the Patriots in 2012, he spent three years on staff with Belichick’s good friend Nick Saban at Alabama. He is a Mississippi State alumnus and previously served as a graduate assistant in Starkville.
Willie Fritz – Tulane Head Coach
Career Record: 176-96
Tulane Record: 22-27 (12-20 AAC)
2019 Record: 6-6 (3-5 AAC)
Willie Fritz has a lengthy head coaching record at multiple stops throughout the sport. Ultimately, he’s won everywhere he’s been.
After 13 years at Division II Central Missouri, Fritz reached two national championship games at FCS Sam Houston State, went 17-7 in two seasons at Georgia Southern, after the program made the transition up to FBS, and has turned Tulane into a competitive AAC program. The Green Wave had made just two bowls since 2000 when he took over. On Saturday, the team will play in its second in a row under Fritz.
At 59 years old, his age is supposedly an issue for some. He was connected to the Missouri job, which ultimately went to Appalachian State’s Eli Drinkwitz. He’s a forward thinking coach though, shifting his system from Georgia Southern’s famed option attack, adding more spread-based concepts in the last year. It’s had impressive results, with Tulane averaging over 455 total yards and nearly 250 yards on the ground per game in 2019.
Bill Clark – UAB Head Coach
Career Record: 45-23
UAB Record: 34-19 (23-9 Conference USA)
2019 Record: 9-5 (6-2)
There have been few more impressive coaching jobs than the one that Bill Clark has done at UAB, literally bringing the Blazers back from the dead after the program briefly shuddered in the middle of the decade.
Clark went 6-6 in his first year with the Blazers, after coming over from FCS power Jacksonville State. The rug was pulled out from under Clark, when the school president elected to shutdown the program following that season, but after significant public outcry, it returned in 2017. Clark stayed on through the gap in play, keeping things afloat and adding transfers and other players, and the Blazers hit the ground running with the relaunch.
In 2017, the Blazers went 8-5, and followed it up with an 11-3 season and conference title in 2018. He won national coach of the year award after the 2018 season.