From afar, it’s easy to see some of the reasons why Moorhead didn’t work out in Starkville. The move might have happened after the Egg Bowl, if Ole Miss hadn’t seen its victory hopes dashed when a player was penalized for lifting his leg like a dog in the end zone. Moorhead was a self-proclaimed Yankee with no real ties to the South coaching in one of the deepest parts of the Deep South.
There were, as McMurphy pointed out, discipline issues and suspensions. The Bulldogs had a 1-5 stretch during the season and ended the year with a 38-28 loss to Louisville in the Music City Bowl that dropped them to 6-7.
But from this side of the SEC, there’s another way to view Moorhead’s dismissal: He wasn’t Dan Mullen.
Moorhead wasn’t bad at Mississippi State, by the program’s historic standards. He finished 14-12. His winning percentage (.538) is slightly better than the Bulldogs’ all-time average (.510).
The problem is that Moorhead followed Mullen, who reset the standard in Starkville before taking the Gators to back-to-back New Year’s Six bowls.
Mullen didn’t dominate at Mississippi State, especially early. His record through two seasons: 14-11.
But he grew the program, from 5-7 in 2009 to 9-4 the next year. By 2014, the Bulldogs rose to No. 1 in the country and made it to the Orange Bowl — almost unthinkable for a perennial SEC doormat in one of the toughest divisions in the sport.
Mississippi State finished in the top 20 three times under Mullen. It has only done so four other times since World War II.
Those accomplishments set a new expectation for the Bulldogs, which Moorhead embraced.
“Part of our task as a staff is to elevate the program — which has a very solid foundation — from good to great,” Moorhead said before his first season.
Moorhead failed to do that, just as he failed to sustain the success from his predecessor. And two years later, the Bulldogs are looking for someone else to recapture what Mullen built.