Dear Readers,

The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to the lives of everyone in Tampa Bay and to so many businesses in our community. Here at the Tampa Bay Times, we continue to provide free, up-to-date information at as a public service. But we need your help. Please consider supporting us by subscribing or donating, and by sharing our work. Thank you.

  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Gators

Joe Moorhead wasn’t Dan Mullen. Now he’s out at Mississippi State.

From this side of the SEC, it looks as if current Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen reset expectations in Starkville. Joe Moorhead didn’t meet them.
Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead watches the seconds tick off the field monitor during the second half of the team's game against Mississippi in Starkville, Miss., on Nov. 28. Mississippi State won 21-20. [ROGELIO V. SOLIS | AP]

Mississippi State has fired football coach Joe Moorhead, the school announced Friday in a move first reported by Stadium’s Brett McMurphy).

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.

Related: FROM OCTOBER: Mississippi State’s struggles show how good Florida Gators’ Dan Mullen is

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.

Related: It’s time for the Florida Gators to start challenging for championships

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.