Three Things From Sports Illustrated's Oral History of the Joe Moorhead Offense

By Dan Vecellio on September 21, 2017 at 11:30 am
 Sep 9, 2017; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) warms up as offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead looks on prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich Barnes - USA Today

Bruce Feldman went the oral history route to bring us the story of how Joe Moorhead's innovative offense was designed in the corners of the locker room at Fordham, and how it has been implemented at Penn State to turn the Nittany Lions into one of college football's elite teams once again. Feldman found former Fordham assistants, a Pitt coach who gave Moorhead his first job, and current members of the Lions' squad to tell the story of a former weekly paper sportswriter becoming the hottest coordinator on the college football market. Here are three things we took away from the story:

1. The offense was based on schemes from college and the NFL with a bit of Moorhead's own ideas attached.

While current Fordham head coach (and former Rams offensive coordinator) Andrew Breiner and James Franklin note that the passing scheme is true 1980s-era Bill Walsh west coast offense, incorporating it into a fast-paced, run-pass option style we see today was built upon watching tape of schools such as Eastern Illinois and Oregon. Breiner mentions that they also added some of their own elements from the Junk Corner of the Fordham locker room, namely whatever would happen after the snap.

Back then we weren’t calling them RPOs (run-pass options). We were calling them “tags”. And that’s still what we call ’em. We were always getting our hands on the Oregon film. It was that bubble tag with the pre-snap access to the boundary and the post-snap read on the overhang to the field.* We rightfully think we own that. That was unique to us.

The piece includes a staggering amount of detail about the tape breakdown that Moorhead and his staff went through leading up to the 2014 season, picking up on what tactics to use if the safeties played up or back, or if the outside linebacker decided to shadow someone in the backfield. Penn State fans have seen Moorhead and Saquon Barkley take advantage of those adjustments on numerous occasions.

2. James Franklin had Moorhead ready and waiting on a list of possible assistants even before he was looking for a new offensive coordinator.

Franklin noted that he kept a list of possible replacements for assistants on the oft chance that one of his were to ever leave. He said that he had seen the situation play out time and time again where a head coach had no contingency plans whenever a successful assistant left. Moorhead's name was added to the list in 2014 when they both spoke at an event in Pittsburgh. Franklin remembered the night as such:

I started following Joe about three years ago. We were at a Nike clinic in Pittsburgh. I spoke, then he spoke. I sat and listened. Everything he said made sense but the way he presented it, like, “This is the only offense anybody should be running, and this is the best offense anybody is running”—to me, all the best offense and defensive coordinators, it’s not always that their system is the best, it’s that they believe in it, and they get people excited in it.

In the event that Moorhead were to ever leave, I'm sure that Franklin once again has a list of guys he would be ready to take a look at, possibly even Joe's replacement at Fordham, Andrew Breiner.......

3. Moorhead doesn't believe that his success will only be defined if he becomes a head coach again.

....but maybe that list won't have to be used for a while.

While JoeMo will probably be considered for a number of FBS head coaching positions this upcoming offseason (he interviewed with Purdue this past December), there is really no guarantee he wants to leave State College. From the interview:

I’m not in a hurry. This is a great place with great people. I’m close to home, close to my wife’s family. If the right opportunity pops and it matches personally and professionally, then we’ll consider it. I don't think becoming a head coach again is going to dictate my success in the profession.

It sounds like a perfect opening would have to present itself to Moorhead (and his family) for him to decide that it was time to take the next step as a FBS head coach. Being able to hone his craft and continue to improve upon the schemes that make up one of the most potent offenses in college football without the additional duties of head coaching seems to be what the 43-year-old enjoys doing at the moment. Penn State fans probably hope that that moment lasts for a lifetime.

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